Horse Scratches: How To Identify And Treat It

Does your horse have scabs, sores or a rash on its pastern, fetlock, or any part of the lower leg? If so, there is a good chance you are dealing with scratches. Properly called Equine Pastern Dermatitis (EPD), scratches is also known as mud rash, greasy heel, swamp fever, and dew poisoning. Scratches is a common ailment that affects horses during wet and muddy times of the year.

What to Look For

Horses with white socks, stockings or legs are more prone to scratches, although horses with dark legs may also develop this ailment. Wet or damp conditions coupled with warm weather can cause your horse’s skin to lose their natural oils. Standing in these moist conditions, being wet, and then quickly drying from warmth, might cause your horse’s pastern or lower leg to become chapped and crack. Bacteria or other irritants can make their way into these sore spots and develop into scratches.

Scratches can develop on front and hind legs, but are most common on the rear.

Most often the first signs of scratches appear on the back side of the pastern. It looks like scabs or, if the scabs have come off, like a pink or bloody sore. The area may be swollen and irritated. The area will probably bleed when scabs are removed.

Treating Scratches

There are a number of treatment methods, and you’ll find horse owners that swear their method is the best. The most common advice is:

  • When possible, keep your horse away from wet conditions if they have scratches. Stalls should always have dry bedding.
  • Clip or cut the long hair (known as feathers) away from the area. Longer hair dries slowly, and the wet may further irritate the problem.
  • Shampoo the area using an equine safe anti-fungal shampoo. Ask your veterinarian which shampoo they recommend.
  • While cleaning the area, you want to gently remove as many of the scabs as possible. This process can be uncomfortable for your horse, so use care. If the shampoo directions or your vet’s instructions say to leave the shampoo on, it may be easier to remove the scabs after this process. Scabs will soften from the soaking.
  • Make sure you thoroughly rinse the area, so there is not residual shampoo.
  • Thoroughly dry your horse’s leg. You can do this with a soft dry cloth. If you use a blow dryer, use it with caution. Protect yourself and your horse by moving to a dry area. Some horses are afraid of blow dryers, so go very slowly.
  • There are a number of ointments that are suitable to use for scratches. They promote healing as well as keep sores covered and free from insects. However, remember that you want the area dry to heal. This is tricky, and your vet may have a product they prefer you use.

If you try to treat scratches on your own and don’t see improvement, have an equine veterinarian at Edisto Equine Clinic take a look at your horse. They will confirm the diagnosis and prescribe a treatment plan.

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