What is Hair Loss (Alopecia)?
Hair loss is not a disease, it is a symptom of an underlying ailment in your horse. Alopecia is a good indication that you should have the horse seen by a veterinarian. Daily grooming of the horse is not only good for the maintenance of the horse but it also allows you to see first-hand if your equine companion has any skin issues or hair loss. Most medical conditions have a much better prognoses when they are diagnosed and treated at the early stages of the disease.
Alopecia in horses is a condition where the horse loses his hair in patches, or over the entire body. The underlying cause of alopecia needs to be diagnosed to help prevent further hair loss on the horse.
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Symptoms of Hair Loss (Alopecia) in Horses
Symptoms may include one or more of the following:
- Patches of missing hair
- Unusual amount of hair on grooming brush
- Crusty matted hair
- Thinning of hair
- Horse is itchy
- Flaky skin
- Redness on skin
Causes of Hair Loss (Alopecia) in Horses
- Seasonal hair loss
- Dermatophilosis (rain rot)
- Dermatophytosis (ringworm)
- Fungal infection
- Tight fitting saddle or halter
- Auto-immune disease
- Pregnancy or lactating
Diagnosis of Hair Loss (Alopecia) in Horses
The veterinarian will go over the medical history of your horse and discuss any previous injuries or health ailments. He may ask to see vaccination, dental and deworming records. The veterinarian will need to know when you first noticed the hair loss. The horse’s diet may need to be reviewed. Let your veterinarian know if there has been any recent infestation of ticks, horseflies or gnats in the stalls. The veterinarian will then perform a full physical exam which may include:
- Listening to his heart, lungs and gastrointestinal tract with a stethoscope
- Blood pressure
- Hoof testing
- Skin exam
- Rectal exam
- Check the color of the gums
- Palpation of the limbs and muscles
- Palpation of lymph nodes
Diagnostic tests may include:
- Complete blood count - Checks the count of platelets, red and white blood cells; this helps determine if there is a bacterial infection or if the horse is anemic
- Serum chemistry panel - This blood test checks on organ functions (kidneys, liver, blood protein and electrolytes)
- Serum allergy test (SAT) - If the veterinarian believes that the hair loss is due to allergy he will recommend this test; it aids in determining the allergens the horse may be allergic too
- Fecal Exam - Can help diagnose parasites and if there is any blood in the feces
- Urinalysis - Checks for kidney function, crystals, blood or bacteria in the urine
- Skin scrape - Can check for parasites or fungal infections
- Fungal cultures - Can help determine ringworm parasite
- Blood smears can also help find parasites
Treatment of Hair Loss (Alopecia) in Horses
The treatment of hair loss in the horse will depend on what the veterinarian diagnosed after the physical exam and the results of the diagnostic tests. If he determined that the hair loss is due to a seasonal hair loss there will not be a treatment plan; this a normal process horses go through. Mares that have loss hair during pregnancy and lactation may be given supplements; usually this type of alopecia is temporary.
Dermatophilosis (rain rot)
Removal of any crusty scabs will help the skin heal. The horse will need to be washed with an antimicrobial shampoo, and patted dry each time. If there is also a bacterial infection present, the horse will be prescribed antibiotics.
Gloves should be worn while handling the horse. Ringworm is contagious to humans. It is usually treated with antibiotics, antifungal shampoo, iodine and miconazole creams.
The horse will need to be on a balance diet and may also need vitamins and supplements. If he was diagnosed as anemic he may also need B12 injections.
The results of the serum allergy test, will determine what allergens the horse is allergic to. Allergens may include mold, dust, pollen, insect bites, certain food, chemicals, vaccine and other medications. Treatment includes avoidance of the allergen, corticosteroids, antihistamines and allergy shots.
Deworming the horse will be necessary. Stalls and pastures should be cleaned of manure. Insecticides, removal of standing water, fly traps, and mesh screens installed in the stalls, can help control insects that transmit the parasite.
The infections are usually treated with a betadine wash down, antibiotics and topical creams. It is best to wear gloves.
Tight fitting halters and saddles
Your horse will need to be refitted for the correct size saddle and halter. The veterinarian may suggest a topical cream if the skin is irritated or inflamed.
Treatment will depend on the disease and organs affected. Many autoimmune diseases are treated with anti-inflammatory and corticosteroids medications. Supplements may also be suggested. Your veterinarian will have a consultation with you and discuss what the best treatment plan is for your horse.
Recovery of Hair Loss (Alopecia) in Horses
In most cases, following the treatment plan the horse will make full recovery. Within weeks of the treatment his hair will usually grow back. It will be necessary to have follow-up visits to monitor his progress.
Some diagnostic tests will need to be retaken to ensure a healthy recovery. Horses diagnosed with an autoimmune disease will need to repeat visits to monitor his condition and to check if there are any side effects to the medications.
It is recommended, even if your horse appears healthy, he should be seen by a veterinarian once a year for a wellness check.
Hair Loss (Alopecia) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
my horse has patches of bald skin all over flank and belly, been treated initially for ringworm but results from test have come back negtaive to any fungal infections. Her skin under the bald area has changed to a darker colour. She is 6yr old TB. this has progressively got worse and spread further over the past two year. Hair grows over in winter and hides areas but they are still there. Any suggestions ? could this be allergy to food, and would this change her actual skin pigment?
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My horse has started rubbing her face n her chest and she's started loosing her hair all down her chest n on her face .
its getting very concerning on how aggressively she's starting to itch and its very hot to the touch as much as I clean it and put cream on its still getting worse.
She's never had anything like this and iv had her 11 years n iv been on the same yard for 9 so I don't no what it is or where it has come from
Thank You Very Much
Most causes of hair loss in horses present with signs of scabs, flakes or other debris from the disease process like in ringworm, rain scald etc… The severe rubbing or itching may indicate some type of irritation or allergy; has your yard started using different disinfectants or anything else? It may be worth having your Veterinarian take a scraping from the area just to rule out a few usual suspects and look for possible sources of allergy or other disease process in a horse Poppy’s age. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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