Helping Horses With Skin/Coat Conditions

Everyone wants to have a horse with a beautiful, sleek and shiny coat that reflects health and vitality.  Unfortunately, there are a significant number of horses that suffer from Sweet Itch (Queensland Itch) and other skin issues that adversely affect the appearance of the coat and the overall well-being of the horse.  The cause and treatment of these issues are complex and there is no one size fits all solution to the problem.  Following are a few tips that may help bring some relief to your horse.

  1. Resolve any nutrient deficiencies in the diet – A well balanced diet is essential to maintain effective immune function. Common nutrient deficiencies in essential amino acids, copper and zinc are often the cause of a dull, rough coat, skin issues and poor hoof quality.  Using a quality supplement such as  MegaMin Equine Enhancer that has been scientifically formulated to promote overall health while also actively supporting, hoof quality, coat condition and gut function will help mend these nutrient gaps while providing extra beneficial nutrients.
  2. Supplement with omega 3 fatty acids – Omega 3 fatty acids are often recommended for horses with skin conditions or allergies to help with the inflammatory response. Canadian researchers (O’Neill et al., 2002) reported that in horses given 500 g of flaxseed (linseed) on a daily basis had significantly reduced skin reactions to injections of a Colicoides (midges) extract compared to the control horses.  There are many supplements on the market however, feeding 1-2 cups per day of linseed is often a cheaper (although more work is required) option to increase omega 3 fatty acids in the horse’s diet.  If you are going to feed linseed it is best to grind the seed immediately prior to feeding (a coffee grinder is very useful) in order to break the seed coat, otherwise the seeds will pass through the gastrointestinal tract undigested.  The oil can go rancid very quickly when exposed to air so it’s important to feed immediately after processing.
  3. Try to control exposure from biting insects – This is a hard one! There are many methods that have been tried to minimise exposure to midges, here are a few to try and see what works for you and your horse.
    1. Stable horses under strong fans and have windows screened with small mesh, especially during the midges peak feeding time (dusk, dawn and night).
    2. Use insect repellents and insecticides. This is where you get what you pay for comes in to play.  Make sure you use residual activity insecticides (pyrethrins or pyrethroids) strictly according to label recommendations.
    3. Badly affected horses may have to be moved to an area where there is not the potential for attack from biting midges, especially during the peak season.
    4. Rugging your horse may limit areas of exposure. Be aware that if a horse is sweating under a rug it could make skin issues    Rugs need to be cleaned regularly.
    5. Try to eliminate insect breeding areas such as standing water and manure.
  4. Spend quality time with your horse while grooming him/her – Energetically brushing your horse will create friction which stimulates the oils of the skin, increases blood flow to the skin’s surface as well as helping to remove dirt and dead hair. Keeping the coat clean is great way to help improve skin/coat conditions.  Washing affected animals removes crusts, scales and can help decrease itchiness.  Once again it is important to use a quality shampoo designed for animals to limit sensitivity.  There are also a number of medicated washes (antibacterial and antifungal) designed for coat/skin issues.  If using these products make sure you follow the instructions carefully as contact time is very important and some may have to be used daily.
  5. Don’t forget that good hygiene is essential – Hygiene becomes even more critical when it comes to horses with skin issues as some infections can spread rapidly. Make sure any rugs and saddle cloths are washed regularly using a sensitive washing powder.  Don’t share tack, saddle pads, rugs and grooming gear between horses.  Make sure any sores from scratching are treated to prevent further infection.  Ask your vet for advice on appropriate antiseptic washes/creams and antibiotic ointments to help heal the sores and prevent further itch.
  6. Check for worms – A worm infestation can cause horses to go crazy rubbing their tales. When horses are wormed, you should also thoroughly wash around their perineum and under the tail as this is where the female parasites lay their eggs which can become extremely itchy.
  7. Contact your veterinarian – If these measures haven’t alleviated discomfort and clinical signs contact your vet for further advice.

O’Neill, Wendy & McKee, Sharyn & Clarke, Andrew. (2002). Flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum) supplementation associated with reduced skin test lesional area in horses with Culicoides hypersensitivity. Canadian journal of veterinary research = Revue canadienne de recherche vétérinaire. 66. 272-7.