Common Skin Conditions

LICE  - common problem seen in the winter and spring months, characterised by constant rubbing and biting.  The neck, mane, base of tail and flanks are commonly affected but can be generalised.  Lice can be seen with the naked eye or lice eggs more commonly in the mane although this is not always the case.  Treatment with lice powder can be difficult as under the belly and in between the legs are difficult areas to treat effectively, better to use insecticidal washes or preferably a pour-on treatment.  Lice can harbour in wooden stables so good environmental hygiene is important.

RINGWORM – common problem seen again mostly over the winter months but can occur throughout the year.  The presentation in the horse is not as typical as people would think compared to that seen in cattle.  The areas commonly affected are the face, neck and girth area.  Typically, multifocal sites of scaling and hair loss (alopecia) develop which are usually associated with raised areas of skin but flat areas of alopecia may also be seen.  The condition can range from very itchy to no irratation at all.  Ringworm can be difficult to diagnose and requires hair plucks for culture.  Since ringworm can be very infectious, if you suspect ringworm isolate the horse, pressure wash the horses’ environment and clean tack.

RAIN SCALD – is a bacterial infection affecting areas of skin which are moist, hence it is a common problem. The back, lower limbs and areas of coat drainage and areas under rugs that are wet due to sweat are commonly affected.  Mud rash is the name given to the same bacterial infection when it affects the lower limbs.  Fresh lesions present as thick, multifocal superficial crusts and scabs which when pulled bring the hairs with them.  This is a self  limiting disease in mild cases which will resolve within a month in dry conditions.  Rugging seems to cause more harm than good.  If treatment is desirable thorough cleaning and removal of scabs and crusts by scrubbing with a very dilute solution of antibacterial wash (Hibiscrub) is best.  However, most importantly do not apply topical ointments until the area is thoroughly dry as applying barrier creams after washing seals in the moisture in the skin creating a moist microclimate for the bacteria to thrive.

SARCOIDS – the topic of a previous newsletter.  Briefly, sarcoids represents about 90% of skin tumours in horses.  Sarcoids are tumours that occur in the horse, which only affects the skin.  They are variable in appearance, location and rate of growth.  They seldom affect a horses usefulness.  Unless they are in a position likely to be abraded by tack.  Treatment is not always necessary but, if required, is possible, although in some cases it is both difficult and expensive.  Some regrowth after treatment may occur. 

URTICARIA – is a common condition in horse compared with other domestic species caused by a variety of stimuli e.g. drugs, food, inhaled substances, infectious organisms, bites/stings, contact allergy, stress, cold, heat etc.  The characteristic signs are wheals up to a few centimetres in diameter  which usually are circular.  They develop rapidly over the chest, neck and face.  Associated itch is not uncommon and serum leakage through the skin occasionally occurs.  Treatment involves identification of stimuli (can be very difficult) and in acute cases a short acting steroid is usually effective.

SWEET ITCH -  results from hypersensitivity against saliva antigens from certain biting insects.  In Scotland the midge seems to be the prime culprit as they are never far away from their wet breeding grounds and they like warm, still days.  Most species feed in the early evening and possibly again at dawn.  The condition takes 3-4 summers to develop and then gets worse every year.  The disease classically presents as a seasonally (April – October) recurrent, chronic itch with crusting, alopecia and dandruff.  Lesions tend to be on the head, mane, neck, rump and tail head.  Secondary skin infections are common due to broken skin.  Treatment is very unrewarding, stabling of affected horses at peak times of insect activity, summer sheets and hoots, repellents applied to the mane, back and tail head each afternoon are the basis for treatment. There is the possibility that a vaccine may become available for this condition in the future. Just one period of exposure to biting midges can result in an itch for 3 weeks so be patient when assessing treatments or management changes.


The material contained in this website is presented for information purposes only . The material is in no way intended to replace professional veterinary care or attention from a professional veterinary surgeon. 

The advice given in any of our web pages cannot be used as the basis for a diagnosis or choice of treatment.

Clyde Vet Group advises that you should always consult a veterinary surgeon about any queries with animals under your care.

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