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Home:Equine Diseases:Dermatitis

Equine Diseases - Dermatitis




Equine dermatitis is a generic name meaning inflammation of the horse's skin.   There are many sub-divisions under this with various names for more specific types and areas of equine dermatitis. Some of these which you might come across are:

Equine Recurring Summer Dermatitis or Sweet Itch - connected with seasonal allergies caused by insect/midge stings. If your horse experiences symptoms only during the summer months, it is likely that a seasonal allergy is to blame. In a case like this, your horse is likely to suffer the same symptoms each summer.

Pastern Dermatitis affecting the lower legs - also known as scratches, mud fever, mud rash, or greasy heel.

Granulomatous Dermatitis linked to various parasites, fungi, and bacteria.

Vesicular Dermatitis - sometimes called blister disease .

Fungal Dermatitis - commonly known as ringworm.

In most cases, the horse's skin can be red and flaky or, in extreme cases, may even ooze fluids.


A horse with any degree of dermatitis will usually demonstrate some of the following symptoms

  • scratching
  • rubbing
  • chewing and/or biting in the affected region
  • hives (urtcaria)
  • papules
  • scales
  • crusts
  • loss of lustre in the horse's coat
  • coat and hair damaged
  • skin thickening
  • wounds due to scratching
  • areas of hair loss
  • small, itchy nodules


The main causes of Equine dermatitis are

•  Bacteria

•  Viruses

•  Allergies/sensitivities to insect (particularly midge) bites

•  Allergies to chemicals e.g. soap or shampoo

•  Respiratory conditions

•  Digestive conditions

•  Exposure to moisture for long periods of time. This can be from standing in a muddy field or a wet stall. Constant moisture penetrates delicate skin causing inflammation, redness, and ulcerations

•  Dirty surroundings these are an ideal breeding ground for infection

•  Over bathing even a monthly bath can be too much for many horses


Early identification and treatment is the best remedy. Your vet may want to do tests on skin samples to ascertain the exact cause and course of action for your horse. For example, if infection is advanced and the legs are hot and swollen your horse may be prescribed antibiotics.

Your vet may sometimes recommend use of cortisone which helps greatly to alleviate the conditions associated with severe or chronic dermatitis.

Both of the above products will have to be used with caution and strictly as prescribed by your vet.

Clip the long hair from that portion of affected skin in order to keep it clean and dry.

If it is found your horse is allergic to a certain substances, it makes sense to avoid contact with or exposure to that substance in order to reduce symptoms. For example, if your horse is sensitive to the midge bites, keep him in the stable before mid morning and after mid afternoon.

Research the use of various insect repellents and anti-dermatitis lotions.

Bathe rarely. Substitute hosing down for bathing. Wash the affected areas thoroughly but gently with warm water. Be gentle so as not to aggravate the skin. Lightly towel dry. Avoid the constant use of soap, as even mild soap can be damaging if used too much. Avoid harsh shampoos.

Try to keep your horse out of muddy and wet places.

Ensure bedding is clean and dry.

Daily exercise will improve circulation to the skin.

Research your horse's nutrition as there are many wonderful online advice sites in this area.

There are also some homeopathic combinations of healing skin remedies with ingredients such as malandrinum, arsenicum alb, rhus tox, sulphur, graphites and thuja which are specially formulated for equine dermatitis.

You could also look at herbal/homeopathic coat enhancers containing herbs such as nutmeg, paprika, celery seed and fenugreek. These combinations will help new hair growth.