By Katie Navarra
Living outdoors and sweaty workouts predispose horses to a variety of skin conditions. Good horsekeeping goes a long way in preventing skin funk, but sometimes even the most diligent barn cleaning and grooming routines just aren’t enough. Here’s a look at how to identify, treat, and prevent skin crud on horses.
“Skin Crud” Defined
“Skin crud” is a catch-all term used to describe any skin condition in the horse that causes raised bumps, har loss, scaling, crusts, and or pus, said Susan L. White DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM. These conditions have a visual “ick” factor and can be itchy or painful for horses.
“Similar to the descriptive term ‘colic,’ which describes gastrointestinal pain in the horse and can be present from a number of different diagnoses, ‘skin crud’ can occur due to a variety of different causes,” she said.
Common Skin Crud Causes
In some cases, skin crud comes from within the horse; it can be caused by allergies or sensitivity to sun (also called photosensitivity), for example. Other causes, such as rain rot (characterized by small crusty bump), are caused by bacteria. Still other cases are caused by a fungus—ringworm (scaly, crusty patches of skin where the hair falls)—for instance. Environmental conditions can also result in skin crud; pastern dermatitis, commonly called scratches,
usually is environmental in origin.
Treating Skin Issues
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. An accurate diagnosis from your veterinarian determines the best treatment plan, White said. Generally speaking, however, there are some protocols that many veterinarians recommend to treat some common conditions:
Rain rot: Shampoo the affected area and rinse with warm water to help soften and remove the crusts. This might take several baths, White said.
“Antiseptic shampoos may be used,” she said. “Personally, I do not like shampoos with iodine because it tends to dry the skin.”
Pastern dermatitis: Clean and thoroughly dry the affected area with a gentle nondetergent or antimicrobial shampoo. While scratches are healing, try to keep your horse in an area where his legs can remain clean and dry—this means avoiding turning out in muddy conditions if at all possible.
“Topical antimicrobial medication (and) zinc oxide sunscreen for white haired areas sensitive to solar radiation are two other common treatments,” White said. “These medications should always be applied to a clean and dry area; otherwise (they are) trapping organisms and irritants next to the skin.”
Ringworm: Topical antifungal medication can be applied after carefully cleaning the area and removing any crusts of exfoliated skin. Some veterinarians don’t recommend bathing the whole horse because it could contribute to spore dispersal and hair breakage, White said. Topical medications are best applied gently and locally, she said, as the organism lives in hair follicles; brushing too aggressively could spread the fungus to other parts of the horse’s body.
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