Horse Health Tips For Students includes information for our students about common horse health care issues. These posts are to bring awareness to horse welfare issues - always ask your veterinarian for advice and treatment protocols for your own horse!
After a winter with record snowfall, we are now into a very wet spring. This brings about a couple of health issues that anyone working with the schoolies needs to know about and watch for! One of the is scratches.
What is scratches?
Scratches (a.k.a. mud fever and pastern dermatitis) occurs when the skin on the lower part of the horses leg becomes infected. The infection can be bacterial, fungal and/or parasitic in nature (and often in combination). Scratches most commonly occurs on back of the lower leg, particularly on legs with white hair (i.e., horses with socks) and when conditions are wet and muddy. That being said, we have had it occur on horses when the pens are extremely dry as well and the infection may start with a cut or abrasion.
How can you tell if it's scratches?
Look for scabs and red, bumpy irritated skin around the heel and pastern areas on horses with white hair on their lower legs. It can be very painful so be careful in case the horse reacts when you touch it!
What to do if you find scratches?
Let a coach or junior coach know if you think you've found scratches on your horse. If you are the horse owner, you will want to call a vet if this is your first time dealing with scratches.
How do you treat scratches?
The sooner you can catch and treat scratches the better. The infected areas should be washed with warm water and a disinfecting scrub like Hibitane wash (pink colored) or Prepodyne. Try to let the wash sit for 5 minutes before rinsing off. If your horse lets you, try to gently massage off the scabs. Pat dry with a towel and let air dry. Once the skin and hair are dry, apply an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal cream like Hibitane. Our vet has given us a special "green formula" that can be used. Repeat this once a day for a week.
The best treatment and preventative method for scratches is to keep the legs dry. See if the horse can be moved to a drier pen or keep on stall rest or indoor board overnight so the legs can dry.
If you find that the scratches are extremely painful, if you see a yellowy discharge or if they do not get better after a week of treatment, contact your vet. Scratches can start to affect tissues deeper in the leg if left untreated or with unsuccessful treatment.
How can you prevent scratches?
Here are some things you can do to prevent scratches:
Do a google image search for scratches so you can see a variety of different scratches images. Here are some of the coach's pictures from this spring.
This article was written by Dr. Gwen Donohoe, PhD