Your Horse and Skin conditions By J. Foley
This is a contagious fungal infection of the skin that spreads by direct and indirect contact,
so infected horses should be isolated wherever possible, strict hygiene measures should be
adopted and veterinary advice sought. Infection shows initially as tufts of raised hair, which
eventually fall off, leaving weeping lesions.
Often circular in shape, these lesions may vary in size and density, and usually occur around
the head, neck, saddle and girth regions. The horse’s immediate environment also
becomes infected, so bedding material should be destroyed and the stable, plus all tack,
and equipment should be washed thoroughly with a fungicidal disinfectant.
Rainscald is a skin infection caused by a softening of the skin following persistent saturation.
This can occur in horses that have a weakened immunity or are already in poor condition and
lack the natural grease in their coat to keep warm and dry. It can also occur when leaking or
non-breathable turnout rugs are used, when there is poor air circulation under the rug and
when the horse’s back is constantly getting wet with moisture from rain or sweat.
An affected horse may show patchy hair loss along the back and quarters. The hair can
become matted, and the skin may develop sores and weeping lesions. To prevent a horse
from getting rainscald, ensure that it always has access to shelter from the field and that rugs
are of a correct type for the conditions and maintained accordingly.
This is a skin condition usually associated with
wet and muddy conditions. The skin of the legs
and the stomach become inflamed and scaly
and, in severe cases, the horse may develop a
high temperature or fever. The infection is caused
by bacteria that enters the waterlogged skin and
causes scabs to form, sealing in the infection.
Always ensure that the legs are cleaned well
after work or time in the field. Either wash off and
then ensure that the legs are properly dried or
leave the mud to dry and then brush it off with
a soft brush. If the horse has clipped legs, it is
a good idea to apply a barrier cream to prevent
the skin from becoming water logged.
These are caused by the same conditions as
mud fever. It is advisable to keep the legs and
stomach as clean and dry as possible, and
applying a protective cream might also help.
Extra care is needed when dealing with heels
because they are close to the ground and
therefore more susceptible to becoming
waterlogged. Always ensure that legs are
cleaned well after work or time in the field.
Sweet itch is an inflammation of the skin as a result of an allergic reaction, which is also
called Summer Seasonal Recurrent Dermatitis (SSRD). It is caused by a biting midge
called Culicoides, and the itching is caused by an allergic reaction to the saliva of the
female midge. In most cases the horse will become itchy along the back, especially around
the mane and tail. In extreme cases, the horse can rub itself raw trying to relieve the itching.
Susceptible horses usually develop the condition for the first time as youngsters and, once
it has occurred, the horse will continue to suffer from it (although environmental conditions
play a large part in whether a horse will show signs or not).
Control of sweet itch
Apply an insect repellent regularly, but be careful that the horse does not develop a reaction.
The skin of a horse with sweet itch is usually sensitive and repellents are not suitable if the
skin is sore or broken. Veterinary advice should be sought.
Midges are most active at dawn and dusk, and on mild, humid and still days, so keeping the
horse in the stable or under shelter during this time will help to minimise biting
Midges are attracted to areas of decomposing vegetation found in woodland and near
to water. It is therefore better to graze affected horses in drier, open areas.
Special sweet itch rugs can be bought that cover the horse from poll to tail to stop the
midges getting access to the skin and to protect from rubbing. These can be useful as they
can be worn in or out of the stable.
Article Written By J. Foley