Identifying Horse Skin Diseases

Last Updated on September 11, 2020 by Allison Price

Skin diseases or conditions are quite hard to diagnose and treat.

But it’s unavoidable that your horse will experience some sort of minor skin problems. There are many common skin conditions that can affect your horse.

Keep reading to know more!

Rain Scald

It’s also called Rain rot.

A run of damp, rainy weather is what causes a horse to develop this kind of skin disease. Rain Scald is a minor bacterial infection of the skin that occurs usually in wet, humid weather. Because of that weather… specific species of bacterium multiply and occupy weak areas in your horse’s skin. As a result, the hair on the back and rump of your horse will look like paintbrushes.

Most cases of Rain Scald will heal on their own with good hygiene and enough drying time. You may have to keep your horse indoors for a period of time. So that the skin will dry and heal. Severe cases may make your horse’s skin tender and may need an anti-bacterial, drying shampoo.

If you think your horse’s Rain Scald is chronic, ask your veterinarian for advice.


This skin disease is not caused by worms. But it’s a fungal infection and you can also catch it from your horse. The appearance of your horse’s skin will be scaly and scabby.

This condition is highly transferrable and the fungus can remain in the area for a long time.

Although in most cases of Ringworm will heal on their own, the healing can take several weeks to months. The healing period is usually too long. This is because of how contagious and zoonotic this infection is.

Many veterinarians will recommend special topical treatments. This is to help speed up the healing process. Along with the treatment… equipment used for the horse like blankets and grooming equipment must be sanitized. Horses with Ringworm should be handled with latex gloves. Make sure to wash your hands and clothes after contact.


File:Zeyan.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

This skin condition is caused by microscopic mites. These mites bite into the horse’s skin and cause intense itching.

Horses that are young, old and in poor condition are more likely to be affected by mange. There are different types of mange. And they show up on the skin of the horse in slightly different ways.


Some species of lice live on horses.

Most lice infestations in horses occur if your horse is thin, stressed and in poor health. Lice make horses extremely itchy just like in humans. And severe infestations can make your horse anemic and weak.

Veterinarians will usually treat your horse with a dewormer. That is also effective against ectoparasites.

Allergic Dermatitis

Some horses have sensitive skin. And may break with hives after having a contact with a certain chemical or piece of equipment.

Allergic dermatitis can show up on anywhere of the horse’s body. You may have to do some detective work to figure out what is causing your horse’s skin reaction.

To cure this, you may have to remove the cause. And give some anti-histamines if the skin irritation is really uncomfortable.

Pastern Dermatitis (Greasy Heel)

This disease is a generalized dermatitis. It causes the skin around a horse’s ankle to appear greasy.

The skin can become inflamed, swollen, and hot to touch with scabs as the condition progresses. Some horses will be tender and others become lame.

If your horse has this condition, the most common treatment is to keep your horse’s feet dry and clean. Also, apply antiseptic washes and ointment to the affected areas.


The white markings that appear around eyes and other thin-skinned areas… leave many horse owners worrying. The white markings are caused by an auto-immune response… where the horse’s own pigment-producing cells die.

This condition is not painful for the horse and not contagious though. And there is no treatment for this.

Summer Itch (Sweet Itch)

Some horses are allergic to the saliva of tiny biting insects (midges). And their skin overreacts. It causes the horses to be extremely itchy and miserable.

The best treatment for this is to prevent midge bites by using insect repellents. Also, use fly sheets on your horse during seasons when these insects are out.


There are raised gray or pink cauliflower-like growths. These are usually fairly small, not much bigger than peas. They usually appear on the muzzle or around the eyes. But sometimes on the ears, genitals and lower legs as well. The growths do not cause any pain or discomfort.

Warts are caused by an organism (equine papillomavirus) that can survive on skin… equipment and structures for weeks. Younger horses are more prone to this.

There is no need to treat the warts unless they are inhibiting the horse from eating, blinking or moving. The warts will just shrink and disappear for about four months… as the young horse’s immune system develops.

When they appear in older horses, it would take about a year or more to disappear.

To prevent this, isolate affected horses from others. Disinfect shared tack or equipment.

Aural Plaques

Aural Plaques usually cause no pain. They are considered to be just a cosmetic problem. But biting flies may irritate the lesions. And some horses may begin to resist bridling. Or having their ears handled.

These are caused by an equine papillomavirus that spreads… because of biting flies that target the ears.

There is no need for treatment unless the ear plaques are bothering your horse.

Dandruff (Primary Seborrhea)

This can be dry or oily. In the dry form, there are small flakes of skin that will appear, usually at the base of the mane and tail. While oily seborrhea causes large, waxy crusts on the elbows, hocks or lower legs. Dandruff causes a fetid odor. But the horse is not usually itchy or in pain.

This disease is more common in Arabians and Thoroughbreds.

There is no need to treat this. But you can consult your veterinarian especially if the condition gets worse.


The skin of your horse is his first line of defense from the bugs and microbes. And most likely, he will experience his fair share of minor ailments over his lifetime. It’s important that we learn what to do, and what not to do and when to call your veterinarian. By doing so, you are doing your part to keep the skin of your horse healthy and strong.

Allison Price
Allison Price

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!