How to Treat Scratches, an Equine Skin Disease, on Your Horse

Posted by Allie Layos
All photos via ArcaNatura

Scratches is a painful equine skin disease, but with correct treatment, your horse can be feeling better in no time.

Scratches, or Equine Pastern Dermatitis, is a skin disease that affects the horse's lower limbs. It can be caused by bacteria or fungal infections, and can be spotted by flaky, itchy skin that is sensitive and even swollen during the acute stages.

It is most commonly seen in horses that are housed in wet or muddy conditions, and draft horses are especially prone to scratches, as the feathers on their legs can trap dirt and moisture. It is painful to horses and frustrating to owners, but there are some tried and true treatment methods.

The first step to treating a horse with scratches is to remove the horse from the problematic wet environment. Next, you will want to clip the hair around the affected area (using a 40 blade) and wash it with an antibacterial soap such as a Betadine scrub, but be careful not to scrub too hard, as the area is most likely sensitive and painful for your horse. Towel dry the area carefully when finished.

As Christie Ward, DVM, MVSc, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, a specialist in internal medicine at the University of Minnesota Equine Center said in an interview with The Horse, you do not want to aggravate the scabs.

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"If scabs are present, try to soak or sweat these off rather than picking them, which seems to aggravate the inflammation," Ward said. "Limit your washing sessions to only once a day as additional moisture could further inflame the area."

You may want to apply a product with lanolin, such as Corona ointment, to the area to soften the scabs and help repel water, but do not use this if the horse will be turned out in a dry lot or muddy pasture, as it will attract more dirt.

Severe cases of scratches may require treatment with a topical cream that contains antibiotics and antifungal agents as well as steroids to reduce the inflammation, and some may even call for an oral broad-spectrum antibiotic.

Still, most cases can be solved with much simpler measures, and may even be preventable; keep your horse out of wet, muddy areas, use only clean boots and wraps on your horse's legs, and check them regularly for signs of scratches so you can begin treatment immediately. Your horse will thank you.

All photos via ArcaNatura

How to Treat Scratches, an Equine Skin Disease, on Your Horse