How to Keep Your Horse’s Skin Healthy

woman with red hair caring for two horses

Ask any human about their skincare routine, and you’ll quickly find that-- even if they take a pretty lax approach to it-- just about everyone has given some thought to how they approach the issue. So why should skincare be any less important for our furry friends?

Horses get lumps, bumps, and scratches all the time, but how can you tell if that bald patch is from an afternoon frolick or a symptom of a more serious skin condition? In this article, we’ll cover:

  • How to recognize common equine skin conditions
  • Treatments for horse wounds and skin conditions at home
  • Determining when your horse’s skin condition should be seen by a vet
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horse close up
Horses experience a variety of skin conditions and irritations. Keep reading to learn how to identify some of the most common ones.

6 Types of Horse Fungus, Lesions, and Other Conditions You Should Know

Like any other kind of ailment, there are countless fungal conditions and varieties of skin irritation that can affect your horse. The key to keeping your horse happy and healthy is knowing how to identify and treat the most common equine skin conditions and when it’s time to call in professional veterinary help.

Common equine skin conditions include:

  • Rain rot
  • Ringworm
  • Sweet itch
  • Aural plaques
  • Dandruff
  • Eosinophilic granuloma  with collagen degeneration

1. Rain rot (aka rain scald)

Bacteria usually isn’t such a good thing for open wounds, and that’s definitely the case when it comes to the bacteria Dermatophilus congolensis. When this organism finds its way into cracks in your horse’s skin-- whether they’re larger scrapes or even wounds as small as bug bites-- it can cause serious infection known as rain rot.

Rain rot is most common in horses whose immunity has been compromised in some way (old age, malnutrition, illness, etc).

What to look for: Scabby crusts-- especially on parts of the body that are usually damp-- that form raised bumps with tufts of upright matted hair. These crusts may eventually peel off and leave tiny, round bare spots. Pus may or may not be visible.

2. Ringworm

Based on the name, many people assume that ringworm is, well… a worm. However, ringworm is actually a fungal infection caused by any of several members of the Trichophyton or Microsporum families. These fungi are drawn to keratin-- the protein you may know as the basic structure of your (and your horse’s) hair and skin cells.

What to look for: Round, hairless patches of scabbed or crusty skin. This infection can occur anywhere on the body, but it’s most common on the face, neck, shoulders, chest, and under the saddle. The lesions may be sore or itchy, but they also may not cause any serious discomfort to your horse.

3. Sweet itch

Gnats bites are never any fun, but sometimes their bites can do more damage than simply annoying your horse. Sweet itch is a reaction to gnat bites that can cause small, itchy bumps on your horse’s skin.

What to look for: Small bumps, usually along the mane and tail head.

4. Aural plaques

Any time your horse has a plaque, the culprit is definitely an equine papilloma virus. Aural plaques are thought to be spread by fly bites-- especially backfly bites-- and can largely be prevented by taking precautions to minimize your horse’s exposure to flies.

What to look for: Plaques on any part of the body on horses of any breed or age. However, it’s worth noting that unless ear plaques are bothering your horse, treatment or veterinarian consultation is unnecessary.

5. Dandruff

Just like in humans, horse dandruff is caused when a horse’s skin is too dry or oily. Dandruff is more common in certain breeds of horses-- Arabians and Thoroughbreds, for example, are extremely likely to have the condition.

If your horse inherited dandruff, it is not likely something to worry about. However, if your horse develops dandruff later on, in may be a sign of other, serious health conditions. Seek consultation from a veterinarian to make sure that everything is as it should be.

What to look for: Small flakes of skin that appear routinely and generally in the same areas. For many horses, dandruff is most prevalent at the base of the mane and tail.

6. Eosinophilic granuloma with collagen degeneration

If you follow the beauty industry, you’ll be familiar with collagen-- it’s structural protein in skin. When collagen breaks down in a horse’s skin, it can cause nodules to form. It is generally believed that this is caused by a hypersensitive immune response.

Luckily, unless the nodules seem to be bothering your horse, they don’t require treatment.

What to look for: Distinct, firm nodules around the neck, back, and withers that are the size of a dime or smaller. Above the nodules, the horse’s skin and hair should be normal, and the nodules themselves do not contain pus.

woman caring for horses
If your horse has a wound, fungus, or lesion, you may be able to provide some relief with an over the counter spray treatment.

Over the Counter Remedies for Horse Wounds, Fungus, and Lesions

So, you’ve determined that your horse has a skin condition-- or perhaps you’ve simply noticed that your horse has a scratch or another wound that you want to keep from getting infected. What’s next?

Horse wounds can often be effectively treated by over the counter sprays or medications. In general, you want to make sure that your equine first aid kit is stocked with these essentials:

  • Silver spray. Kills bacteria and fungi, providing an effective option for general horse wound and skin care.
  • Zinc spray. Reduces itch and inflamation, making it helpful in the treatment of skin infections and irritations.
  • Anti-fungal spray. Inhibits fungal growth and prevents irritation.

Other first aid and protective sprays. Simultaneously treat any wounds or irritations your horse may have while also protecting against future skin conditions.

happy horses grazing
Sometimes over the counter sprays and treatments aren’t enough to get your horse entirely well-- that’s when it’s time to call in your veterinarian for extra help.

Knowing When to Seek Veterinary Help

In many cases, over the counter remedies do an excellent job of healing horse wounds and skin conditions. However, sometimes your horse needs additional care in order to get back to feeling her best.

Seek assistance from a veterinarian immediately if:

  • Your horse appears to be experiencing extreme discomfort or pain as a result of a skin condition
  • Your horse’s condition interferes with his ability to see, hear, or eat
  • You have removed your horse from environments that may worsen their condition and treated the condition with an over the counter treatment for a week or more without seeing improvement
horses in beautiful field
Keep your horse feeling happy and healthy by looking out for these common skin conditions and making sure your equine first aid kit is always stocked with horse wound essentials like silver spray.

Taking care of your horse’s skin is an important part of keeping your pet happy and healthy for many years to come. How do you keep your horse’s skin clear and infection-free? Let us know your best horse skincare advice in the comments section below!

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