Common Equine Skin Conditions

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Last Updated on January 9, 2022

Ever find dry skin on your horse and wonder what was causing it? Ever find swelling, looking like bug bites, on your horse and not know how to treat it? Then this article is about equine skin conditions!

In this article, I’ll be discussing the two most common skin conditions found on horses, what causes them, how to prevent them, and how to treat them.  These conditions are rain rot and scratches.

Equine Skin Conditions: Rain Rot

What is Rain Rot?

Rain rot is a skin infection caused by bacteria build-up on a horse’s skin.  The bacteria grows due to wet or damp conditions in the horse’s skin or coat.  It can spread from horse to horse, and even from horse to humans by bugs and by direct contact.


As stated, rain rot occurs when a horse’s skin and coat remain damp for extended periods of time.  This can happen for several reasons.

Most commonly this occurs when horses live outdoors 24/7  in damp conditions with no shelter. Many pastures offer tree coverage or run-in sheds for horses to take cover from rain or snow.  But, the ones that don’t subject horses to standing in the wet conditions with no way to dry.


Another common cause of rain rot is wet blankets that are not properly dried. Horses wearing blankets are bound, at some point, to get these blankets wet.  Many blankets are “waterproof,” but even the most waterproof blankets will get set in a downpour or when horses roll in the snow or mud.

From there, if a wet blanket remains on a horse for a long period of time, the horse cannot dry underneath it.  So, the horse remains wet for much longer than it would have the blanket been taken off and dried properly.


The best way to prevent rain rot is to take a thorough analysis of when your horse could be exposed to wet conditions.  Does your horse live outside 24/7, or does he come in at night? Does your horse have access to shelter when he goes outside?

From there, plan accordingly.  Know when the wetter seasons are for your area, and make sure to prepare for them.  Have duplicates of blankets, so that if one gets soaked, you can take it off, dry your horse’s coat, and put a new, dry blanket on.  

Also, always have a wet-wicking cooler available.  This is a blanket that can temporarily go on your horse to help dry it; think of it like a towel, that a horse can wear.  That way, if your horse does get wet, you have a way to dry his coat.

Equine Skin Conditions Treatments

If your horse does develop rain rot, it is thankfully not extremely difficult to get rid of.  Small cases of rain rot will sometimes go away on their own. If it is something you notice, and something that is not going away, however, it should be treated.

Equine Skin Conditions: Rain Rot

Rain rot can be treated with antimicrobial soaps and shampoos. But, be sure that you’re using an equine product, not a human product.  A horse’s skin can be extremely sensitive.

Read more information Equine Health: Skin Condition Making Horses Turn Red

Equine Skin Conditions: Scratches

What are Scratches?

Scratches is another bacterial infection that causes the skin near a horse’s hooves (their fetlocks and pasterns) to become inflamed and irritated.  The horse’s fur will become matted and they will develop scabs and loose hair in these areas.


Scratches are caused by the same circumstances as rain rot, but near a horse’s feet.  A horse constantly standing in wet, damp footing is likely to develop Scratches. These conditions can be found both in indoor and outdoor environments.


There are a few ways to prevent scratches.  First of all, analyze where your horse spends time and whether or not these places are likely to become wet.  If your horse lives outside all the time, consider finding a solution for him to spend some time inside during the wet seasons.

If your horse lives outside and inside, make sure that your horse’s feet are cared for when they are brought inside.  Make sure their feet have been picked and clean, and that their legs are dried off.  


Additionally, make sure that your horse’s stall is cleaned and bedded with dry bedding.  Horses can get Scratches from standing it wet stalls too, whether the stall is wet from having a dirt floor, wet from water spilling or leaking, or wet from the horse’s natural urination.

Also, if your horse wears bell boots or splint boots during turnout, make sure that they are taken off and dried regularly.  Bell boots are traditionally, canvas, plastic/rubber, or leather. If they are leather or canvas, they will need to be dried when they get wet.

Nearly all materials of splint boot will need to be dried when they have gotten wet.  Failure to do these things can prolong wetness in a horse’s hoof area, and cause Scratches

So, make sure your horse’s feet and legs get cared for and dried at least once a day when outdoor conditions are wet, and make sure your horse has a dry, bedded stall to come inside to.

Equine Skin Conditions Treatments

If your horse does develop Scratches, there are ways of treating it, though it can be more difficult to treat than rain rot. It can be treated the same way as rain rot; antimicrobial soaps and shampoos for horses.

But, it’s much easier to keep a horse’s coat dry than it is to keep a horse’s feet dry. A horse has to use its feet, and its feet must touch the ground.  

Sometimes, to fully rid a horse of scratches, he must be kept inside for a period of time, in a dry space.  This shouldn’t last longer than a few days, and during this time, the horse could have turnout in a dry, covered area, such as an indoor arena.


I hope this article helped you get a glimpse into two of the most common skin conditions that can affect horses; rain rot and scratches.  If so, please share this article, and share with us your experiences treating rain rot or scratches!


Are horses susceptible to skin diseases?

The skin on a horse is one of the most important body parts because it helps to protect their internal organs from the outside world. It guards against wounds and infections and also allows a horse to regulate their temperature by moving excess heat away from its body.
Horses are susceptible to many types of skin diseases, including bacterial skin infections, fungal skin infections, and viral skin infection.
The most common bacterial infection is strangles. Strangles is a highly contagious disease that affects the equine respiratory system, but can also lead to inflammation of the udder and eyes. Horses are also susceptible to fungal infections, including ringworm and thrush.
Horses can also develop dermatitis from environmental factors such as sunlight or dust mites. A common form of dermatitis among horses is known as rain rot. This type of dermatitis can be caused by a wet, dirty horse coming into contact with a dry, dusty surface – such as hay bales – which triggers an allergic reaction to the protein in the straw.

What are some symptoms of horses with sensitive skin?

Horses with sensitive skin are often hypersensitive to external factors, such as temperature, humidity, and coat care.
Some of the lesser-known symptoms of horses with sensitive skin include overproduction of sweat and sebum, scratching or rubbing skin even when not exposed to any environmental factor, hair loss from scratching the skin surface, hair loss from pulling out loose hairs from mane or tail when grooming.
Sensitive horses are often allergic to some soaps, shampoos, medications, insect bites, plants or other things in their environment. They react by breaking out in hives and/or itchy skin. Allergies can also lead to difficulty breathing.

What are the most common causes of horse skin disease?

The most common cause of skin disease in horses is bacteria. They are usually found on the skin’s surface but sometimes, they can invade deep into the skin layers or muscle tissue. When this happens, they may cause abscesses, ulcers or infections that lead to septicemia.
Another common cause is fungi. These microscopic funghi exist everywhere but they are most likely to affect horses who have weakened immune systems due to stress, transport or illness.
Other causes of skin disease often stem from the horse's environment. Irritants found in the soil, minerals, pollen, plants and trees can trigger an allergic response to a foreign material that has penetrated the skin, such as dirt, plant proteins, etc. Some allergies can also be sparked by animal hair, insects such as ticks and mites, or grasses such as ragweed.

What skin conditions are hereditary?

There are many different types of hereditary skin conditions that you may see in the horse population. Some of these include Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa (JEB) in American Saddlebreds, Hereditary equine regional dermal asthenia (HERDA) in Quarter Horses, and Pemphigus erythematosus (PE).
Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa (JEB) is a rare, debilitating genetic condition that is characterized by blisters in the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and anus.
HERDA is a skin condition that is caused by a mutation in the COL7A1 gene. This mutation leads to a defect in type VII collagen production. Horses with HERDA often suffer from a lack of elasticity in their skin and a thinning coat.
PE is an autoimmune disease of the skin that causes blistering on various parts of the body including the head.
Some breeds of horses are more susceptible to certain diseases because of their genetic makeup. It is important for horse owners to be aware of the breed-specific risks their horse faces so they can take the necessary precautions.

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