What is Sarcoptic Mange?
Even though sarcoptic mange is not commonly found in horses, it can be a dangerous condition, especially in horses that are young, old, or chronically ill. Because of the severity of the symptoms, it is important to get your horse checked out by an equine veterinary professional if you suspect your horse is infested with the sarcoptes scabiei var equi mite. These mites can live on your horse their entire lifetime, and the female actually digs a tunnel to lay eggs, which may create a severe allergic reaction that can be dangerous. The sarcoptes scabiei var equi mites like to live in areas such as the shoulders, neck, and head but will spread to the rest of the body within a couple of weeks.
Sarcoptic mange (sarcoptes scabiei var equi) is the most severe type of mange in horses, but fortunately, it is also quite rare. It can affect any breed, age, or gender of horse, but is usually more common in horses in crowded living conditions. The most telling symptoms are intense scratching and biting at skin, usually in the shoulders, neck, and head. Your horse may bite and scratch the area so much that it can lead to open sores and a bacterial infection in the affected area. In some cases, it can cause weight loss, weakness, and appetite loss.
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Symptoms of Sarcoptic Mange in Horses
The signs of sarcoptic mange depend on the severity of the infestation and how long your horse has had it. The itchiness can cause other problems such as blistering, weight loss, and bacterial infections that you may not recognize as sarcoptic mange because these are also symptoms of other illnesses such as allergic dermatitis and fungal infection. Symptoms that are reported most often are:
- Severe itching (scratching, rubbing against stationary objects, biting at skin)
- Hair loss
- Papules or lesions
- Crusty skin
- Blisters filled with sticky substance
- Appetite loss
- Extreme weight loss
- Bacterial infection in affected areas
Causes of Sarcoptic Mange in Horses
The cause of sarcoptic mange is the sarcoptes scabiei var equi mite, which can be transmitted from other animals such as sheep, cattle, pigs, and even humans. Similar to other mites, they dig troughs in the skin by dissolving the tissues with the enzymes in their saliva. The mites get their nourishment from the dissolved tissue and use the troughs to lay their eggs. There are several risk factors, which include:
- Chronic illness
- Very young or very old
- Crowded living conditions
Diagnosis of Sarcoptic Mange in Horses
An equine veterinary professional should be able to recognize the signs of sarcoptic mange right away just by looking at the affected areas, but to get a definitive diagnosis it is necessary to do a complete physical examination, get your horse’s history, and run some diagnostic tests. This will help verify sarcoptic mange and rule out any other illnesses. The first thing you will need to do is tell the veterinarian if your horse has had any strange behavior or abnormal eating habits lately and if you are up to date on all immunizations. Be sure to let the veterinarian know if your horse is on any kind of medication and what symptoms you have noticed.
Next, the veterinarian will do a complete and thorough physical assessment, which usually includes height, weight, body condition, temperature, stature, blood pressure, palpation of the abdomen and chest, breath sounds, pulse, and respiratory rate. In addition, the veterinarian will have you walk your horse around in a circle and a straight line on both hard and soft surfaces to watch how the muscles and joints function while in motion. The veterinarian will be observing your horse’s behavior and attitude as well as conformation while watching for lameness.
The most important test is to take biopsy skin scrapings. This is done by clipping the hair in several places and coating the area with mineral oil before using a scalpel to scrape around the edges of the inflammation. The veterinarian will take several samples from different areas to get a better chance of finding the mites. The samples are then evaluated under a microscope to look for eggs, mites, or feces. A skin culture may be taken to check for bacterial infections. Also, the veterinarian will do a complete blood count (CBC), chemistry panel, urine and fecal examination, and maybe radiographs.
Treatment of Sarcoptic Mange in Horses
The treatment for sarcoptic mange depends on the severity of the infestation and if there are any complications such as bacterial infection. However, the usual protocol for treating psoroptic mange includes cleaning and clipping, medications, and medicated shampoos.
Clipping, Cleaning, and Disinfecting
To prepare the area for treatment it is important to clip any hair and scrub the crustiness away with a stiff brush. Afterward, the veterinarian will clean and disinfect the area with a liquid antiseptic.
Some of the common drugs used to treat sarcoptic mange are ivermectin, selamectin, moxidectin, and milbemycin oxime. The veterinarian will also prescribe antibiotics to prevent or clear up an infection and antihistamines and anti-inflammatory drugs for inflammation and itching.
Lime sulfur shampoos and pyrethroids (permethrin) are the most commonly used medicated shampoos for treating sarcoptic mange in horses.
Recovery of Sarcoptic Mange in Horses
Prognosis is excellent when treatment is given within a short amount of time. In addition, you have to be vigilant about treating all animals on the property, people, tack, and bedding . Additionally, it is usually recommended to treat your horse again 12-14 days later to prevent reinfection. However, you should follow the instructions the veterinarian suggests and call if you have any questions or concerns.