Why is the skin important?
The horse’s skin is a very important but often overlooked bodily structure. It has many functions, including acting as a barrier to external challenges, helping to control body temperature, and helping to make vitamin D.
By feeding our horses a correctly balanced diet, their skin and coat should be healthy, but some horses need extra nutritional support to help them deal with some common skin issues.
What is sweet itch?
Sweet itch is an allergic skin reaction, triggered by the saliva of biting insects such as the Culicoides midge. If the horse is allergic to this, their body reacts to the bite, which causes intense itching and skin irritation.
Appearance: Commonly rubbed mane and tail, but can affect all over the body in some horses. In bad cases big chunks of hair will be completely rubbed out, and raw skin is left exposed, attracting more insects, and increasing risk of infection.
Treatment: Once the horse has bald, irritated patches it can be difficult to help the problem. Soothing the problem from the inside out by providing an Omega-3 rich supplement, and using cooling creams on affected areas may help, and also follow prevention methods.
Prevention: Use of fly rugs, turning out away from habitats that midges love (muck heaps, stagnant water), bringing horses inside when midge activity is prolific, feeding a skin supplement high in Omega-3
What is Mud fever? Mud fever is a term used to describe various symptoms that commonly occur on the bulb of the heel or the pasterns. These problems are usually caused by bacteria, which can live on healthy skin with no detrimental effects. However, if there is an abrasion, cut or scratch, this bacteria can enter through the skin and cause an infection. Commonly the skin is harmed by exposure to wet or muddy conditions, and the problem then occurs, hence the name.
Appearance: This takes many forms, from patches of matted hair on the pasterns and bulb of the heel, scabs and minor swelling to pustular expulsions. Sometimes the horse can also show as lame.
Treatment: In mild cases, effective treatment can include clipping off excess hair, using an antibacterial leg scrub and keeping the affected limb dry. Barrier creams may also be beneficial if the horse is going back into mud; however these creams provide an ideal environment for bacteria to multiply between the greasy layer and the skin, so use with some reservation. In more severe cases, veterinary assistance will be required.
- Keep legs dry and mud free- if possible turn out in a rubber school or concrete pad when mud is very deep, or use protective boots, chaps or barrier creams when turning out or riding in wet and muddy conditions
- Check for mud fever daily
- Feed a supplement to keep skin healthy
What is Rain Scald? Rain scald is the term given to mud fever when it is higher on the body!
It is a form of dermatitis, caused by bacteria that normally live on skin without causing trouble, but will multiply rapidly in a moist environment. If there is a wound or abrasion in the skin an infection can develop, and this is more likely in older horses, or those with a compromised immune system.
Appearance: look for bumps, crusts, pus- filled scabs, matted hair or hair loss on areas of the body that are commonly damp- shoulders, hind quarters, and the back.
Treatment: The best treatment is sun and warmth! If possible remove the horse from wet conditions, so they can thoroughly dry out. Wash affected areas using anti-microbial shampoos, and dry thoroughly. Keep the horse dry and warm while recovering, and call your vet if an infection fails to improve.
- Provide dry shelter if the horse lives out
- Rug adequately (if there is no current skin infection)
- Never put a non-breathable rug on a damp or wet horse
- Groom regularly to get rid of mud and dirt, and to spot infection early
- Feed a supplement to help keep skin supple and healthy
If you would like any further information about your horse’s nutritional requirements please contact our nutritional help line 0800 585525 or visit www.feedmark.com, we’re open 7 days a week.
Olivia Colton MSc
Nutritional and Technical Coordinator