Skin Diseases

The skin has been called the largest organ. It shouldn”t be ignored when talking about horse health. If a skin condition is untreated or ignored, it can lead to other more serious problems. Infections and other diseases are just a couple.

Sometimes skin conditions are associated with other horse diseases. Since horse skin is hairy, many people just assume their horse has mange when he has skin problems. Thus, it”s important to understand the different diseases and their symptoms to keep your horse healthy.

Types of Horse Skin Diseases

One of the skin diseases horses face is called congestions, also known as red efflorescence or erythema. This is where skin is inflamed, but there are no eruptions. There are many causes of this disease. Extreme heat and cold are a couple. Food and different oils are other factors in this disease. A horse is more likely to come down with this during the spring, when their coats change. There is a form of congestion where the horse will get pimples as well.

Eczema is where horse skin becomes not only congested but also thick and warm. You can usually find it near the heels and the lower parts of the limbs. In some cases, you”ll also find it in the neck, shoulder or abdomen. This can be caused by a few things. Washing with certain soaps, drafts on wet skin and some foods are just some of these.

Boils, or furnicles, are another disease that affects horse skin. While they can show up anywhere, they”re usually found on the shoulders, back or lower limbs. It”s usually caused by chafing from their harness or secretions. Diet, overwork and genetics can also cause it. Horses who have had strangles are also at risk for it.

Pityriasis, or scaly skin disease, is basically dandruff. It”s caused by problems with digestion and sebaceous glands. It”s a pretty common problem for older horses. Horses with pityriasis shouldn”t be fed foods that are rich in saccharine. Like all other skin diseases, it needs to be treated properly.

Horse skin affected by herpes is covered in scabs. It”s usually seen in the spring and fall, when a horses coat changes. Herpes is also associated with fevers and eruptions usually last about two weeks.

Summer sores, cracked heels, erysipelas (a contagious disease where not only is the skin is inflamed but the tissue is as well) and warts are also common horse skin problems.

Symptoms of Skin Diseases

Like all horse diseases, there are many signs of trouble. Dandruff, scaly patches, red spots and sores are just a few of them. Swelling, bumps and blisters are others. Itching, moving the lips a lot and hair loss are more things to look out for. If you notice these, or anything else unusual, let your vet know so he can make a diagnosis and give you a treatment plan.

Preventing Skin Diseases

Prevention isn”t perfect. No matter how careful you are, sometimes things still happen. Still, it”s best to do all you can to stop any problems before they start. One way to do this is to keep your horse away from anything that can injure or burn his skin. Extreme heat or cold can cause problems, too. It”s also a good idea to check with a vet before using new soaps on your horse to make sure it won”t irritate his skin.

Like most horse diseases, diet is an important part of preventing horse skin diseases. Vets recommend properly prepared, quality food and avoiding any diet changes. Your vet can also advise you on products to reduce chafing and keep insects away from your horse.

It”s also a good idea to check for kidney, liver and other diseases, since they can also cause skin problems. Clean stables are also a good way to prevent skin disease. While these methods won”t work every time, they can go a long way toward reducing your horse”s chances of getting any of these diseases.


Law, J., F.R.C.V.S; et al (2007). Diseases of the Skin. Retrieved March 8, 2008, from from the Project Gutenberg Web site: