This time of year in Texas we see a lot of horses that are itchy and lose hair after they have rubbed on various objects. There are many different skin diseases that cause itching in horses and today I am going to start a series about these conditions. One of the most common causes of itchy skin is a bacterial infection of the skin. According to the equine dermatologists at U.C. Davis, the most common bacterial infections are staph infections. These infections usually form crusts, and many times are arranged in a circular fashion so that many people mistake these lesions for ringworm. They also can appear as small scabs that are raised slightly above the skin and commonly occur in many areas on the horse including the sides, neck, inner thighs, and especially down on the pasterns just above the hoof. Many times these staph infections are secondary to some type of irritation including insect bites, weeds, or constant moisture. However, many times no cause can be found.
Regardless, staph infections could be transmitted to people if it is one of the resistant staph infections. For this reason, it is important to wear gloves when treating these lesions. Your vet should be called to culture the infections to determine the best antibiotic to use. Initially, most horses are treated with an oral trimeta sulfa antibacterial until the culture result is received from the lab.
Removal of the scabs is also helpful but painful, and it is easier to soak the scabs with an antibacterial shampoo to soften the scabs before removal. Join us on our next program for information on other skin diseases that cause itching and hair loss in the horse.