• Abi Kroupa

Common Summer Skin Issues in Horses & Tips To Treat Them

We are now into summer weather, and this means plenty of turnout for our horses. However, this can also mean rainy conditions, damp legs, insects, and itchy skin. Monitoring your horse's skin is very important for both trainers and owners. Horses are vulnerable to several skin disorders, including; dandruff, insect hypersensitivity, sweet itch, scratches, rain rot, and sunburn. The first step is understanding each condition and providing effective treatment.


Insect, Insect Hypersensitivity, and Sweet Itch

Bugs are most active during summer months, and this can lead to multiple skin issues for horses. Pesky house flies, mosquitos, gnats, and no-see-ums can all pose problems in both the barn and pastures. Bug bites can produce a range of reactions in horses, especially those with hypersensitivity issues.

One of the most common summer seasonal diagnosis in horse skin issues is sweet itch (Summer Seasonal Recurrent Dermatitis) caused by a horse's allergic reaction to saliva in biting gnats. These bothersome bugs are active from April to October and tend to be most active around dawn and dusk. Symptoms of sweet itch include constant rubbing of affected areas, red and inflamed skin, crusting, sores, and loss of hair.


There are several measures you can take to limit your horse's exposure to annoying insects.

· Keep air circulating in the barn and stalls with numerous fans to discourage biting insects from hanging around.

· Keep horses stalled an hour before and after dawn and dusk, reducing exposure to bugs when they are most actively feeding.

· Empty and replenish water tanks frequently.

· Use insecticides and repellents regularly to keep bugs off your horse.

· When available, install a fly-spray system in barn.

· Consider a product like EquiShield IBH Salve to address insect bite hypersensitivity allergic dermatitis.

· If necessary, use a fly sheet and fly boots.

Rain Rot & Scratches

Warm weather isn't all that summer brings. Rainstorms and wet conditions can cause rain rot, skin crusting, and dermal cellulitis. Humidity and high moisture are a breeding ground for bacterial and fungal growth on a horse's skin.

Rain rot is a bacterial skin infection characterized by crusty scabs that form and clumps of hair that peel off of a horse's skin. Rain rot commonly appears on top of a horse's head, neck, back, and legs. Heavy rainfall and insect bites create ideal growing conditions for the bacteria. (Rain rot is often mistaken for ringworm, which is far less common.) The vast majority of healthy horses will heal from rain rot with over-the-counter preventative treatments. The best treatment is to clean the affected area and keep your horse as dry as possible. Apply an antibacterial shampoo or spray daily and dry after every bath. E3 Antibacterial Shampoo is a great option that helps treat and prevent bacterial conditions.

A condition called scratches, triggered by constant moisture on the leg causes bacterial, fungal, and sometimes parasitic issues that most commonly occur on the fetlocks and cannon bone. Also known as Mud Fever, it causes flaky skin, inflammation, dermatitis, and scabs on legs. Treat mild cases daily, using an antibacterial/antifungal shampoo, thorough towel drying, followed with a topical treatment. The Absorbine Fungasol product line, which includes chloroxylenol, triclosan, and tea tree oil helps treat both bacterial and fungal skin conditions in horses.

To help prevent both Rain Rot and Scratches:

· Avoid keeping your horses in muddy or wet conditions during turnout.

· Thoroughly towel dry your horse (especially legs) after each bath.

· Keep boots, wraps, and saddle pads clean.

· Be sure to check your horse daily for signs of skin inflammation, flakiness, or crud. Early detection is the best medicine.


Sun Bleaching & Sunburn

Sun exposure can quickly bleach out horse coats. This is especially true for black and dark bay horses, but it can happen to all horse coat colors. Though coat fading isn't a health problem, you do want your horse to look and feel his best. Bleaching tends to be more prominent in areas where horses sweat the most.

· Make sure to rinse away sweat, allowing the horse to dry entirely before exposure to the sun.

· Feed a diet that includes all of their essential minerals and nutrients.

· If your horse is on a low grain diet, you may need to consider a ration balancer or mineral supplement.

· Finally, if it fits your program, consider turning your horse out at night during hot months.

Though sun bleaching is a relatively harmless condition, sunburns are more serious for horses. Sunburn often occurs in light-colored horses such as grays, paints, appaloosas, and horses with white blazes or stripes on their faces, but is a factor for all colors and breeds. Without protection, sun exposure can lead to sunburn, blisters, and peeling. A long-term consequence of sunburn in horses is an increased likelihood of developing squamous cell carcinoma. It is a type of cancer that affects a horse's non-pigmentated skin and, more commonly, their eyes. To prevent sunburn, ensure your turnout provides a shady area or cover for relief from the sun. Apply sunblock to your horse's nose and areas of non-pigmentated skin. A sunscreen spray such as Sunflower Suncoat will help protect their coat and skin. Just like sunglasses, consider a fly mask for your horse that protects their eyes from UV rays.


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