You, Your Itchy Horse and Your Veterinarian

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Last month, we discussed skin problems from insects and the environment and how you can remedy those problems yourself. In this article, we focus on chemical reactions and bacterial/fungal problems that may require your veterinarian.? If you try to diagnose the condition yourself and end up barking up the wrong tree, your horse will suffer that much longer until you finally get going on the right track.

Furthermore, if you institute a treatment for a skin condition and you happen to be treating the wrong thing, you can actually make the problem worse.? Remember: Skin is a vital organ, and happens to be the biggest organ in the body!? Do you want to take on treating that without advice'

Your veterinarian has a number of guns in the arsenal to combat itchy skin, however if you can limit these to use for only a portion of the year, it would be beneficial to your horse and your wallet.

Don?t get us wrong?we don't want your horse to scratch day 24/7.? The problem is that some drugs, like corticosteroids, used to treat pruritus (itching) have potential dangerous side effects (see the steroids sidebar in July 2012 article).? Others are expensive and time-consuming to prepare and give.? If they?re the only option, so be it.? But if there is a way that you can identify what your horse is allergic to and limit that in his environment, you have achieved prevention, which is key.

SKIN SENSITIVITY. Skin hypersensitivity is an issue that tends to be chronic, despite our best efforts.? In many cases, the horse has allergies to multiple things, and even when your veterinarian puts the horse on medications, their effect can be short lived and sometimes insufficient to control the itching.? Some veterinarians actually test horses for allergies by drawing blood and running an allergy panel that covers several dozen common equine allergens.

Results from allergy panels can be surprising . . . and sometimes frustrating because you may learn that your horse is allergic to things in the environment that you simply cannot control, such as ?dust.?

For situations like these, allergen injections can actually be formulated from your horse's own serum.? They are injected in increasing concentrations over one year or more and can desensitize your horse and calm his immune system gradually over time.? Most owners who stick with this long endeavor report that horse skin issues are lessened or cease after custom-made allergen injections are instituted.? This process is surprisingly not that expensive, and after you and your horse have been beaten down by months of relentless irritating skin problems, you will likely be ready to try anything to get the problem under control!?

CHEMICAL AGENTS. Chemicals, by and large, make people cringe.? Of course, many of us have spent the majority of our lives covered in Repel-X, and we are no worse for the wear . . . right'? The fact is that certain pesticides have made a tremendous positive difference in our horses lives.? Before paste dewormer and fly spray, life was a lot tougher for horses.? But, for all the good that they can do, there are some chemicals that don't agree with some horses.? The main problem chemicals tend to be types of aerosols, fly sprays, coat sprays, detergents and even some horse shampoos See?Itchy Skin Part 2 Chart 1.

Using hypoallergenic, horse-friendly products, which in many circumstances have a neutral pH and are therefore better for your horse's skin and coat, can reduce the incidents of skin reactions due to chemical residue contact.

Our chart includes some valued picks of products that can mitigate skin hypersensitivity due to chemical exposure.

INFECTIOUS AGENTS. Infectious agents are a big class of ?bad guys? that can cause skin problems in horses.? Fortunately, these can all be treated.? A word to the wise: Be patient and diligent with treatments.? Skin is slow to heal, usually because it takes medication quite a while to really penetrate in and get control of the problem. See?Itchy Skin Part 2 Chart 2.

BOTTOM LINE. OK . . . so skin problems can be overwhelming, we all agree.? Dealing with itchy skin in your horse can be aggravating, confusing, and downright upsetting.?? But don't despair!? There are plenty of therapies and management strategies that can mitigate skin issues.

The first step is to determine, if possible, what agent(s) in the environment is causing the horse to itch.? The next step is to try to remove as many of these irritants as possible.? If it is not possible, medications, management strategies, and in some cases serum-derived allergen injections, can be quite helpful.? All stages of your skin management should be conducted with veterinary input.? A happy horse with healthy skin and a shiny coat are attainable with the right diagnosis, treatment, and management.

If you?ve read both parts of this series (see part 1 in July 2012), you know we?ve covered a lot of products. That's because you have to know what you're dealing with to pick the right treatment, and that's why we?ve given you several different excellent choices in our charts. That said, here are our favorites products:

For a shampoo, we recommend Orvus WA Paste. It isn?t fancy, and you have to buy a large jar of it at once, but it lasts for years (don't worry if it gets watery or hard, just mix it up or scoop out what you need). A little goes a long way, and your horse's coat and skin will be clean and soft. Although it's possible, this decades-old product has rarely, if ever, caused a skin reaction, making it one of the gentlest horse shampoos.

For a topical spray, we?d reach first for Vetericyn Spray. It has an awesome spectrum of activity against bacteria and fungus, and it's non-toxic. The product works as an excellent one-step cleanser and wound dressing as well. (There is also a veterinarians-only formula called Vetericyn VF.)

As always, it's important to identify the problem you're dealing with, but these products are staples on our tack-room shelves.

Article by Contributing Veterinary Editor Grant Miller DVM.