How to treat and prevent equine skin conditions |

How to treat and prevent equine skin conditions

According to a poll conducted by, 45 percent of horse owners say that skin issues are most problematic in the summer months. Another 34 percent say spring is a challenge, while 17 percent are dealing with a chronic condition in skin conditions of their horses. With the majority tackling issues like skin allergies, pruritus (itching), hair loss, growths, lesions and rashes in the summer months, now is the perfect time to refresh on the most common equine skin conditions and how to diagnose, treat and prevent these issues.

Christine Rees, DVM, Dipl. ACVD, a board certified veterinary dermatologist and international expert on animal skin conditions at ADESA: Animal and Dermatology for Equine and Small Animals, in McKinney, TX, and Scott W. Pierce, DVM, Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, Lexington, KY, and founding owner of Kinetic Technologies, offered their advice on handling common equine skin conditions such as rain rot, scratches, aural plaques, warts, ringworm, insect hypersensitivity, hives, sweet itch, melanoma, sarcoid, Here’s a roundup of their best tips.

“Some of the best treatment methods for skin conditions are items that your grandma may have used,” said Rees. “Oatmeal and aloe are common household items I use to alleviate the skin condition; they can be really soothing for a horse with an itch. For oatmeal treatment, Aveeno brand has a lot of different products that are very soothing.”

“Scratches can lead to infection or cel, which can become further inflamed, causing an infection, running up the hock or flank,” added Pierce. “Breaks in the skin lead to bacterial or fungal patches, hair loss and inflammation. Causes include contact allergies and irritants, infestation with leg mange, and malformations with the lymphatic vessels. Secondary infections are often worsened by exposure to moisture in mud or pastures.”

Once a skin condition has been identified, one of the first things to do is to prepare the area for treatment.

“If the hair is long in the area that needs treated, I clip it first,” explained Rees. “In addition to oatmeal or aloe, the animal might need an oral or injectable antibiotic. A cortisol steroid can be used as an anti-inflammatory. I get pretty aggressive with rain rot, and I typically use a benzyl peroxide antibacterial shampoo. In recurrent cases, shampoo therapy can really help out.

Rain rot is a contagious skin disease which thrives in moist conditions and is most commonly found over the horse’s neck, back and croup. Nearly half of those polled by say they struggle with rain rot in their horses.

When treating a fungus, Pierce offered an affordable treatment option.

“The cheapest solution would be iodine gel for fungus,” advised Pierce. “Another option would be a vaginal cream that you can get in a pharmacy for you to rub on the horse. Of course, this is off-label, but is pretty easy to use.”

“Aloe works well for infections as an anti-inflammatory; you can use topical steroids also,” added Rees. “There are sprays and creams available, too. I have used hydro-cortisone, as well, but in my experience, it’s kind of wimpy and doesn’t work well. Traditionally, human products like Zirtec and Claritan don’t always work as well in horses and sometimes the horse can have a reaction. A lot of the more traditional antihistamines work better and are more cost effective.”

“Be aggressive with insect control this summer,” said Rees. “But, note that environmental allergies can look similar to insect allergies.”

One of the challenges equine owners run into is doubling up on treatments, something that should be avoided.

“As always with horses, you have to be careful with steroids,” said Pierce. “Know what you’re giving and how much is needed. Always know what you’re giving your horse. Also, if your vet gives the horse something, and you give something on top of it, that’s where troubles arise.”

When choosing a treatment method, 57 percent of those polled say the ingredients are very important, while 23 percent say they use exactly what their veterinarian recommends.

“For horses allergic to soy, which we don’t see very often, I recommend staying away from commercially-prepared products,” Rees said. “Omega 3s are really good for the skin and for joint inflammation. In general terms, Omega 3’s help with inflammation and Omega 6 might be more helpful with itching.”

Both Rees and Pierce agreed there isn’t a lot of difference between horses, donkeys, dogs, cats and even people when dealing with itches and rashes. A combination of topical therapy, local antiseptic, oatmeal, oral steroids or antihistamines can work well to treat and prevent common equine skin conditions.

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