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Attacking Ringworm and Rainrot

The overall condition of a horse's coat is a reliable indicator of general health. A smooth, glossy-textured coat is a good sign, while a dull, rough coat may indicate underlying problems. Your horse's skin is constantly subject to attack by a wide array of viruses, infectious bacteria and biting insects. Signs associated with skin disease range from simple, isolated single lesions to generalized itching and hair loss. Two of the more common forms of skin disease are ringworm (or dermatophytosis) and rain rot (dermatophilosis).

Ringworm is a fungal infection that spreads from horse to horse through common grooming tools, saddle pads or harness. Generally, damp, crowded and dark conditions (winter and fall) will predispose a horse to ringworm.
Ringworm is often seen in young horses (one to three years old) or older, debilitated animals. Initially, ringworm lesions will appear as small, circular patches of hair loss with scabby or flaking skin beneath. If untreated, these lesions may progress to large, asymmetric areas of broken hairs and blister formation with scabs. Ringworm lesions are typically found over the girth and saddle areas, face (around eyes) and legs. Occasionally, ringworm lesions are very itchy. Ringworm is extremely contagious both horse to horse and horse to human. If you suspect ringworm, begin treatment immediately. This includes isolating the affected horse and disinfecting all tack and grooming equipment. 

Treatments include Clorox bleach (diluted 1:10 in water) and a medicated shampoo (miconazole). Treatments should be repeated daily for five days, then weekly until lesions are healed.

Rain rot, also known as rain scald (on the lower limbs, it may be referred to as dew poisoning), is caused by a bacteria that has fungal characteristics. This bacteria lives in soil and is commonly observed during prolonged wetness. Infected animals are often considered a source of infections for spread of this contagious disease.

Poor stable hygiene and skin irritation from insect bites often are contributing factors. Infected horses generally will have a series of small bumps along their backs. These lesions will progress to circular scabs. Removal of the matted tufts of hair is painful and can result in raw, bleeding areas. Veterinarians often refer to the small tufts as "paintbrush lesions." Lesions are commonly observed on the back, rump, neck and legs.
Affected animals should be kept dry and protected from biting insects.

The scabs should be removed while bathing the horse daily for seven days with either iodine shampoo, chlorohexidine shampoo or benzoyl peroxide. Severe cases may require treatment with antibiotics for a week or two. Warm sun and dry weather are nature's best cure for rain rot. Skin problems should be addressed early in the disease before the itching, hair loss and subsequent inflammation become severe enough to result in oozing, crusting and scaling of the skin.

Diagnosis of any skin disease generally requires more investigation than just a simple glance.

Mark Crisman, D.V.M.
Virginia Tech

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