Summertime Skin Concerns For Horses
by Debra J. Hagstrom, MS, Equine Extension Specialist, University of Illinois
that owns horses knows full well that summer, with its heat, humidity, hot sun
and insects, can be a time of itchy, scratchy, bug bitten misery for our trusty
steeds. With the skin being the body's
largest and most important organ, skin problems can be many and difficult to
both identify and manage for horse owners and veterinarians. Two of the more common skin conditions horses
develop in the hot summer months are sunburn and insect allergies. As horse owners, we can minimize these two
uncomfortable skin conditions for our horses if we are armed with a little bit
is most often seen in horses with pink skin (lacking pigment) which is found
underneath most white hair on horses.
This includes white markings on the face and legs, and any white areas
on Paint or pinto horses. Dark skin
provides more protection from the sun's ultraviolet rays so, under normal
conditions, horses with minimal white are not usually susceptible to a simple
case of sunburn. With that said, it is
important to know that sunburn in horses is not only linked to the horse's skin
color. Sun sensitivity
(photosensitivity) is also known to be enhanced by certain plants such as alsike
clover, ragwort, buckwheat, perennial rye and St. John's wart. These plants contain photodynamic agents
which make a horse more sensitive to sunburn.
As light sensitive compounds in the forage are absorbed from the gut
into the bloodstream they travel to the skin where they react with the UV rays
from the sun. The resulting damage and
death of skins cells causes the skin to develop redness, swelling, cracking and
eventually to slough off. Horses that
develop liver disease might also suffer from photosensitization as the liver is
not longer able to filter out the normal chlorophyll products of plants. Furthermore, medications, such as
tetracycline, are known to make some horses more photosensitive than normal.
manifests as redness, swelling, cracking, blistering, oozing and peeling
skin. It is no doubt painful to the
horse and is very unsightly. Photosensitivity
typically produces more severe lesions including open sores that become crusty
scabs than does simply sunburn. Furthermore,
if the horse gets sunburned on its withers, over it back, or on its loins, you
most likely won't be able to put a saddle on those sunburned areas so your
horse will be out of service until the sunburn heals.
your horse is showing signs of sunburn, the most logical first step is to limit
its exposure to the sun, especially during the most intense hours of
sunlight. This is easily achieved by
stabling your horse during the day. Sunscreen
or zinc oxide sun block products made for people offer effective sunburn protection
for horses too. In fact, many grooming
products and fly sprays contain sunscreen so you may already be protecting your
horse from the sun without even realizing it.
There are also fly masks and fly sheets on the market that claim to have
UV ray barriers to aid in preventing sunburn.
Of course, if your horse develops a case of sunburn, in addition to
taking the actions listed above, you should also determine if your pasture
contains any plants that could be contributing to the problem and take steps to
to insect bites is one of the most common allergic conditions in horses. The resulting itchy swellings along the neck,
back and underline of a horse is commonly known as "sweet itch". This is an allergic response to the saliva of
biting gnats and flies. The most
troublesome of these biting insects is the gnat or "no-see-um" (Culicoides sp.).
Other culprits include blackflies, horn flies and mosquitos.
feed on horses at dawn and dusk. Thus an
easy way to reduce your horse's exposure to gnats keep them stabled during
these times. Additionally, using fans in
the stalls or loafing area is a great idea as air movement keeps gnats away
from the horses since they are not strong fliers. Using permethrin based fly sprays may also
make a difference. Here again, fly
sheets with a tight weave, especially those with a belly guard, may really make
a difference as well. Keeping the stable
area free of manure and standing water, the natural breeding grounds for flies
and mosquitos, will help too.
shots are available for horses with serious insect allergies. Intradermal skin testing (IDST) can help
determine the insect(s) to which your horse is most allergic. A desensitizing vaccine can then be custom
made for your horse. Approximately half
to three-quarters of horses respond positively to this process; however, six to
12 months is needed before the full benefits will be realized. Additionally, the maintenance shots are
usually given every two weeks.
Trying to prevent skin problems by protecting your horse early in
the season (with fly sheets, repellents, sunblock products, turn-out management
or allergy shots) is better than having to deal with it after the horse
develops a reaction. Once your horse has skin problems many of these
preventatives may be very irritating on the damaged skin making the problem
difficult to resolve.
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