Afraid of Equine Ear Fungi? How to Identify and Treat it at Home

Posted on
April 22, 2021
A close up of a horse's ears. The horse has dark brown fur and a halter on. Out of focus in the background is a green tree.
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While fungus may seem like a fun word to some, for pet owners it is often a source of panic. Fungal infections can mean serious business if left untreated and they have the potential to do permanent damage to your pet. Horses are particularly at risk considering how much time they spend outdoors rubbing against wet fence posts and frolicking through puddles.

One of the spots people most commonly notice a fungal infection on a horse is the ears. Horses have expressive, adorable ears that flop down, perk up, and rotate to better understand their environment. However, just like a dog or a cat, horse’s ears have the potential to retain moisture, allowing fungi to thrive. This is especially troublesome for show horses who are often required to have clean shaven ears which further eliminates protection against excess moisture. 

But, there is no reason to fear! By knowing how to spot fungal infections in and around a horse’s ears, you will have a better chance of treating the condition and getting your pony’s ears back into tip-top shape.

Without further ado, let’s go over some of the most common skin conditions that may occur around your horse’s ears and the best way to treat them!

A horse with a brown body, white legs, and a white nose stands in an outdoor corral. The horse has a halter on it's head.
Horses can be exposed to fungal infections through insect bites or infected equipment.

Aural Plaque

Have you ever noticed white, crusty spots on the inside of your horse’s ears? If the answer is yes, your horse may be experiencing aural plaque. 

Aural plaque is often mistaken for a fungus, but this is not the case. Aural plaque is caused by papillomavirus and is transmitted through the bites of black flies.

The symptoms of aural plaque aka aural papilloma include:

  • White, flaky build up on the surface of the skin
  • Skin feeling thick and tough to the touch
  • Pink discoloration 

Although aural plaque may be unsightly, the good news is that it is largely a cosmetic issue. While the initial fly bite may cause itchiness or discomfort, the aural plaque itself is usually a harmless side effect that requires no treatment. That being said, it is not easy to remove those white scabs from a horse’s ears. 

Vets may prescribe a medicated ointment to soothe any irritation, but they are unlikely to remove the aural plaque. Rough handling and picking or playing with the plaque can often cause more intense discomfort and even have the unintended consequence of making your horse head-shy and thus difficult to groom or tack.

Instead, it is recommended to let your horse be and wait for the problem to abate on its own. Ways to prevent further flare ups or having a horse contract aural plaque in the first place include allowing the hair inside their ears to grow out, using fly traps or fly repellent, or placing a fly mask over the horse’s ears. 

A close up showing the face of a dappled grey horse with a white mane. A human hand rests between the horse's eyes.
Grooming sessions are a great time to check for any irregular patches of skin on your horse’s body, especially around the ears.

Warts

Papillomavirus is also capable of causing warts to appear on horses, usually areas with sparse hair growth such as the mouth, eyes, groin, front legs, and around the ears. Like aural plaque, warts are usually only cosmetic problems with no large scale health repercussions, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worrisome.

Signs of wart growth include:

  • Small, grey colored nodules
  • Can be a solitary wart or in clusters
  • Irregular coloring
  • Bumpy texture to the skin

If you notice any strange lumps on your horse and suspect it may be a wart, it is best to contact a vet for their professional opinion. They will sometimes need to take biopsies of the growth to confirm it is not a sarcoid, aka a cancerous growth. But, most of the time, warts go away on their own over time, especially for horses under 18 months old. If the afflicted area does become dry or sore, use a horse-safe moisturizer to help alleviate any pain.

However, it is important to note that papillomavirus is highly contagious and its appearance on one animal likely means it has infected others. While equine papilloma cannot be transferred to humans, it can be transferred from horse to horse. As soon as you notice symptoms of a papilloma based illness, it is best to quarantine the infected animal until the active infection recedes. This also means thoroughly cleaning communal areas, equipment, as well as stalls.

A white horse with grey markings and a black mane pokes its head out from a double door stall.
Isolating a horse with a fungal infection is the best way to protect the rest of your herd and ensure a speedy recovery.

Ringworm

Although the name ringworm brings to mind a parasitic condition, the truth is that ringworm is actually a fungal infection caused by microscopic organisms called dermatophytes. These pests munch on hair and skin cells causing bald, inflamed patches on the body. For horses, ringworm frequently appears on the face, neck, shoulders, chest, saddle, and around the ears.

Symptoms of ringworm include:

  • Hair loss in circular patches
  • Inflammation
  • Itchiness
  • Thick scab growth

Initially, ringworm is not a dangerous disease, but it does have the potential to worsen if left untreated. Bald patches begin as itchy spots, later becoming red lesions that are a risk for greater infection down the road.

A few common methods of treating ringworm on horses are:

  • Using an anti-ringworm shampoo to kill the fungi on the skin’s surface
  • Prescribed topical medication from the vet
  • Exposing your horse to fresh air and direct sunlight

Before beginning treatment, it is important that owners take the time to remove any scabs or rough skin from the infected areas. This can be done by giving your horse a quick wash and then using a nylon brush to gently scrape. If these scaly patches are left undisturbed, the treatments won’t be able to reach the fungi on the surface of the skin. 

Like papillomavirus, ringworm is a contagious infection and is communicable between animals and people. If you suspect your horse is suffering from ringworm, be sure to isolate them from any other animals and take precautions to protect yourself. The fungi responsible for ringworm is capable of living on inanimate surfaces like buckets or tack for months without feeding. So, it is best to disinfect the space and equipment to the best of your ability until the infection is curbed. 

Fauna Care Equine Anti-Fungal Spray

There are a variety of solutions for treating and preventing any fungal infections your horse may encounter, but few work as well as Fauna Care’s Equine Anti-Fungal Spray. 

Whether it’s aural plaque, warts, or ringworm, this product is your one-stop-shop for preventing, treating, and soothing equine skin conditions. Made with ketoconazole and zinc, this spray kills fungus on your horse’s skin without causing irritation. The handy spray nozzle also means that difficult to reach places, like your horse’s ears, are suddenly well within reach without the need for any clumsy or rough handling. 

Fauna Care’s Equine Fungal Spray is available as a 4.5 oz. bottle for $29.99.

The fact of the matter is that your horse is perfect from the tips of their ears all the way to the base of their tail and there is no doubt that you do all you can to keep them feeling safe, happy, and loved. While caring for a horse is no easy task, hopefully this article, along with Fauna Care’s range of equine products, has made the job a bit simpler when it comes to protecting them against fungal infections.

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Posted on
April 22, 2021
in
Advice
category

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