As hash as winter can be on our skin, it can be just as harmful to the skin of our horses. Long periods without baths, regular grooming and under heavy blankets can lead to a plethora of problems. The moisture from rain and snow can encourage bacteria to grow and the lack of sunlight is like an open invitation to other pathogens that plague the skin. And let’s not forget about all that long winter hair there is to contend with!
Prevention is often the best medicine when it comes to winter skin conditions but should one of the following most common get a grip on your equine, here are some tips for identifying and treating them:
Rain Rot – Dermatophilus congolensis is a bacterium that normally lives on the skin with no problem, but after a rain or snow fall with humid conditions the bacteria can grow with adverse effects to the horse. As the bacteria multiplies, it irritates the hair follicles and causes hair loss and crusting. Daily grooming and removal of blankets is necessary for the healing process of rain rot. Sunshine to the horse’s coat is also helpful. It is often recommended that the crusts or scabs be gently removed via warm water and an antiseptic wash, or with mineral oil if bathing the horse is not possible. Then apply an antibiotic ointment (such as Hibitaine) on each rain rot “spot.” Speak with your veterinarian in case oral antibiotics may be required to help your horse’s specific case.
Scratches – Scratches is a chronic, seborrheic (flaky skin) dermatitis characterized by enlargement of the skin cells and exudation (oozing) on the rear surface of the pastern and fetlock. It is often referred to as greasy heel, mud fever or pastern dermatitis. Scratches is caused by excessively wet or muddy environments, bacterial/fungal/parasitic skin infections, or a combination of both. Horses with white legs or feathered legs are also more susceptible to scratches. Severe cases of scratches are not just inconvenient, they can actually cause long durations of lameness. Treatment typically involves removing the horse from the wet environment, then clipping of the affected area and a gentle wash. The area should be cleaned with an antibacterial soap such as Betadine soap and carefully dried off. An ointment can be applied but opinions vary on what is the best to use in a scratches situation. Consult with your veterinarian for best advice.
Ringworm – This skin disease is caused by a fungus that is contagious to other animals and humans. The fungus begins in a growing hair and lesions appear in circular formations, usually within a week of the initial infection. Hair falls out or breaks off in the circular areas, giving ringworm its characteristic appearance. Ringworm can spread from horse to horses really fast so precautions should be taken to keep it from spreading. Saddle pads and grooming tools should be treated and disinfected and gloves should be worn when handling and treating the affected horse. Topical treatments may include fungicides such as chlorhexadine solution, while an oral antifungal may be obtained from your veterinarian. Sunlight and heat help to inhibit ringworm, which is unfortunate as the skin condition occurs more often in winter months.
When it comes to these winter woes, what is your best winter skin condition treatment tip?