We live in central BC (3 hours NW of
Prince George). Our horses are on grass pasture but in fall they naturally move
into the aspen and undergrowth for grazing ("bush pasture"). During
this time our horses are starting to develop their winter coats. Even in dry falls
at least one of our horses develops scabs all over their body. Sometimes they
develop while still on pasture and sometimes within a day or two of returning
The scabs are very similar to those in
rain rot (pus that tightly binds the hair together and eventually the hair in
that spot falls out and if removed are damp at the base) but are not contained
only on the horse's topline.
This year I had
one horse that got them over her entire body with heavy concentrations on her
lower girthline and abdomen just in front of her flank. Usually there are large
concentrations under the horse's jaw, on the sides of their barrel and on their
rump. Our falls and winters are often "cold" (-38C here for a good part
of December) so bathing and treatment with any liquid medication is nearly impossible.
Our sparse coated appy's seem to be more prone than our long haired ponies (who
get regular old super dry skin -- luckily they love flax!) although about ten
years ago I had a thick coated Saddlebred X that would get a real whopping round
every couple of years. The horses are regularly wormed and are in otherwise excellent
The local vet (not that familiar with
horse ailments) has suggested it is an allergic reaction but treatment with antihistamines
hasn't stopped the formation. This year I'm hearing people say they think it is
from eating alsike clover but we have very little clover on our property and there
is no photosensitivity or extra damage to white areas (which I've seen in horses
that have experienced long term exposure to alsike and once on a horse that was
on a ration too rich in protein). I generally remove all the scabs once they are
starting to dry up and they don't reappear (until the next fall or sometimes not
for a year or two). Any idea what this might be and suggested treatment?
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have had a very similar (if not identical) condition on some of our pasture horses
in the fall. We live in a semi arid (15 inches of rainfall per year) section of
the Colorado foothills. You mentioned that it occurs in even dry falls. Same here
and I've thought, "Well this can't be rain rot - it is too dry here."
first a definition:
Rain Rot (also known as
rain scald or dermatophilosis) is caused by a bacterial infection. The bacteria
(dermatophilosis congolensis) live on the skin and when the skin is stressed in
some way such as from excess wetness, extreme humidity, heat, abrasion (metal
or hard plastic curries) or by biting insects, the bacteria germinate and create
a network of minute tentacles that penetrate the skin and cause inflammation,
pus, and then scabs.
Classic rain rot is usually associated
with warm, wet environments such as would be found in Florida.
veterinarian said that the condition (that you describe and) our horses get is
a variation of rain rot but that to be sure exactly what organism was causing
it, a laboratory test would need to be done - either looking at a scraping under
a microscope or culturing a sample and incubating it.
said that the bacteria was opportunistic and that it was always present. Whether
it is present on a horse's skin or in the soil has been widely debated but I know
of no know research that proves which is true one way or another.
means that the bacteria is always present, waiting around until conditions are
perfect for their proliferation. The perfect environment for dermatophilosis bacteria
are dirty, damp and dark conditions.
During the fall,
whether our horses are on pasture or in pens, are blanketed or not, some horses
tend to get the bumps while others don't. I used to think it was the horses that
were allowed to roll on pasture thinking they deposited the bacteria from the
soil into their coats. As the winter coats grow in the early fall, they create
an ideal environment for the bacteria. Inside the fall/winter coat, there is warmth,
moisture from body respiration and darkness.
addition, in our part of the country, biting flies, gnats, midges and so on flourish
in the fall. In fact, we have few flying insects UNTIL the fall. Biting insects
have been implicated as a cause of in this condition, and in our case, since we
don't have the usual factors of wetness, heat, or humidity, the condition manifests
differently than classic rain rot. Classic rain rot can have an almost greasy
quality while the type we get, and sounds like your horses might have, is dry
I've never heard a specific name for this
As far as prevention,
I've experimented over the years and here's what I've found. If I give a particular
horse a bath at fall shedding time, which is late August here, so that the horse
is positively, absolutely squeaky clean and rinsed very thoroughly and then keep
the horse in a waterproof breathable sheet or blanket through the fall, there
is a 95% chance that the horse will not get a single bump on his body. He may
get a few on his legs, but as long as he is kept clean and protected from insect
bites, the bumps do not appear on the body.
a sheet on an unbathed horse in the fall and within days or weeks, that horse
could be covered from withers to tail and from topline to underline with hundreds
if bumps and scabs. The blanket helps create an ideal incubator.
includes keeping a horse, his blankets, and grooming tools clean. I've found vacuuming
long winter coats is helpful. During fly season, provide fly protection.
more about that here Fly
As far as treatment once the scabs
have appeared, its not a pleasant or pretty procedure as you know. I've found
that certain barn combs are the best for removing the scabs, especially if the
hair is fairly long - but only if the scabs are ready to fall off on their own
and have loosened somewhat already. Follow with a spritz of an antimicrobial solution
or a dab of antimicrobial cream rubbed into the bare spots. Keep all grooming
tools and gloves separate and wash them often with medicated soap.