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Common Skin Conditions In Horses - Identifying & Treating

horse skin conditions

For horse owners, it can be daunting to identify and treat skin conditions affecting their animals. But with the right knowledge, you can help your horse stay healthy and comfortable.

This comprehensive guide covers the range of common equine skin conditions, from infections, parasites and allergies, to genetics, environment, and management. It also offers essential information on diagnosis, treatment options, and prevention methods. By arming yourself with this information, you can be better equipped to combat skin issues before they take hold or cause distress.


Short Summary


Common equine skin conditions such as Rain Scald, Allergic Dermatitis, Vitiligo, and Pastern Dermatitis can be treated with various methods. Sweet Itch, Eosinophilic Granulomas, Melanoma, Warts, Cellulitis, Summer Sores (Habronemiasis), Squamous Cell Carcinoma, Exuberant Granulation Tissue (Proud Flesh) and Pemphigus Foliaceus can also affect horses and should be treated promptly for the best possible outcome. Hereditary Equine Regional Dermal Asthenia (HERDA) is an incurable skin condition that requires proper care and preventive measures.


Rain Scald or Rain Rot


rain scald on a horse


Rain Scald or Rain. Rot is a common equine skin condition. It is caused by the bacterium Dermatophilus congolesis, which thrives in warm, humid climates with rainy seasons. It is most commonly found on the horse's neck, back, croup and legs. Rain. Rain. Rot can typically be identified by scabby skin, pink skin, hair loss, and matted hair. It is also characterized by intense itching and hairless patches. In severe cases, there can be a secondary infection which can lead to lameness, performance loss, spontaneous abortion, and even death.

Medicated shampoo with chlorhexidine is the most common treatment for Rain Rot. In cases of severe lesions, antibiotics may be prescribed as well. Keeping affected areas dry until the lesions resolve helps in speeding up the healing process. It is important to be aware of lice infestations, as these can cause rain rot if not treated. It is also important to keep the horse’s skin clean and groomed, and to avoid using grooming equipment that may have been used on other horses. Lastly, it is important to keep the horse in good health and to avoid exposing them to wet and moist conditions.

In order to prevent rain rot, it is important to ensure the horse is well groomed and to avoid exposing them to wet and moist conditions. It is also important to keep an eye out for any signs of fungal dermatitis and to treat lice infestations promptly. If rain rot does occur, it is important to take the necessary steps to treat it. This includes using a medicated shampoo, keeping affected areas dry, and in severe cases, using antibiotics.

The healing process of rain rot can take anywhere between 14 to 21 days. During this time, it is important to continue to take the necessary steps to treat it and to avoid exposing the horse to wet and moist conditions. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of Rain Scald or Rain Rot and to take the necessary steps to treat it. See our complete article on rain scold in horses.


Allergic Dermatitis


allergic dermatitis on a horse


Allergic Dermatitis is a skin condition that can affect horses and is characterized by itching, redness, and swelling.It is usually caused by an allergic reaction to certain grooming supplies, insect bites, foreign objects, or fungal dermatitis. Allergic Dermatitis can affect any part of the horse's body, but most commonly appears around areas such as the head, belly, groin, and legs.

Allergic reactions can be caused by airborne particles, such as pollen from trees, bushes, weeds, or grass; mold; and dust. They can also be caused by allergens ingested through feed ingredients or medication. Symptoms of allergic Dermatitis can include scabby skin, hair loss, skin discoloration, and severe itching.

Treatment of Allergic Dermatitis includes avoiding the allergens that trigger the reaction, and providing topical therapies to reduce the inflammation in the skin. In some cases, systemic anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed to reduce swelling and pain.

It is important to identify and treat allergic Dermatitis early to prevent further complications. Additionally, it is important to ensure the horse is well groomed and regularly checked for any signs of skin issues.



Vitiligo is a skin condition that is characterized by a lack of pigment in the skin.It is caused by destruction of the melanocytes, which are the cells that produce pigment in the skin. Vitiligo is most commonly seen in gray horses, and can affect any area of the body. The most common areas affected are the eyelids, lips, muzzle, and genital area.

Vitiligo is not associated with any other symptoms, and it is not painful for horses. It is also not contagious, so there is no need to worry about it spreading to other horses. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for vitiligo, so horse owners must simply accept the condition and provide extra care to the affected areas.

One thing that horse owners should be aware of is that Vitiligo is much more common in gray horses than any other color. Studies have shown that between 26-67% of gray horses experience Vitiligo, compared to only 0.8-3.5% of horses of other colors. Horse owners of gray horses should be aware of the increased likelihood of their horse developing Vitiligo, and should be prepared to provide extra care to the affected areas.

Vitiligo typically presents as patches of scabby skin with no visible inflammation. It can also affect the hair follicles, causing hair loss in the affected areas. The condition requires regular monitoring and cleaning to prevent any secondary fungal or bacterial skin diseases. In some cases, a skin allergy can develop as a result of the skin damage caused by vitiligo, so it is important to monitor your horse’s skin regularly for any other skin issues.

Overall, Vitiligo is a common skin disease in horses, particularly in gray horses. It is not contagious, does not cause any pain or inflammation, and does not require any treatment. However, it is important to regularly monitor the affected areas and provide extra care to prevent any additional skin issues.

Vitiligo is not contagious and does not cause any pain or inflammation in horses.


Pastern Dermatitis


Pastern Dermatitis, also known as scratches, mud fever, or greasy heel, is a skin condition in horses that causes inflammation, redness, hair loss, and scaling along the back of the pastern. It typically affects the lower legs and is common in draft breeds with heavy feathering. Symptoms include scaly patches, hair loss, and skin thickening. It is often caused by environmental factors such as mud, moisture, parasites, and other horses. It's also known as greasy heel.

In some cases, the condition can be caused by an allergy or a drug reaction. Horses that are severely allergic may develop passer dermatitis due to insect bites or fungal dermatitis. If left untreated, the affected horse may suffer from increased skin irritation, secondary infections, and other skin issues. In extreme cases, peripheral dermatitis can progress to peripheral dermatitis, characterized by thick skin folds, nodules, and dermal fibrosis.

Treatment for passer dermatitis typically involves clipping and cleansing the affected area, as well as the application of antibiotics and topical corticosteroids. Compression bandaging can be beneficial in many ways. It is important to ensure that it is done correctly for optimal results. In addition, horse owners should ensure that their horse's environment is kept dry and clean, and that antiseptic washes and ointments are applied to the affected areas.

Horses with pastern dermatitis should receive immediate veterinary attention and be monitored closely for signs of infection or further skin damage. Proper diagnosis and treatment of Passtern Dermatitis is essential to ensure the health and well-being of the horse.


Sweet Itch

Sweet Itch is an allergic reaction to the saliva of Culicoides gnats, also known as no-see-'ems. This skin condition is most commonly seen in the mane, tail, and withers of horses. Icelandic horses exported to other areas are particularly susceptible to Sweet Itch. The signs of Sweet Itch include small, itchy papules on the skin, which can often lead to hair loss. Secondary infections, such as bacterial or fungal infections, may result if the affected areas aren't properly treated.

In order to treat Sweet Itch, the primary cause of the skin condition must be addressed. Prevention is always the best method, as it avoids the intense itching and matted hair associated with Sweet Itch. Horse owners should take steps to protect their horses from Culicoides by using insect repellents and special blankets. Grooming equipment can also be used to remove any lice infestations, which can worsen the condition. In severe cases, glucocorticoid therapy may be necessary to reduce the allergic reactions and improve the horse's overall health.

Healing the affected areas involves removing any scabby skin to promote the healing process, and ensuring the horse gets adequate rest. In some cases, antibiotics may be necessary to treat any secondary infections. The tail head should be kept clean and dry to avoid recurrence of the skin condition. In addition, keeping the horse's coat healthy and groomed regularly is important for maintaining the horse's overall well-being.

It is important to take preventive measures to protect horses from Sweet Itch, such as using insect repellents, special blankets, and glucocorticoid therapy. Summer eczema and sweet itch can be difficult to differentiate, so it is important to consult a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment. With proper care and attention, horses can recover from Sweet Itch and go on to lead healthy and happy lives.


Eosinophilic Granulomas


Eosinophilic Granulomas is a rare, benign tumor-like disorder characterized by clonal proliferation of antigen-presenting mononuclear cells. The disorder is characterized by skin lesions on the horse's body, which can cause hair loss, itching, and inflamed skin. Eosinophilic Granulomas can be caused by allergies, fungal dermatitis, and other skin allergy triggers.

Treatment of Eosinophilic Granulomas typically involves a combination of topical therapies, such as shampoos, ointments, and grooming supplies. Corticosteroids may be used to reduce inflammation, while radiation therapy and chemotherapy have been used in some cases. As with any skin condition, it is important to work with a veterinarian to diagnose and treat Eosinophilic Granulomas in order to ensure the best outcome for your horse.

While Eosinophilic Granulomas can affect horses, the condition is also seen in other animals.




Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in the cells that control the pigment in your skin, called melanocytes.It is the most serious type of skin cancer and can spread to other organs. The primary risk factor for melanoma is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, typically from the sun and tanning beds.



melanoma on a horses anus



Melanomas in horses are most commonly found near the anus, vulva, sheath, penis, ears, salivary glands, and underside of the tail. The majority of these cases are seen in horses between 12-16 years old, and are particularly common in gray horses. Grey horses are prone to developing melanomas. In fact, 80% of them suffer from this medical condition by the age of 15.

The best treatment option for Stage 1 and 2 melanomas is surgical excision. This method has been found to be the most successful in removing the tumor without it returning or spreading. However, other experimental therapies such as cryosurgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy are also available for more severe cases.



Warts are small, noncancerous growths caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV) that infects the skin. They can be found on any part of the horse’s body, but are most commonly found on the muzzle and lips. Warts can vary in size, usually ranging from 5-20 millimeters in diameter. There are three main types of warts that can appear on a horse’s body: mucocutaneous (lips), haired skin, or ears.

Warts are most common in horses aged one to three years old. Warts can spread from horse to horse through direct contact. If not treated, warts can cause intense itching and can lead to secondary bacterial infections. In severe cases, warts can also lead to poor health in the horse.

Luckily, warts can be treated and removed through various treatments. Fly masks with ear covers can be used to prevent warts in the ears, as well as other skin issues caused by insect bites. Warts can also be treated with antifungal and antibacterial medications, along with the use of grooming equipment, such as brushes and combs, to help the healing process. Additionally, it is important to keep the horse’s immune system functioning properly, as this will help to prevent further skin issues.

Warts can be a nuisance to horses, but they are not life-threatening. With proper treatment, warts can be removed in a matter of weeks. It is important to treat warts quickly, as left untreated, they can lead to severe skin allergy and scabby skin. Warts can last up to 100 days before the horse builds immunity, so it is important to take steps to prevent them. By following the steps outlined here, you can help keep your horse safe from warts.




Cellulitis is a common bacterial skin infection that affects the deeper layers of the skin and underlying tissues. It is usually caused by a bacterial infection that enters the skin through a wound or an insect bite. Symptoms of cellulitis include severe swelling, warm and painful to touch, fever, lethargy, lameness, and scabby skin. If left untreated, it can be very serious and potentially life-threatening for the horse.

In order to treat cellulitis, it is important to identify the underlying cause and address any secondary infections. This may include antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, hydrotherapy, bandaging, hand-walking, or lunging. In some cases, a fungal culture or dermatitis test may be needed to determine the cause of the infection. Skin allergies and insect bites should also be taken into consideration when diagnosing and treating cellulitis.

It is important to seek veterinary help if any signs of cellulitis are present in order to ensure the best possible outcome for your horse. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are essential to help the horse recover quickly and effectively. With proper care and attention, most horses with cellulitis can make a full recovery.


Summer Sores (Habronemiasis)


Summer sores (Habronemiasis) is a painful skin condition in horses caused by the larvae of the Habronema and Draschia species of parasites. The condition is primarily caused by three species of parasites: Habronema Muscae, Habronema Microstoma, and Drashia Megastoma. The housefly and the stable fly are responsible for carrying the larvae of these parasites. The larvae burrow into the horse's skin and cause non-healing lesions, ulcers, and itching. Summer sores are commonly seen on the arms and legs, chest, lower abdomen, or close to the eyes. Additionally, they may appear around the genitals. The condition is often seen during the spring or summer months. Symptoms of habronemiasis include hair loss, scabby skin, and pink skin.

Habronemiasis is most common in tropical and subtropical areas. In young horses, the symptoms of this condition can be mistaken for other horse skin diseases such as rain rot or rain scald. It is important for horse owners to be aware of the signs and symptoms of habronemiasis so that they can take the proper steps towards treating the condition.

Topical anti-inflammatories, surgical de-bulking and macrocyclic lactones are all treatment options for habronemiasis. These therapies help to reduce symptoms of the disease. Horse owners should also practice good fly control to reduce the risk of habronemiasis in horses. This includes avoiding overcrowding horses, keeping horses in clean, dry areas, and regularly cleaning and sanitizing grooming equipment and supplies. Good fly control can also help reduce lice infestations as well as other skin conditions that can affect horses.

It is important to practice good fly control to reduce the risk of habronemiasis in horses. Horse owners should also be aware of the signs and symptoms of habronemiasis and take the proper steps towards treating the condition. Through proper treatment and management, horse owners can help their horses recover from this painful skin condition.


Squamous Cell Carcinoma


Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that develops in the squamous cells of the skin. It is the second most common form of skin cancer, and it can affect horses of any age, but is more commonly found in younger horses. Appaloosas and Paint horses are predisposed to this form of skin cancer.

The cause of Squamous Cell Carcinoma is unknown, but it is thought to be associated with chronic inflammation, biting insects, and exposure to ultraviolet light. While it can occur anywhere on a horse’s body, it is most commonly found in areas that are exposed to the sun such as the eyelid, penis, and perianal region. If left untreated, Squamous Cell Carcinoma can destroy nearby healthy tissue, spread to the lymph nodes or other organs, and may be fatal, although this is rare.

There are a number of treatments available for Squamous Cell Carcinoma, including surgical excision, chemotherapy, cryotherapy, hyperthermia, radiotherapy, and photodynamic therapy. Papillomavirus has been associated with penile Squamous Cell Carcinoma, so it is important to be aware of the signs of this virus and seek treatment as soon as possible if it is suspected.

Aural plaques are also associated with Squamous Cell Carcinoma. These are crusty, whitish lesions that can appear on the inside of a horse’s ear, and they can cause a decrease in hearing if they are not treated properly. It is important to be aware of the signs of Squamous Cell Carcinoma and seek treatment as soon as possible if it is suspected. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent serious complications and ensure the best possible outcome for your horse.


Exuberant Granulation Tissue (Proud Flesh)


Exuberant Granulation Tissue, also known as Proud Flesh, is a complication of wound healing in horses that results in the growth of excess granulation tissue above the level of the wound. This skin condition is characterized by the presence of large, raised, scabby lesions on the horse's body, which can range in size from less than 1 cm to over 10 cm in diameter. Exuberant Granulation Tissue is typically treated with surgical excision of excess tissue, though there are some preventative measures horse owners can take in order to reduce the chances of it forming.

One such measure is the use of silicone gel dressings, which have been shown to reduce the formation of proud flesh. In addition, it is important to note that bandaging a wound may have different effects depending on the stage of healing. Bandaging a wound in order to prevent proud flesh from forming is recommended, however once granulation tissue has formed, bandaging may actually encourage its growth. For this reason, it is important to be aware of the stage of healing and adjust the bandaging protocol accordingly. Also products such as Proud Aid can help.

Exuberant Granulation Tissue is a serious skin condition that can affect horses, and if not treated properly can lead to further complications. It is important for horse owners to be aware of the potential for this condition to develop and to take the necessary steps to prevent it from forming. By keeping wounds clean, debriding necrotic tissue, and pressure bandaging, horse owners can help prevent the formation of Exuberant Granulation Tissue (Proud Flesh).


Pemphigus Foliaceus


Pemphigus Foliaceus is a rare autoimmune blistering disease that causes superficial blisters, erosions, and crusts on the skin. This disease is most common in younger horses, but can occur in any age group. Symptoms of Pemphigus Foliaceus typically appear as fluid-filled sacs or skin lesions, accompanied by hair loss and scaling. It is also possible for horses to have a severely allergic reaction to the fungal infection, which can result in itching, pain, and limb swelling.

Pemphigus Foliaceus can be diagnosed through culture and biopsy. The cause of this disease is auto-antibodies to intra-epidermal adhesion proteins. Even with treatment, some horses may experience spontaneous resolution of the disease. The standard treatment for Pemphigus Foliaceus is glucocorticoid administration.

It is important for horse owners to be aware of the signs and symptoms of Pemphigus Foliaceus, as early detection is key to successful treatment. If left untreated, this skin condition can cause permanent damage to the affected area. With the right treatment, horses with Pemphigus Foliaceus can live a comfortable life. Horse owners should also practice good hygiene, such as regular grooming and the use of topical antifungal creams to prevent fungal dermatitis and skin allergy.


Hereditary Equine Regional Dermal Asthenia (HERDA)


Hereditary Equine Regional Dermal Asthenia (HERDA) is a skin condition found in horses.It is an inherited genetic disorder, which affects the collagen fibres of the skin, leading to separation of the epidermis and dermis. Disfiguring scars occur as a result of this condition. Loose and elastic skin is another symptom. American Quarter horses are most commonly affected, particularly in cutting horses and pleasure/working-cow horses. Symptoms usually begin to appear around two when pressure from a saddle causes the skin to tear, producing wounds that require prolonged healing time.

There are various treatments available for HERDA, such as topical medications, antibiotics, and supportive care. However, the main focus should be on prevention, as the condition is incurable. Horse owners should ensure their horse is well-groomed, avoiding over-trimming and keeping the coat healthy. The horse should also be provided with a comfortable saddle that fits correctly and is regularly checked for any signs of wear and tear. Regular monitoring of the horse's skin is also important, and any abnormalities should be reported to a vet.

HERDA is an incurable condition, but with proper management and care, affected horses can live a long and happy life. Horse owners should be aware of the signs and symptoms of HERDA and take steps to ensure their horse is comfortable and healthy. Early detection and treatment can help improve the quality of life of the affected horse.




This article has discussed a variety of horse skin conditions and the measures taken to diagnose and treat them, with the aim of enabling readers to make more informed decisions regarding the health and well-being of their horse. Rain Scald or Rain. Rot is caused by wet and moist conditions, and can be treated with medicated shampoo, while allergic Dermatitis is caused by airborne particles or allergen ingestion, and requires anti-inflammatory medications or topical therapies. Vitiligo and Pastern Dermatitis require extra care to prevent further infections caused by fungal or bacterial skin diseases, Sweet Itch is to be treated through insect repellents, special blankets, and glucocorticoids, and Eosinophilic Granulomas is an uncommon disorder requiring a combination of treatments.

Melanoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma are two type of horse skin cancers requiring surgical excision or radiation therapy respectively, Warts are noncancerous growths that can be removed with various treatments, Cellulitis is a serious bacterial skin infection, Summer Sores can be prevented with good fly control, Exuberant Granulation Tissue (Proud Flesh) can be avoided with clean wounds and pressure bandaging, and Hereditary Equine Regional Dermal Asthenia (HERDA) is an incurable condition managed with preventive care.

Therefore, this article has provided useful information on common horse skin conditions and useful advice on how to diagnose and treat them. It is essential to understand each condition to ensure the best outcome for the horse, as well as being aware of relevant preventive measures to avoid potential risks.

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