Skin problems are difficult to control because you’re usually battling simultaneous problems, such as insect-bite irritation and skin damage with allergic/irritated reactions. On top of that, you’ve got a variety of possible secondary infections, maybe with several organisms.
It’s best to catch the problem early and start with a gentle product. Our favorite first-line options include Corona Ointment (www.coronaproducts.com, 800-241-6996), Cut-Heal (972-293-9700), ichthammol, clear aloe gel or Farnam Aloe Heal (www.farnamhorse.com 800-234-2269). If you don’t see improvement in a day or two, switch to a more specific product.
Because you’re often dealing with a multi-faceted problem, most one-step treatments simply can’t do everything you need them to do. Our chart will help you determine what you’re battling. Call the veterinarian if you’re not sure, as the wrong treatment will not only delay healing but may make things worse.
Once you’ve determined the problem and cause, check our product chart to zero in on the one treatment that hits as many of the symptoms as possible. We’ve included products that we’ve found to be good choices. This doesn’t mean there aren’t other products that work well, however. If you’re happy with the product or treatment protocol you’re using, that’s fine.
Regardless of what you’re battling, start your treatment with a bath using a good gentle shampoo to remove surface dirt, oozing and so on before applying any treatment. The shampoo should be nondrying, pH balanced and rinse easily, with a minimum of added chemicals or fragrances that might irritate sensitive skin or react with other products.
Our first choice is Corona Shampoo Concentrate (www.coronaproducts.com, 800-241-6996). It’s our overall favorite shampoo (see March 2001) for economy, gentleness and effectiveness and, like a human baby shampoo, it’s safe for frequent use.
Although more expensive, another good choice is EQyss Premier Natural Botanical Shampoo (www.eqyss.com 800-526-7469). This shampoo leaves no evidence of drying or irritation and rinses easily. It’s also gentle on the skin, again even for frequent use.
While we’ll always opt for equine shampoos first, as they’re formulated for a horse’s skin, in a pinch, you can also use a human baby shampoo or Neutrogena shampoo.
For spot cleaning broken, irritated skin or in colder weather when a bath is out of the question, we recommend pHsoDerm liquid, which is extremely gentle, Neutrogena bar soap or 99% Pure Ivory bar soap. Work up lather in your hands and then wash the spot and rinse thoroughly.
Shampoos with antimicrobial action can be a big help in controlling secondary infections and fighting skin problems due primarily to fungal or bacterial infections. Gentleness is especially important to avoid further irritation of any concurrent allergic/inflammatory reactions, but sometimes non-medicated shampoos just aren’t strong enough. This is especially true when you’re battling a skin irritation over a large area of the horse. It’s easier and more effective to give a medicated bath than to plaster the horse with tons of ointment.
Our chart includes shampoos we’ve found with good microbial action. Most are also gentle, relatively speaking, but be careful with shampoos containing tea-tree oil, which could be irritating to some horses. Even horses that normally tolerate tea-tree products may be unusually sensitive in areas that are actively inflamed.
Iodine-based shampoos, surgical scrubs and medicated skin cleansers, like Nolvasan, are good choices for dealing with bacterial and fungal infections. Again, if the skin is highly inflamed or the horse is simply a sensitive individual, there is an increased potential for the product to cause irritation.
Our chart lists our recommendations for equine fungal and bacterial infections. Micro-Tek and Phenol are companion products to medicated shampoos, making them good picks in body-wide battles.
You’ll also find iodine-based ointments, furacin and Nolvasan ointment on the market, specifically targeting fungal and bacterial infections. Iodine is active against both bacterial and fungal infections, but it can be drying and/or irritating to inflamed skin and should be used cautiously.
Furacin and Nolvasan are excellent broad-spectrum choices when your primary problem is a bacterial infection, however. Complex problems may need additional therapies. Always wear clean disposable plastic gloves when applying ointments.
For localized problems that don’t involve a wide surface area, you can also choose a human antibiotic cream or antifungal ointment (athlete’s foot creams). These don’t have to be applied in large amounts to be effective. The dispensing-tube packaging lets you use only what you need and avoids contamination caused by dipping into open containers.
Sweet Itch And Bug Allergies
Ironically, the tiniest insects often produce the most severe reactions and are the most difficult to repel. Intense inflammation and allergic reactions are common from these annoying critters.
You may note severe redness, swelling and a maddening itch. Fly sprays are often minimally effective, although we’ve found Neogen’s Gold Nugget Gnatural Spray works well against these bugs (www.neogen.com 800-525-2022).
The areas should be cleansed with a mild shampoo or skin cleanser. Use a medicated shampoo if the spot is severe or infected. Itch and pain control are important factors in preventing the horse from damaging the skin further, and the products we like do help with these symptoms.
While we’ve included equine products that are strong choices in these cases, some human products can be helpful as well. Bactine spray does an excellent job of blocking pain in raw areas. Using this after cleansing and before attempting to apply other topicals will make the job a lot easier. Vicks VapoRub is a fairly effective repellent and can help relieve itch. Apply liberally to form a physical barrier to biting as well.
CamphoPhenique, a blend of camphor, phenol, eucalyptus oil and mineral oil, gives excellent pain and itch relief with some disinfection action. After applying full strength, mix some in a small amount of petroleum jelly for a barrier and repellent layer. Chigarid is also a good choice.
When inflammatory reactions are severe, speak to your veterinarian about using an over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream, with or without antibacterial/antifungal coverage. Balancing inflammatory control with infection can be tricky.
A natural alternative is aloe gel. Although it’s not as strong as other pro ducts, it’s gentle and encourages healing. It makes a good complementary treatment. Apply the aloe or hydrocortisone creams first, allow them to penetrate, then follow with barrier/repellent and anti-itch treatments.
The phenol-containing Aloe Advantage products, Abby Dermal+Aid, CamphoPhenique, Vicks VapoRub and Chigarid help with itching and pain. Cold water is also a strong ally. Use ice if you can. Keep a bottle of witch hazel in the refrigerator or on ice to splash over fresh stings and bites for rapid temporary relief.
Never wait until a skin problem gets out of hand before contacting your veterinarian. A quick phone call may help you confidently treat that nasty skin problem. In addition, the “ounce of prevention” adage comes into play here, especially for horses prone to the problems.