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Information for your reference or to print

Skin Disease


Skin disease is surprisingly common in the horse and it can present in a variety of ways.  

Scaley skin lesions on face (dandruff)

Many diseases are pruritic or itchy, others will be associated with scale and pus, some are restricted to particular areas such as the legs and others may be associated with nodules of various sizes.  Sometimes the type of lesion such as patches of hairlessness or obvious areas of rubbing will give a clue as to the underlying cause.  However, often horses have rubbed themselves and damaged the skin so badly that the original lesions are no longer apparent, in addition horse owners often have applied various ointment, creams, sprays or shampoos which will alter the skin before the vet is actually called to examine the horse.  For those cases which do not have an obvious underlying cause, further diagnostic tests can prove extremely useful so that treatment can be targeted directly at the cause.

Skin brushings, scrapings or even sellotape strip samples can be extremely useful to look for parasites such as lice and mites.  Impression smears of scabs can be very useful for identifying fungal or bacterial infections. 

Horse with vasculitis diagnosed by full thickness skin biopsy, can you see the skin staples at the biopsy site?

Sometimes full skin thickness biopsies are taken and sent to the laboratory for further analysis, as are unusual lumps and bumps.  

The use of blood tests can be helpful to identify underlying causes such as liver problems or suggest that there is an allergic reaction going on.  Blood tests are however of no use what so ever in identifying specific things (allergens) that the horse is allergic to, because they measure the wrong type of immunoglobulin (antibody). Blood tests can be useful in dogs but the gold standard for allergy testing in the horse would be intra-dermal skin testing which we can have performed at our clinic by a visiting veterinary dermatologist (skin vet).

Intra-dermal skin (allergy) testing

Treatments targeted at our diagnosed conditions may involve shampoos or other types of washes, creams, anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics.  For allergies we may consider avoidance of the cause or even desensitisation using a vaccine.  We have successfully desensitised horses with respiratory and skin allergies, as well as the odd head shaker.

Common types of skin condition in the horse are:-


  - which can often been seen as ‘moving dust’ with the naked eye


  Louse viewed under a microscope



   Chorioptic mange

   -  (legs are mostly affected / itchy heels and foot stamping) 


  Mite sampled on sellotape strip viewed under a microscope



Sweet itch - (click here for dedicated information sheet)


Mane and tail are classic sites for self trauma with allergic sweet itch



  - (soft wheals) and other allergic conditions



 Grey horse with soft lumps all over



Sarcoids - (click here for dedicated information sheet)


The many guises of the sarcoid, flat or nodular, near eyes, sheath or between legs





Tumours of black pigment of grey horses, common sites



    - (mud fever, rain scald) 






Pastern dermatitis / vasculitis


Much larger areas of skin soreness area apparent after clipping of this horse with pastern dermatitis


   Folliculitis / pyoderma ( bacterial infection)



   a horse with folliculitis of the skin of the hock, an unusual site for this

  •      condition 



Ringworm - (click here for dedicated information sheet)


Classic ringworm, a fungal disease


Greasy heel


Photos after the grease has been clipped off. Often thick greasy lumps are difficult to clip away and are painful, usually the legs look yellow too.


Lots of photos showing how similar some skin problems look.  If simple treatment doesn’t cure the problem, getting the correct diagnosis is key to managing and curing the skin condition.  Please ask one of our vets for advice tailored to your horse on (01728) 685 123.