What is Skin Infection?
The agents causing skin infections can be transmitted in many ways, including in feed, through insect bites, or even from a shared brush. Often, a bacteria is opportunistic, and can infect when the skin barrier is compromised. This is seen with the Staphylococcus bacteria, which is the most common type of skin infection in horses. Other conditions can be exacerbated by moist weather, or a compromised immune system. It is important to monitor your horse for such skin irritations so that treatment can begin, and you can take measures to prevent the spread to other horses.
Skin infections in horses can be caused by bacterial, viral, parasitic, or fungal agents. Once the infectious agent invades your horse, it can cause skin problems ranging from mild to severe itching, swelling and inflammation, and growths and lesions. While normally the signs are mild, in severe cases, lameness and an increased heart rate have been seen. Treatments for skin infections are available with a high rate of recovery.
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Symptoms of Skin Infection in Horses
Symptoms of various skin infections can be different, and can help lead to a diagnosis of what is causing the skin issue in your horse. Signs include:
- Tender skin
- Itchy skin
- Skin inflammation
- Painful skin
- Foul-smelling crusts
- Yellow-orange pus covered crusts
- Hive-like lesions
- Circular lesions
- Wart-like, ulcerated, nodular areas
- Flat plaque surfaces
- Bumps that evolve into scabs and lesions
- Scales and crusts
- Open sores
- Reddish brown, greasy granulomas in the skin that do not heal, and contain yellow, rice-sized calcified material
- Skin thickening
- Loss and devitalization of skin
- Hair loss
- Loss of sheen to coat
- Matted hair and coat, sometimes with crusts
- Signs of discomfort
- Dislike tack on skin, or riders
- Self-inflicted wounds
- Chewing and biting at skin
- Lameness in one or more limbs
- Limbs become painful or hot to the touch
- Increased rectal temperature
- Increased heart rate
There are many types of skin infections in horses. They include:
- Equine dermatitis
- Staphylococcus infection
- Dermatophilosis (rain rot)
- Dermatophytosis, or ringworm infection
- Pastern dermatitis
- Equine sarcoids
- Cutaneous habronemiasis
- Granulomatous dermatitis
Causes of Skin Infection in Horses
Causes of skin infections in horses include:
- Bacterial infection, such as Staphylococcus aureus and other Streptococcus species, E. coli, Enterococcus sp, Actinobacillus sp, D. congolensis, or Pseudomonas sp.
- Viral infection, such as the Bovine papillomavirus
- Fungal infection
- Parasitic infection, such as ringworm
Modes of transmission include:
- Contaminated soils, pastures and feed
- Biting fomites, flies or ticks
- Horse to horse transmission
- Human to horse transmission
- Dirty environment that can breed agents of infection
- Contaminated tack, brushes, and other equipment
- Too much bathing that can compromise the skin barrier and allow bacteria in
- Opportunistic infection through cuts, scrapes, bruises, surgery or trauma
Diagnosis of Skin Infection in Horses
Diagnosis begins with a physical exam. Be sure to tell your veterinarian of any and all symptoms noticed, as they can help lead to the cause of the skin irritation. Blood tests and various cultures will be analyzed, including skin biopsies and needle aspirations, to detect bacterial, viral, parasitic and fungal infecting agents. Further testing may be done to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, and can include X-rays and ultrasounds.
Treatment of Skin Infection in Horses
Once the cause has been correctly diagnosed, treatment follows based on that cause. Treatment serves to relieve symptoms and cure the infection. Your veterinarian will create a treatment plan specific to your horse’s condition. Note that many conditions may need multiple or extended treatments to be truly effective.
In rare cases, spontaneous healing can occur, such as with cellulitis. Generally, treatments are needed. They can include topical or oral medications that are antibiotic, antimicrobial, antiparasitic, or antifungal, and can be specific to the particular infecting agent. Some strains of infectious agents can become resistant to certain drugs, therefore stronger or different medications may be used. Injectable antibiotics may also be recommended. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories may be used to reduce pain and inflammation.
Other therapies can include bathing your horse in a chlorhexidine or a benzoyl peroxide shampoo several times a week, or using a lime-sulfur dip. Hydrotherapy, hand-walking, and bandaging irritated areas can also help. Drainage or surgical debridement may be needed in cases of deep infections, devitalized skin conditions, or if the response to treatments is poor.
Recovery of Skin Infection in Horses
The rate of recovery of most skin infections is good, with over 80% of horses recovered with treatment. Some conditions may leave lasting effects, such as scarring or an abnormal contour of a limb, but this is rare. You may be given topical or oral medications to administer, and medicated shampoos to bathe your horse in. Be sure to monitor your horse for signs of recovery, and report a poor response to treatments to your veterinarian.
Prevent reinfection of your horse by using some of these methods:
- Use dewormers regularly in your horse population
- Reduce insect populations by regularly removing manure from pastures and stalls
- Treat the stall floor or ground to kill any infectious agents
- Keep horse limbs clean, dry, and clip long hair
- Avoid over-bathing during healthy times to ensure the skin barrier is not compromised
- Avoid skin abrasions by using soft brushes and sponges
- Clean any shared equipment between horses, such as grooming items or tack
- Treat all wounds in a timely manner, preferably by a veterinarian
Skin Infection Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Hi, my horse has 5 crusty lesions/sores that have just appeared on his chin - these are each about 15mm in diameter (not circular and definitely not ring worm). A month ago he had a virus which was treated by the vet; I can't afford to get the vet again for this new issue. In humans a virus can sometimes be followed by a staph infection, is it likely that this is what has happened. Can I use a broad spectrum antibiotic cream (used in humans)and betadene iodine wash to treat these sores? If this is staph, is it likely to be contagious for other horses? If staph, does my horse need systemic antibiotics
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my horse has matted hair about where the saddle goes. He is living outside and retired. how do i treat it. Right now it is damp here but it reduces in area during the summer but still there. It just looks like somebody put oil on his back.
Hello! I been a bay Morgan horse and he has peeled off his skin in a couple of places on his side! They have become sores! One is pretty big and then there's another one that is small! I have been spray my horse with paroxide! I recently took some pictures of the sore! I'm not a horse expert and I'm very worried about my horse! Is there a way that I can send you some pictures of the sores? My horse is very skittish and can be wild so I have not attempted to go inside the horse pen to spray him ,but I have been doing it from a distance! I'm not sure if it's helping ,but I do not think my horse is in pain! Please help me if you can!
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Hi my horse got a small scratch above his coronary band last wk and I've been cleaning it a little and putting some antiseptic on it its not that big of a scratch but now that same pastern is hot and swollen. Do you think it could be related to the cut like it got infected or something or could it just be he kicked something and hurt that same leg coincidentally?
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