Winter skin problems in horses.

Alas, the winter months are quickly approaching and it is important to be aware of potential skin problems during these months. The increased soil dampness creates a breeding ground for a host of bacteria and fungi that rarely raise their heads during the summer.

Mud fever

Pastern dermatitis — to give mud fever its veterinary description — is often, but not exclusively, associated with long-feathered heavy horses.

With any type of mud fever, signs are most frequently seen at the back of the pastern just above the coronet. The skin weeps and crusts form over the sore areas as the disease takes hold.

Horses that are kept in muddy, wet environments are at a higher risk. The skin also needs to be damaged or “scratched” to provide a means of entry for the infection into the skin.

If the signs are mild and have been spotted at an early stage, there are several steps that can be taken before calling a vet.

Stabling the horse on clean, dry bedding and clipping around the lesions will help.

Soak the scabs with a medicated shampoo or wash, ensuring that the product stays in contact with the skin for 10 minutes to soften the crusts and allow the antiseptic to penetrate, then gently remove all the scabs and towel dry thoroughly.  There are also several good products that effectively help with mud fever. 


Mites and lice are a common cause of skin disease. Lice, in particular, can be a problem in late winter (and also spring), particularly in equines with plenty of hair.

They are almost always associated with intense itchiness and rubbing.  Lice eggs can be spread from horse to horse, so rugs and grooming kit must be treated with powder or spray and horses with suspected lice should be kept in isolation as this could lead to a barn infestation.

Rain scald

Rain scald is most prevalent during the winter months when conditions are damp and moist and the environment is rife with bacteria.

The disease is caused by the same bacteria as mud fever, Dermatophilus congolensis, and affected areas will produce a sticky secretion that causes hair to matt and form scabs. Once the skin has been damaged initially, a secondary infection can set in.

It is possible to mistake the signs, especially in the early stages, for ringworm, but skin samples can be taken and examined microscopically to confirm diagnosis.

The affected area should be treated with an anti-bacterial scrub and your vet may prescribe antibiotics if the problem is severe.

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