Skip to main content

Winter Skin Challenges for Horses

Back to overview

The dry air associated with cold temperatures may cause your skin to be a bit itchy this winter. With all this scratching, you might wonder if your horse is susceptible to any seasonal dermatologic issues. Here are a few to keep a look out for. As always, if you notice any abnormality with your animal, it is always best to consult with your veterinarian for appropriate diagnostic and treatment recommendations.

  • Dry, flaky skin - Although horses can suffer from dry, flaky skin at any time of year, owners may notice it more during winter months. Dry skin may be caused by a variety of factors including nutritional deficiencies, parasites, or allergies. Consulting with your veterinarian can help determine the most likely cause of the problem and best course of therapy for your horse.
  • Rain Scald – Technically refered to as dermatophilosis, rain scald is caused by the bacteria Dermatophilus congolensis. We typically think of rain scald as a summer problem in the United States. However, for horses that spend their winters on pasture, and in climates where winter is more associated with rain and mud than snow and ice, it can be a problem during the winter season. Keeping horses skin dry and out of moist conditions such as mud is the best prevention for rain scald. Use of a product containing lanolin on susceptible areas such as the ventral abdomen and the cranial aspect of the cannon bones may be helpful in persevering the skin’s barrier function. Scrubbing affected areas with saline or dilute chlorhexidine can also be helpful. Excessive grooming of affected horses should be avoided. When grooming is necessary, owners should use equipment exclusively dedicated for the affected horse as to prevent cross contamination. Severe cases of rain scald may require veterinary intervention.
  • Scratches – Typically affecting the fetlock and pastern, scratches can be caused by a variety of pathogens. There is some thought that horses with white areas or feathers on their distal limbs may have increased susceptibility to scratches, although most of the evidence is anecdotal. Much like rain scald, wet, muddy, and dirty conditions can predispose horses to scratches, as those conditions may break down the skin’s natural defenses. Decreasing exposure to those environments can go a long way in minimizing or preventing scratches. Mildly affected horses may get resolution with scrubbing and topical treatment. More severe cases will require systemic treatment by a veterinarian. 

The good news with most of these skin problems is that they readily resolve with appropriate changes in management practices, and in some cases diet and supplementation. 

Wishing you much warmth and dry pastures this winter! 

The Barn Blog

  • Choosing a farrier is one of the most important decisions you can make that will impact the well-being and serviceability of your horse. Here are a few tips to help you in your search...

  • Equines are born athletes and require the ability to move freely in their environment in order to maintain proper health. While they naturally move while grazing, especially when joined by other horses, short bursts of speed are also important. Movement impacts hooves and distal limbs, as well as the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems. Providing your horse with proper exercise will improve their circulation, digestion, flexibility, muscle and bone development, and impact their overall health and happiness. Below are a few helpful tips to follow:

  • Sunny days are upon us and although soaking up rays provides a good source of Vitamin D, you and your horse can suffer from too much of a good thing. Here are a few helpful tips...

  • With foaling season in full swing, it is not too soon to start thinking about weaning. It can be one of the most stressful times in a young foal's life.

Horse in winter

Products