Q: My gelding suffers from rain scald every year. He is out in the paddock during the day and in at night. Are there any alternative treatments to help with this problem and also, what stable management measures can I take?
Tim Couzens MRCVS replies: Rain scald is one of the most common skin conditions in horses when there are long periods of wet weather. The veterinary name for it is dermatophilosis, reflecting the name of the bacteria Dermatophilus congolensis which is responsible. Rain scald can be invaded with secondary bacteria like staphylococci.
The condition looks as if the skin has been scalded by water droplets. Dermatitis, especially over the loins and the saddle areas, may appear. Affected areas will start by exuding a sticky secretion which matts the hair together, forming scabs. Under the scabs the area will be moist and pink, and sore when touched.
Rain scald is usually easy to diagnose but if you are uncertain ask your vet. It is possible to mistake the symptoms (especially in the early stages) for ringworm and for seborrhoea (excess grease production). Skin samples can be taken and examined microscopically for the bacteria to confirm diagnosis.
Conventionally, treatment involves cleaning affected areas with antiseptic scrub and applying a solution of one per cent potash alum. More severe cases will need antibiotics or penicillin. Both herbal and homoeopathic remedies are also effective.
Useful herbal remedies
The following can be bought in dried herb form and added to the feed:
- BurdockThis is good for most skin problems and helps to balance the body.
- Calendula (Marigold)This is the most useful of all the herbal remedies as it helps to reduce inflammation and assists healing.
- CleaversThis anti-inflammatory herb is a tonic for the lymphatic system.
- NettlesThese will dry up sticky secretions and remove toxins fromthe body.
Several companies now make dry and liquid herbal preparations based on these herbs. Also, look out for treatments which can be applied externally to help heal the areas once the scabs have been removed. Many of these will contain calendula, hypericum or tea tree, which all stimulate the affected areas to heal quickly and help to kill off the bacteria which cause rain scald.
Homoeopathy can be just as effective in dealing with rain scald and can produce very rapid results. The most useful remedies are:
- GraphitesThis is best used before any scabs appear. It is effective in heavy horses.
- DulcamaraThis will help heal the skin quickly.
- Rhus toxA particularly useful remedy where the affected areas are sore to touch.
- MancinellaThis remedy is effective where the crusts are large and thick.
- MezeriumMezerium is most useful where there are thick scabs with a secondary bacterial infection underneath. Having selected the most suitable remedy to use, you should dose your horse with the 30c potency twice daily until all the symptoms clear. In most cases this should take no longer than a week.
Whatever approach you take, general care is as important as any treatment. Affected horses need to be kept dry and should always wear a turnout rug in the field. If possible, provide a field shelter.
Avoid contact with wet, muddy fields (and wet in general) and also try to stop mud splashing onto the skin. Ensure affected horses are stabled in a dry box and that any damp bedding is removed. Good grooming is also important.
Clean your grooming kit to avoid spreading infection by contamination with scabs and hair.
Read more on improving the condition of your horse’s skin: