Last Updated on March 15, 2022 by Allison Price
Winter conditions can be difficult for horse owners. How to spot winter skin conditions and how to treat them.
What causes winter skin problems for horses?
It is easy to answer: The weather, especially in the UK where wet winters increase the moisture level in the environment.
Gil says that this creates conditions that allow bacteria to thrive. The thicker rugs used in winter can lead to increased sweating and increase moisture. Horses that share rugs with other horses are more susceptible to skin infections because rugs can easily transmit bacteria and fungi.
How to avoid 5 common skin conditions in horses
- Rain and mud fever
- Mange and equine lice
1. Rain and mud fever
These are all caused by the same bacteria. If left untreated, rain scald can cause secondary infections such as cellulitis.
What to watch out for
- Signs of rain scald: A scabby, pale-colored skin. There may be tufts of hair around individual scabs. Scabs can be large or small and not always itchy.
- Signs of mud fever:Painful scales on your horse’s legs. They can cause lameness, especially if they develop around the coronet band and heels. Mud fever can cause severe skin infections and swelling.
Rain scald treatment for horses
- Avoid picking at scabs. Gil explains that although they may not be visually appealing, removing them can cause bleeding and be painful for your horse. It might make your horse reluctant to come near these areas again.
- Make sure rugs are dry and clean. The warm and moist conditions provided by horse’s rugs will make rain scald thrive. It is important to choose the appropriate rug for the season and adjust them accordingly. Gil advises that you don’t over-rug, as it can cause sweating. To prevent cross-infection, change rugs frequently, avoid sharing them (brushes and tack) with horses, and ensure that your waterproof rugs keep the rain out.
- You might consider clipping. The ideal environment for bacteria to thrive is created by sweat. If your horse has a fluffy winter coat, clipping it will reduce the sweating.
How to treat and prevent mud fever in horses
- Make drainage better around gates. Horses that are left out on wet grass are more likely to contract mud fever. This is especially true if there’s standing water, puddles, or areas where horses are waiting to be brought in. These areas can be improved by laying gravel and improving drainage.
- Do not overgraze your horse. Rotate the turnout area of your horse if possible. This will prevent poaching and keep mud to an absolute minimum. Paddocks will also be better prepared for spring.
- Avoid washing your horse’s legs too often. Do you wash your horse’s legs when they come in? This will clean the horse’s legs and remove any mud. However, it can also cause a wet-dry cycle that can lead to skin damage and increased infection risk. Mild cases can be treated by rubbing excess mud on the legs, allowing them to dry overnight, and then brushing off any remaining mud the next morning.
- Wear turnout boots. Turnout boots are mud fever boots. They wrap around the leg of your horse and cover the entire length from the coronet band down to the knee. Boots should be cleaned and dried every day. After that, you can put them on with clean legs.
If in doubt, ask your vet
Gil suggests that you treat the affected skin every day with a mild disinfectant. It should be diluted in warm water and dried on a towel. For more severe cases, such as rain scald or mud fever, your veterinarian may recommend a steroid cream or antibiotic. Most veterinarians recommend that your horse be kept stabled and dry while you treat the condition.
2. Mange and equine lice
Although parasites such as lice and mange can be harmful to any horse, they are more common in breeds with long hair. It’s not surprising that winter coats with fluffy hair can increase the risk. Horses suffering from Cushing’s disease (a condition that causes too much hormone cortisol to be produced, leading a weak immune system) are also more vulnerable.
What to watch out for
- Itching! Although lice are very small and difficult to spot, you will be able to see that your horse is itching.
- Rubging legs and stamping feet. Mange can be caused by mites that feed on the skin’s debris. Gil explains that mites crawl on the skin and cause horses to rub their lower limbs.
- Lameness. Horses that are irritated with lice or mites may inflict injury on their own which can cause pain and possibly lameness.
How to treat and prevent horse lice
- Don’t over-rug! Gil suggests that you avoid over-rugging.
- Use a powder for horse lice treatment. You’ll need to do it again in 10-14 days to get rid of eggs that may have hatched.
- Lice can be removed from horses. Horses with lice should be isolated. Parasites can easily spread from one horse to the next so it is best to isolate your horse while you treat them. Also, lice are very small and difficult to spot on winter coats that aren’t clipped.
How to prevent and treat Equine Mange
- Get immediate medical attention for a horse suffering from mange. Your vet will likely administer a wormer licensed for cattle to your horse. It is injected under your skin. Gil explains that a second treatment will be given after 10 days to catch any eggs that may have been hatched.
- Clean your stable. Shavings and straw can harbor mites. It should be removed from infected horses’ stables and burned to prevent reinfection.
Ringworm is a skin infection that can be very infected. It is caused by a dermatophyte fungus. Ringworm scabs can be confused with rain scald, so make sure to see your veterinarian as soon as possible.
What to watch out for
- Tiny raised spots on the skin. This can lead to a thick, dry, and crumbly crust. They appear as small red bumps that grow larger and become more pronounced.
- Hair fall. Most likely, your horse will lose hair in the scabby areas.
How to treat and prevent ringworm in horses
- Get rid of your horse immediately if you suspect that your horse may have ringworm. Stop the spread of the disease by getting rid of your horse as soon as possible. Treatment is simple.
- Use a fungicidal shampoo to treat them. Your horse’s hair should grow back in six to eight weeks. It is best to wash your horse’s hair in a series of three to four washes with only a few days between each one.
- You can also wash the walls of stables, rugs and brushes. Ringworm fungus can survive in the environment (for instance, in rugs or wood fixtures around the stables). It is highly contagious and can infect entire horse herds in an outbreak. Gil suggests washing all areas that your horse has come in contact with, and all his rugs with the antifungal before you reuse them.
Gil explains that this is a bacterial infection in the horse’s hairfollicles. It is most common in horses’ saddle areas and thrives under warm, humid conditions.
What to watch out for
- Red bumps or pustules that are small and red. They can form around hair follicles.
How to treat and prevent equine folly in horses
- Do not over-rugge. Folliculitis thrives in wet, warm conditions. To keep your horse healthy and dry, rug according to the temperature.
- Contact your veterinarian. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics for a longer period of time. Also, you will need to bathe the affected area daily with warm water and disinfectant. Folliculitis will usually resolve in 10-14 days.
5. Horse thrush
Gil says that thrush can be caused by soil compaction or poor drainage.
What to watch out for
- A smelly, black discharge. This sign is the most frequent in horses with thrush. Although a horse suffering from the condition won’t feel pain immediately, it could cause discomfort by extending into his feet.
How to treat and prevent thrush in horses
- You should pick out your hooves at least twice per day. This will keep your hooves clean and dry.
- Regular hoof care is important. Thrush can also be prevented by regular trimming and shoeing. Your vet will need to remove any under-run hairs and expose the affected tissue to the air if your horse has equine disease.
- Box rest. Next, you will need to place your pet in a dry, clean stable. Your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics. Our tips will help you keep your horse happy while on box rest.
Why is it important to monitor horses’ skin?
Gil states that the skin of a horse is the largest organ on his body. Because it’s his first defense against moisture and abrasive substances like dirt, grit, and bacteria, problems are quite common. Gil warns that depending on the horse’s skin condition, it may be extremely painful. A secondary infection can develop if the condition gets worse, which can cause additional stress to your horse. The right treatment can quickly reverse the situation.
I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!