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5 weather-related skin conditions to watch out for with your horse

As we head towards the colder months and start to endure some of the more testing weathers, there are a few common skin conditions that you should know about, which can bother our horses.

Make sure you’re aware of these five weather-releated problems so you can help keep your horse happy and healthy this winter…

1. Folliculitis

This is a bacterial infection of a horse’s hair follicles and is most common in the areas where a horse’s tack sits, such as the neck, saddle and girth areas. It thrives in warm, wet conditions such as under sweaty rugs and saddle pads. Folliculitis presents as clusters of small, red bumps or pustules that develop around hair follicles. These can break open and crust over, leaving your horse’s skin feeling painful and tender.

TREATMENT: avoid over-rugging your horse to prevent sweating and ensure tack fits correctly and doesn’t rub. Make sure rugs are kept clean, especially when putting them on a freshly clipped horse. If your horse has contracted the condition, your vet will prescribe a longer-than-usual course of antibiotics, along with daily bathing of the area with warm water and a disinfectant. With correct treatment, folliculitis should clear up within 10 to 14 days.

2. Ringworm

Ringworm causes skin lesions that usually start as small, raised spots from which the hair is lost. The spots can spread and a thick, dry and crumbly scab may form. The patches can enlarge as the fungus spreads outwards. Some horses react to the fungal toxins and the skin becomes inflamed. A crust of exudate forms under the hair tuft. Ringworm scabs are often confused with rain scald, so speak to your vet as soon as you see symptoms to ensure correct diagnosis.

TREATMENT: ringworm is highly contagious so, if you suspect it, isolate the horse immediately. It is easily treated using fungicidal washes and sprays, which should be used as advised by your vet. The horse’s hair will generally grow back within six to eight weeks. Wash any areas of the stable that the horse was in contact with, and all his rugs, with the fungicidal. Bedding should be removed, and burned if possible. Avoid clipping an infected horse as this is likely to spread infection. People can also be infected.

3. Lice

Parasites such as lice commonly affect horses with long winter coats. There are two types of lice 
that live on horses: Haematopinus asini, 
a sucking louse that feeds on blood and tissue fluid, and Damalinia equi, a biting louse that feeds on scurf and other debris 
on the skin surface. Lice are very small and hard to see, but the most common sign you’ll spot is an itching horse, particularly under the mane, along the back and at the top of the tail. They can itch so much that it causes bald patches. Cream-coloured eggs can be found in the mane and forelock close to the skin surface.

TREATMENT: lice thrive in warmth and moisture, so avoid making your horse too warm with unnecessary rugging. You may also need to isolate a horse that has lice, as these parasites pass easily from one horse to another. If you do suspect them, treat your horse with a louse powder or treatment provided by your vet. As the powder kills off only adult lice and not eggs, you’ll need to treat your horse again in 10 to 14 days to kill off any that have hatched in the interim. Equipment such as tack, rugs and grooming brushes should also be treated.

4. Rain scald

Rain scald is a bacterial infection which affects a horse’s face, back, shoulders, loins and hindquarters. It is caused by excessive wetting of the skin, such as prolonged periods of driving rain, or constant sweating under over-thick rugs which allows bacteria to penetrate through small abrasions and cause an infection similar to mud fever.  Rain scald appears as scabs, often with tufts of hair attached and sore, pink skin in between. Secondary infection can occur which results in pus under the scabs.

TREATMENT: avoid over-rugging as this causes sweating, which increases moisture and enables bacteria to thrive. Change rugs regularly and avoid sharing them (as well as brushes and tack) between horses to prevent cross-infection. Also ensure your rugs are fully waterproof to keep the rain off the skin. Clipping your horse’s winter coat will help reduce sweating and makes keeping the skin clean easier, too. Clean with diluted antibacterial wash, then gently tease scabs off, dry and apply antibacterial or antibiotic ointment as required until the infection subsides. Horses should be stabled or wear a waterproof, breathable rug 
to protect them until the infection has 
cleared up.

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5. Mud fever

Mud fever usually occurs when horses are working or living in wet, muddy conditions. Anything that softens or damages the skin allows bacteria to enter and can fuel mud fever, which is caused by the same bacteria as rain scald. The skin over the pasterns becomes infected, resulting in scabby, weeping lesions. The affected area can become hot, swollen and painful to touch. The infection can spread further up the leg and cause lameness. White limbs are particularly susceptible.

TREATMENT: improving the drainage in the paddock and laying down gravel in muddy areas will keep your horse out of the wet. Leg wraps can also help keep mud off a horse’s legs. It’s preferential to let any mud on legs dry and then brush it off than to keep hosing it off, as the constant washing removes the protective oily layer. Ensure bedding is clean and dry. To treat mud fever, clip the hair around the infected area. Ease off any scabs that lift relatively easily, using a greasy cream to soften if necessary, but avoid picking and causing bleeding. Use an antiseptic wash to clean the area gently, then dry thoroughly with absorbent kitchen roll before applying a topical or steroidal cream from your vet. In severe cases, antibiotics may be given. Stabling your horse for the first few days will give the skin a better chance of healing.

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