Scratches, also called equine pastern dermatitis, is a condition most horse owners and caretakers will encounter sometime during their tenure with horses. If not treated right away, the crusty scabs can lead to swelling, inflammation and lameness—and the condition can become chronic.
The Chronicle of the Horse spoke with Dr. Nimet Browne, an internal medicine specialist at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, KY, about the condition. Browne reports that scratches is caused by microbes that thrive in dirty, wet conditions. Though it's commonly assumed to be a fungal infection, it's actually caused by bacteria.
Bacteria enter through a break in the skin and a fungus takes hold in the already compromised area. Though any horse that is turned out in muddy turnouts is at risk, there may be a genetic component as well; draft breeds and horses with feathers are more likely to develop scratches. Trauma around the fetlock or pasterns can also increase the likelihood a horse will develop scratches, and horses with white legs also seem to be more susceptible to the condition.
Removing the horse from the wet conditions and keeping his legs clean and dry will go a long way toward resolving a case of scratches, but there are some over-the-counter options that can offer relief, says Browne. Products that include antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties will work best. Omega 3 fatty acids, which can be added to an equine diet through supplements, can improve the overall skin health of horses and act as anti-inflammatories.
Washing the affected legs can help speed up the healing process, especially if the washing is done using a shampoo with antifungal or antibacterial properties. Carefully clipping the horse's legs can help keep the area clean and dry. Removing only scabs that come off easily is also helpful.
Read more at the Chronicle of the Horse.
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