Treating Horses for Scratches

Treating scratches in horses is challenging. The phrase “my horse has scratches!” can mean one of two things.  Either the horse has physical scratches, like cuts, somewhere, or he has a common equine skin condition called “scratches.” I’m willing to bet it more commonly means the latter! 

Scratches affect many horses every year.  Some horses get scratches seasonally, some horses get scratches year-round.  It depends on the horse, and it depends on the climate. But, it is important to know how to identify scratches and how to treat scratches, so that your horse can maintain their health and well being.

In this article, I’ll be discussing what scratches are, how horses get scratches, how scratches can be treated, and how scratches can be prevented.

Treating Scratches in Horses: What are Scratches?

Scratches is essentially a form of dermatitis horses get right above their hooves, in an area called their pasterns.  It looks almost like dried mud clumps hanging onto the horse’s fur.  But, it’s actually dried and dead skin.

Scratches aren’t a disease, but rather a reaction, the same way we wouldn’t consider an allergic reaction a disease.


Treating Scratches in Horses: How Do they Get Scratches?

Horses can develop scratches from a number of varying circumstances.  But, the most common underlying factor in these circumstances is the prolonged wetness of a horse’s hooves and hoof area.

This “wetness” can be caused by mud, actual water (puddles, ponds, etc), soiled bedding, and other things.  The horse turned out in wet pastures for long amounts of time, or kept in a soiled stall for long amounts of time can develop scratches.

Basically, scratches can be caused by any kind of prolonged moisture in the hoof or hoof area of a horse.

How Can Scratches be Treated?

The best way to treat scratches is to not treat it at all, the same way that the best way to heal a cut is to just let it be and not irritate it further.  There are some things you can do to help, such as cutting the fur away around the infected area and making sure your horse is no longer exposed to the wet conditions that caused the scratches to begin with.

But, the best treatment for scratches is to let the horse’s body treat itself.  Because, it will do exactly that; so long as the moist conditions don’t persist, a horse’s body will heal itself of scratches.  Any generic ointment, cream, or liquid solution can prolong the moisture and irritate the scratches further.

If scratches persist, some veterinarians may prescribe specialized prescription ointments and creams.  But, I would recommend only using these as your vet prescribes.  As with any ailment, the best form of healing is self-healing.  

Sometimes, this isn’t enough, and that’s where the prescription ointments come in.  These should be used as the vet prescribed to help your horse heal.

Treating Scratches in Horses: Can Scratches be Prevented? 

As with any other equine ailment or condition, scratches can never be 100% prevented.  Sometimes you can do the best you absolutely can, and your horse may still come down with scratches.  But, there are preventative measures that can be taken to better you and your horse’s odds!

Most importantly, keep your horse’s feet dry.  No, it’s not practical to demand your horse’s feet be dry 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  They’re horses, they live outside most of the time, and their feet are going to get wet.

They’re going to play in the mud and stand in soiled spots of their stall; in other words, they’re going to be horses.  But, there are still things you can do to make sure their feet stay dry. First, make sure your horse’s feet are picked on a regular basis.  This way any wet bedding or mud buildup won’t be on their feet for long.

Second, if a horse comes in with wet legs, simply dry them off before leading the horse into its stall.  Use a towel or a brush to try to dry their legs.  

Treating Scratches in Horses: Can Scratches be Prevented? 

Third, if conditions seem uncomfortably wet, let your horse stay inside for a day, or don’t go on that trail ride you had planned.  Chances are, it’s not going to be fun for either you or your horse anyways.

When it comes down to preventing scratches, the best prevention is to make informed decisions.  Only you know exactly what conditions and situations your horse is exposed to, so only you can decide whether or not you think your horse is going to be inclined to develop scratches.


Scratches, thankfully, is very easy to treat- do nothing! But, in all seriousness, if your horse develops scratches, it is not a serious condition.  

Simply make sure that the fur around the scratches is trimmed away, make sure the horse isn’t exposed to the moist conditions it was when the scratches developed, and keep an eye on your horse’s recovery.  If the scratches don’t seem to be self-healing, call your vet, and he will likely prescribe a cream or ointment to use.

The best treatment is always prevention, and the best prevention for scratches is to make sure your horse’s feet aren’t wet all the time.

Yes, they will get wet, and they’ll probably get wet frequently.  Horses are outdoor animals, and the outdoors tends to get wet. But, monitor exactly how wet it is going to be, and make decisions accordingly.

I hope this article helped you better understand how to treat scratches in horses and what can be done to prevent it! If so, please share this article, and share with us your experiences treating scratches!

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