Now it’s that period of the year where we hold on to the last days of summer before we are ushered into the crisp days of fall. In the fall season, the humidity is on the high side which sadly also contributes to skin issues such as scratches in horses. Scratches is a common skin condition that affects horses and it taggers the fetlock, the back of the pastern, the heel and in rare cases the cannon bone. Some veterinarians refer to scratches as pastern folliculitis or pastern dermatitis. Scratches is also called cracked heels, greasy heel, mud fever or dew poisoning.
Regardless of the name it is called, this mixed fungal, bacteria and sometimes parasitic skin infection is a major pain in the ass. It starts work the fungi and bacteria making their way into the horse’s skin to cause breakdown. What contributes mostly to this skin condition are dirty environment, moist environment, wet or muddy stalls and constant wetting and drying of the horse’s skin.
Scratches is the lay man’s term for pastern dermatitis which is defined as an inflammation of the skin that occurs between the fetlocks and the heels. With scratches, the affected areas of the body become crusty and scabby and will sometimes produce yellowish or clear serum. More than often scratches is a result of constant wetting and drying which gives room for fungi or bacteria to penetrate the skin through tiny cracks and wounds on the surface of the skin. While horses can get scratches at any time or period of the year, it occurs mostly during rainy seasons.
When it comes to scratches in horses, no sex or age is left out although the condition is mostly common in draft horses with long fetlock hair that love and retain moisture. Likewise horses that have white legs stand at the risk of having scratches thanks to their unpigmented skin that is prone to chafing, abrasions and sun damage.
HOW TO PREVENT SCRATCHES IN HORSES?
Ensure that the footing in the stall and turnout area is dry. Also use dry bedding for your horse.
If there are muddy areas around the gates, fill them up.
Make sure to dry your horse’s legs with dry towel before moving him to the stall
If possible, do not let your horse out in the morning when there’s still heavy frost and dew on the ground.
Consider clipping and hair removal for horses with long leg hair or feathers. This will help to ensure that contaminants or debris aren’t locked on the skin.
Early detection is important. So make a habit of checking your horse’s legs regularly for early signs of skin infection. Also, ensure you groom your horse on a routine basis to catch the buildup of mud on the legs.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR HORSE HAS SCRATCHES?
When left untreated, a simple scratch can develop into a painful condition.
In most cases, scratches will clear up very quickly with proper care and the good news is you don’t have to invite your veterinarian. You can treat the scratches on your own. But should the scratches become severe or persistent, do not hesitate to consult your veterinarian.
Here’s what to do:
Start by rinsing your horse’s legs. Then move the horse into a dry place, shake off mud, dirt and other debris on his lower legs. In case he has longer hair on his pastern that covers the skin, trim it carefully to better expose the skin to the air.
Once you have exposed the skin, cleanse the area with Medicated Horse Shampoo. Then dry the skin thoroughly with a dry towel. You can also use a hair dryer to blow the legs but double check that the hair dryer is at a low setting. Now apply Neem Skin Lotion.
Applying Neem Oil Skin helps to kill the bacteria and also serves as a protective barrier over the affected area.
Repeat these steps as necessary. Ensure you clean and treat the affected parts every day until the infection clear offs. In most cases, scratches take two weeks to clear off.
More importantly, address the root cause of the skin condition. If you find that your horse developed scratches from spending too much time outdoors in wet areas, you may need to set up a dry paddock for him. Put long term preventive measures in place which may include improving the drainage of the paddock, or filling wet areas with gravel.
Take note that discovering the root cause of the condition may demand that you carry out some detective work. You may find that your horse develop scratches because the bell boots do not fit in well and irritates his legs. You may even discover that environmental conditions such as coarse arena footing is to blame for the occasional scratches. Also inspect the bedding materials as some are chemically treated and can irritate your horse’s skin. Just do the detective’s work. After all, it’s for your horse.
IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO KEEP THE AREA CLEAN AND DRY TO ENSURE RAPID IMPROVEMENT AND THE BEST OUTCOME.
WASTE NO TIME TO CALL YOUR VETERINARIAN WHEN AND IF:
The skin condition gets worse or doesn’t clear up within two weeks despite treatment. Your veterinarian will rule out other conditions that are similar to scratches such as mange or vasculitis. Your veterinarian may prescribe a different treatment option if the infection turns out to be fungal rather than bacterial.
If there’s swelling in the affected legs. Should pathogens invade the outer layers of the skin, the result is a severe infection of the deeper tissues thereby causing painful swelling. If that happens, your veterinarian will want to start treatment immediately.
If the infection is recurrent despite treatment and making changes in the paddock or bedding if need be. Some horses are susceptible to scratches and your horse just might be one of them. If your horse keeps having scratches while other horses aren’t affected, your veterinarian will want to carry out an examination to identify the reasons. It could be that your horse has an underlying condition that targets his immune system.