What is Mange?
While mange is a common condition in horses, the most common is the chorioptic mange caused by chorioptes bovis. This type of mange lives on top of skin and feeds on the debris on your horse’s skin. Mange is most often seen on horses with feathered feet such as Clydesdales, Shires, Gypsies, Friesians, Belgians, Brabants, and the Percheron. They tend to show up in the cold seasons and spread easily with horses that live in close quarters.
Mange is a parasitic skin disorder that can affect your horse’s health in more ways than you think. In fact, if your horse gets leg mange, it can create severe pain. There are actually five types of mange in horses, which are sarcoptic mange, psoroptic mange, chorioptic mange (leg mange), demodectic mange (equine demodicosis), and straw itch mite or forage mite. The signs your horse may have mange depend on the type of mange they have, but the basic symptoms are itching, rash, and irritability. If the infestation is severe enough, your horse may have serious hair and weight loss as well. Mange is contagious, so if you have one horse with mange, it is best to treat them all. However, mange does not affect other species or humans.
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Symptoms of Mange in Horses
The symptoms can vary, depending on which type your horse is infested with. However, the basic symptoms are the same, but the difference is where the mites have chosen to infest.
- Excessive itching
- Stamping feet
- Rubbing against things
- Sores with crust and scabs
- Flaky scales on the hair
- Infected areas of skin
- Flexing legs
- Swollen legs (in severe infestations)
The mites can live anywhere on your horse’s body, but certain types are fond of certain areas.
- Sarcoptic mange is relatively rare in horses, but can be transmitted from other animals such as pigs, cattle, sheep, and even humans; these mites burrow into the skin by using their saliva to dissolve skin tissues, which they eat
- Leg (Chorioptic) mange is the most common mange and affects the legs usually below the knee
- Psoroptic mange is caused by psoroptes mites that produce scabs on the skin due to an allergic reaction of the horse to the feces of the mites
- Demodectic mange is caused by the demodex mite and can create nodules that may get infected. However, the mite itself does not cause any itching or irritation
- Straw itch mite or forage mite is caused by the pyemotes tritici) and usually only eats from straw bedding, but sometimes will feed on horses
Causes of Mange in Horses
- Chorioptes bovis (formerly Chorioptes equi)
- Demodex equi or Demodex caballi
- Psoroptes ovis (formerly Psoroptes equi) and Psoroptes cuniculi
- Pyemotes tritici
- Sarcoptes scabiei var equi
Diagnosis of Mange in Horses
Diagnosing mange is different for each type, but first your veterinarian will need to get your horse’s history including medical and shot records, abnormal behavior, and symptoms you have noticed. Be certain you mention any medications your horse is on. A complete and thorough physical examination is performed next, which includes body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, respirations, height, weight, body condition score, and reflexes. The veterinarian will have you walk, trot, and canter your horse in a circle and on a straightaway to check the muscles and joints in motion. In addition, the veterinarian will be assessing your horse’s stature, conformation, and behavior.
Afterward, a complete check of your horse’s skin and hair from head to tail is done. Samples of skin tissue scrapings will be retrieved from any areas that look suspicious. The samples will be microscopically examined to determine what kind of mange, if any, is irritating your horse. Diagnostic testing is done next, which includes blood cultures, chemical profile, complete blood count (CBC), fungal and bacterial cultures, urinalysis, and fecal examination. The last step is to get x-rays to rule out any other underlying illnesses.
Treatment of Mange in Horses
The best thing to do in getting rid of the mites is to clip or shave any long hair or feathers to find all the areas where they are hiding. You will need to clean the area thoroughly with soap and warm water before applying any treatments.
There are medical shampoos that kill mites such as selenium sulphide and keratolytic shampoos. Some veterinarians will do this for you, but if you have to do it yourself, you will want to either sedate or restrain your horse before starting.
Endectocides and insecticides such as permectrin or amitraz are good choices for getting rid of most mites. Macrocyclic lactone drugs such as ivermectin and moxidectin are both sufficient but may not be as effective in getting rid of chorioptic mange. Eprinomectin, fipronil, and doramectin are good for infections of one or two horses, but not with a whole group of horses.
Recovery of Mange in Horses
In most cases, mange will not be gone after the first treatment. It is common to need two or three treatments, especially if you have more than one horse with mange. Whichever treatment you choose, it will be more successful if you comb the hair and scrub to remove scales, crusts, and dead skin. Be sure to call your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns.