Last Updated on December 30, 2021
Although we appreciate the rain, moist environments can wreak havoc on horses. Scratches (pastern dermatitis) have a variety of names depending on where you live, but the treatment is the same. What exactly is the best treatment for scratches in horses?
Typically, removal from the wet environment and a good antiseptic wash will take care of this pesky skin condition. However, it’s not always possible to avoid prolonged periods of moisture. Some cases of scratches can be too stubborn for a wash treatment and will require an additional topical product to help target and treat scratches effectively.
About Scratches in Horses
Scratches are characterized by pastern skin inflammation– this can include scabs, crusts, or even leakage of a discolored serum. This normally occurs when environments allow certain types of fungus and bacteria to penetrate the skin.
Scratches are also commonly referred to as mud fever, cracked/grease heels, or dew poisoning. Moisture, although the typical culprit, isn’t the only underlying cause of this dermatitis. Irritation from equipment such as brushing boots or overreach bots can also lead to irritation and inflammation. This is a common problem in horses, and if treated promptly, will not have any chronic effects. However, the longer left untreated, the more discomfort your horse will experience.
What Is The Best Treatment For Scratches In Horses
Wet environments allow certain types of fungus and bacteria to penetrate the skin. Purdue University recommends using a betadine, chlorhexidine, benzoyl peroxide, or 1-2% miconazole shampoo and allowing it to sit for 10 minutes prior to rinsing.
Although you can massage and thoroughly shampoo the area, DO NOT abrasively scrub or scratch. Despite the name “scratches”, it will only cause more discomfort and deepen bacterial and fungus exposure. For more stubborn dermatitis cases or expedited treatment, check out some of these top recommended scratches products:
Equiderma is a product that has been a life-changer for many horses, especially those that frequently suffer from bug bite reactions, cannon crud, scratches, rubbing sores, or rain rot. It has a virtually odorless formula and comes in an easy-squirt bottle.
However, due to the liquid nature of Equiderma Skin Lotion, it is best to keep it stored away from extreme temperatures. Equiderma has also been dubbed a “miracle solution” for horses that have suffered hair loss from their regular coat. Owners report hair stubble regrowth in as little as 48 hours!
M-T-G isn’t just to help grow out manes and tails! It is an all-purpose product suitable for use on dogs, cats, and livestock. The oil-based formula means you will not waste time with excessive applications. A little goes a long way, making this treatment one the most affordable options.
The sulfur doesn’t smell like roses, but it helps create a strong protective barrier. WARNING! M-T-G is messy and oily to apply. We recommend utilizing a brush or gloves during application. M-T-G is manufactured in the USA.
Coat Defense is available in two formulas- a “healing paste” and an easy-to-apply preventive powdered formula. The Trouble Spot Drying Paste treats multiple types of dermatitis on livestock and pets, and it is a horse owner favorite for scratches. It soothes and dries on contact, and both formulas have a pleasant scent. Due to the thick “mud-like” nature of the paste, it stores well even in hot barns. The Daily Preventative Powder can be applied as a preventative for horses that may be prone to scratches. Coat Defense is another great all-around product and is also a popular choice for horses with Sweet Itch.
Although this isn’t a topical leave-on treatment, Banixx makes amazing products for all creatures. This alcohol-free and non-toxic shampoo is suitable for both dogs and livestock. It is a medicated shampoo that is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal and doesn’t burn irritated skin.
This shampoo can be used all-over for itchy and allergy-prone horses, or as a spot treatment for skin issues. It’s popular for scratches, ringworm, rain rot, and general itchiness. Because this shampoo is soap-free, there is less concern about over-drying sensitive skin and stripping a horse’s coat of its natural oils. This is our top shampoo pick! In minor cases of scratches, this product can work well as a standalone item.
Despite the suspicious correlation between wind and horse show dates, the weather is beyond our control. But there are some steps you can take to help prevent scratches from developing, especially if your horse is prone!
- Use care with boots and leg accessories. It’s best to avoid using boots or leg wraps if they are likely to trap moisture. This can be in extreme heat when your horse will sweat, or already wet paddocks. Also, avoid swapping boots and polo wraps between horses to minimize the spread of bacteria.
- Utilize mats, pellets, or even straw in areas that collect moisture where your horse may spend a lot of time.
- If your horse is prone to scratches and you stall at night, you may consider toweling off their legs and drying before stalling. Always ensure bedding is dry.
- Visually inspect your horse daily. The earlier scratches is caught, the easier it is to treat.
- If you are unable to avoid prolonged moisture and your horse is feathered or has long fetlock hair, you may consider clipping the hair temporarily.
Scratches is typically an easy-to-treat problem with no vet visit required. And with such a wide variety of products on the market, you’re sure to find something that will work well for your horse. However, in more severe cases, bacteria and fungi may spread deep into the affected area. When this happens, a horse may be at risk for cellulitis. If you see no improvement in your horse’s dermatitis, be sure to consult your vet before the problem escalates.
Have you dealt with scratches before? Let us know below what your go-to products and treatments are, and be sure to share! Remember, scratches can develop at any time in the year, and early identification is key.
What causes equine scratches?
Equine skin is very sensitive and delicate. It is very prone to injuries such as scratches, especially if the horse spends most of his time in humid environment. Moisture can cause the outer layer of the skin (epidermis) to become damaged and develop a rash or scab as well as inflammation or ulcers. Once the skin is already damaged it's easy for the bacteria to enter and cause infection. Equine skin is also very prone to fungus infection. Fungus is a type of microorganism that lives in moist environments and can cause additional health issues. Therefore, equine owners should always be aware of the conditions of their horse's stable or paddock to prevent further damage to the skin.
How do you treat scratches on horses?
If an injury occurs, the area needs to be cleaned and the damaged skin needs to be covered to protect it from the outside environment. The first thing you should do is cleanse the area with an antiseptic wash. Next, you need to dry the skin thoroughly. After that, you apply an antibiotic ointment. Finally, repeat these steps as needed.
Scratches can lead to more serious problems if not treated properly. Therefore, it is very important for horse owners to learn how to prevent them. The best way to do this is by addressing the cause and remove it if possible.
Can scratches make a horse lame?
Yes, severe cases of scratches can cause lameness in horses.
Small scratches can easily be overlooked and they might even heal on their own. But in some cases, the scratches are so severe that they will need to be treated medically. When a horse’s skin is severely damaged, it may become infected and this, if left untreated, can lead to lameness.
How long does a scratch take to heal?
Small scratches normally heal very quickly, within 3 to 7 days, if the skin is kept clean and dry. This is because the skin is constantly producing new cells and if it is kept clean, the new cells are able to cover the wound quickly. On the other hand, if the skin is infected, it takes longer to heal. In most cases, horse scratches will heal in up to two weeks but if the wounds are deep or infected it can take much longer. In this case it's important to clean and treat the affected skin with an antibiotic cream every two to three days, until the infection clears completely.
It's also a good idea to keep your horse indoors, in a dry and clean place, until he is healed, especially during hot, rainy weather. This will prevent further aggravation of the wounds.
Does Desitin help with scratches?
It depends on the severity of the injury.
Desitin is zinc-oxide based cream. It acts as mild astringent and has weak antiseptic properties. It is used to treat and prevent various skin conditions including minor abrasions, burns, chafing, insect bites, and minor skin irritation.
If the horse has a minor abrasion or a slight scrape, then yes, using Desitin might be helpful. However, if the injury is more severe, then using an antibiotic ointment is the best option.
Equestrian, Marine Corps vet, and Morgan horse enthusiast.