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Ten Skin Ailments to Avoid

Here is a brief primer on some of the most common skin problems that might plague a horse.

Rain rot is caused by Dermatophilus, an infectious microorganism from the soil that eagerly becomes established in skin cracks under a dirty hair coat during rainy weather. The painful, tight scabs that form on the horse’s neck, shoulders, back, and rump make him uncomfortable and unusable and require medication and bathing.

Seborrhea is a skin disease caused by a malfunction in sebum production and function, resulting in flaky skin.

Ringworm is a fungal infection affecting the skin and hair, characterized by round, crusty patches with hair loss. It is easily spread between horses via tack and grooming tools.

Photosensitivity of the skin (usually under white hair) can result from components of certain plants (ingested). The skin becomes red, then sloughs off.

Warts, most commonly on the muzzle of a young horse, are caused by the equine papillomavirus. As a horse matures, he develops immunity to the virus and the warts disappear. The same virus also causes aural plaque, a scaly condition inside the ear, which can become painful if flies are allowed to bite and feed inside the ears.

Sarcoids are common skin tumors with unknown cause. There are several types, mostly occurring around the head or the site of an old injury.

Thrush is a fungal infection of the hoof that thrives in moist, dirty environments.

Scratches (also known as grease heel) is a common term that refers to a general localized skin inflammation found on the lower legs of horses. The thick, chronic sores at the heels and rear of the pastern can be quite painful. Scratches are linked to an opportunistic fungus, but can be complicated by bacterial infection.

Ticks cause crusty scabs and can be disease carriers. Check the mane and tail carefully throughout spring and summer. Use rubber gloves or tweezers to remove ticks, which can carry Lyme disease that can also affect humans (see July Vet Clinic). Be sure to remove the entire tick. If the head is left in, it can cause a painful infection.

Lice are not common in horses unless they are poorly kept and crowded. Then lice can spread rapidly through a group. You’d find the nits (eggs) or the lice themselves along the midline of the horse, such as in the mane and tail head.

 

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Here are a few added this week:

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My horse gets fungus every single summer and I never know how to get rid of it.  There are all the medicated and chemical sprays but I really don’t feel comfortable putting those on my horse.  Do you know of anything natural that would not harm my horse at all that would get rid of the fungus?  I would love to be able to make it myself…store bought products are expensive!! Kaitlin

Hi Kaitlin,

Fungus is a general term. It would be best for your veterinarian to diagnose which skin condition your horse has. Once you know the specific fungus, it would be possible that by typing the name of the fungus and  “home remedy” into google, you might find some specific advice for it.

I use apple cider vinegar rinses on my horses coats to keep the pH balanced after shampooing. Witch hazel is a possible remedy for some skin conditions. Whether either of these would be appropriate for your horse’s skin condition, I have no idea.

The best way to prevent skin ailments is to keep the horse, tack, grooming tools and any horse clothing scrupulously clean.

Minimize bathing which removes the skin’s natural defenses. I give my horses two baths a year. The rest of the time I groom or vacuum.

Whenever a horse gets wet from bathing, rain, or exercise, make sure the hair coat and skin dry dry completely.

Never put a blanket or sheet on a damp horse. (The exception to this, of course, is when you drape a cooler over a horse temporarily while he is drying.)

Here are some excerpts that might be helpful from my book Cherry Hill’s Horsekeeping Almanac.

Excerpt from Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping Almanac

Excerpt from Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping Almanac

Cherry Hill's Horsekeeping Almanac

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A well-groomed horse is less apt to develop skin problems and is a feast for the eyes.  Daily grooming is required when a horse is worked, is shedding, or rolls frequently.  Bathe your horse once in the spring and once in the fall. Frequent baths strip the skin and coat of beneficial oils and wreak havoc with hooves.

Keep a separate set of grooming tools for each horse and wash them regularly.  If any of the horses in the barn are having a skin problem, wash all grooming tools with a disinfectant. Keep feed buckets and water pail clean.  At least once a week, scrub eating and drinking receptacles.  Be sure to rinse the soap from them thoroughly.

Lice and ticks cause itching.  Ticks carry Lyme Disease that is contagious to humans.  If your horse rubs bald spots in his mane or tail, check him thoroughly for parasites or fungus and treat according to your veterinarian.

Itching can also be caused by ringworm which is contagious to you and other horses. If a horse has ringworm, you will need to treat the horse, disinfect grooming tools, halters, blankets, stalls, feeders, and anything else the horse may have rubbed on.

Horse Handling and Grooming by Cherry Hill

Horse Handling and Grooming by Cherry Hill

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