Horse Health: Understanding and Treating Skin Diseases and Inflammations

Horse Health: Understanding and Treating Skin Diseases and Inflammations

Horse Health: Understanding and Treating Skin Diseases and Inflammations

When your horse continually scratches, develops crusty patches, or loses fur, it could indicate various skin problems such as diseases or infections. Veterinarian Dr. Jérôme Transetti explains the skin issues that can affect our equine friends.

When a horse’s skin becomes inflamed, it generates a sticky, oily fluid that clusters together to form crusts. The real challenge is determining the root cause of the inflammation. Often, it stems from an allergy, particularly in the mane area, usually due to mosquito bites. 

This symptom is characteristic of summer dermatitis. However, other factors such as certain shampoos, localized infections, or the presence of parasites (mites, lice) can also trigger these issues.

Be Cautious of Infections

In some instances, inflammation may lead to infection. This occurs when horses repetitively scratch themselves using a tree branch, a fence post, or even their teeth. The skin may come into contact with bacteria, causing an infection.

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While simple skin inflammation is known as dermatitis, we refer to an infection as “pyoderma” (“pyo” for pus). This type of condition is quite common. It can be primary, meaning the skin gets infected directly, or secondary, when inflammation escalates into an infection. The latter is more prevalent.

Chronic Skin Diseases

Certain horses suffer from chronic skin diseases. These horses typically have body parts completely devoid of hair. In these areas, the skin may be crusty and appear wrinkled or crumpled. Initially, horses will lose hair either from scratching (example: lice) or due to a microbe (example: ringworm). If the skin inflammation persists, it tends to gradually thicken and may even develop crusts.

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Even when the disease is treated and cured, there are usually residual effects that may fade over time. The likelihood of hair regrowth depends on the severity of the damage to the hair follicle, which produces the hair. It is also quite common to observe the regrowth of white hair. Complete hair regrowth takes time, approximately eight weeks.

Malnutrition and Skin Loss

Horses that are losing skin are usually malnourished or suffering from severe skin diseases such as infections, autoimmune diseases, or allergies. An accurate diagnosis is crucial. Malnutrition is commonly seen in neglected horses. Proper feeding will generally resolve the issue, but recovery can take several months for complete skin regeneration.

Care for Skin Inflammations and Diseases in Horses

Before considering any treatment to alleviate a skin issue, it’s vital to pinpoint the precise cause of the inflammation, then apply an effective treatment to eliminate it. In the case of recurring summer dermatitis, it will be necessary to remove mosquitoes as much as possible using an insecticide, then treat the allergic reaction, often with corticosteroids. A specific shampoo for seborrhea may be used.

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For skin diseases, the vet’s first diagnostic step will be a biopsy, or a sample of the afflicted skin. The sample will be sent to a specialized anatomical pathology lab to be studied under a microscope, identifying the type of lesion and possible diseases. Occasionally, additional tests are needed.

Treatment, when available, is often implemented over several weeks for skin diseases. Additionally, not all treatments are effective or definitive. Most of these skin conditions are chronic diseases.

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