It’s a rare horse that will manage to escape a skin problem his entire life. Most of the skin abrasions we deal with are simple infections/irritations and minor wounds that don’t involve full thickness skin damage or exposed deep tissue. These problems are normally handled with over-the-counter products, provided you know what to choose.
With our help, you’ll make an educated decision that will save both time and money, healing your horse quickly. In this article, we’re focusing on products with traditional ingredients. In the next article, we’ll discuss natural-ingredient selections. But the first thing to understand is how to recognize the skin problem you’re dealing with.
Infections. Infections may occur because an organism has managed to break through the skin’s normal defenses, or as a complication of another problem such as injury, allergy or insect bite. Horses with compromised immune systems, such as debilitated or stressed horses, horses on corticosteroids, horses with Cushing’s disease or older horses in general are often more prone to skin infections. This explains why sometimes only one horse in a herd has trouble with things like lice or rain rot (Dermatophilus congolensis infection), despite both being contagious.
Dermatophilus is a bacterium with some fungal properties. It is most likely to take hold on horses with a dense coat that traps a moist, low oxygen layer against the skin. The first sign is a bumpy feeling under the coat. Tufts of hair often stand on end.
Under these tufts are tiny scabs that can coalesce to form large, thick scabs that are tightly adherent to the skin and painful to remove.
When taken off, the hair comes with them and the underlying skin is usually raw. Getting rid of the scabs is essential for successful treatment. Pastern dermatitis (”scratches”) with heavy crusting often involves Dermatophilus.
Streptococcus and Staphylococcus are two other bacteria often involved in skin infections. In addition to gaining access through small skin breaks, some aggressive Staphylococcal infections, including antibiotic-resistant ones, may cause problems on their own, often starting as hair-follicle infections.
The most familiar fungal infection is ringworm, Dermatophytosis. Circular areas of hair loss appear, which enlarge outward. Ringworm causes itching. It can also be transmitted to humans. Less serious fungal infections may also occur but have not been well characterized in horses.
As a general rule, bacterial infections cause heat, redness and pus while fungal infections cause hair loss, flaking and itching. However, it is often impossible to tell for sure what is going on with a skin problem, and infections can be mixed. Obviously a key component of a product for skin infections is that it kill the organisms.
Insect bites/allergies. Biting insects have digestive enzymes in their saliva and other proteins that can induce allergic reactions when they bite the horse. The irritation often makes the horse bite or rub, causing skin damage and potential secondary infections.
Products for these complicated issues should be both soothing and antimicrobial. If they can also keep the bugs away, that’s even better. Try one of the sulfur-based products: M-T-G, Gall Salve or Su-Per Healing Ointment.
Abrasions/rubs. Superficial skin damage involves a loss of hair but no bleeding (maybe slight oozing). The risk of infection is low with these problems. They usually heal uneventfully even with no care. However, it’s best to keep these areas protected with a barrier-type cream or ointment that softens until the hair begins to grow back.
Minor Lacerations. These are breaks in the skin that are deep enough to bleed but not enough to expose deep tissue.
Suturing is optional, but it always speeds healing by keeping tissue edges close together (call your vet immediately, though). Choose a product with antimicrobial and barrier effects that soothes and keeps the tissues from drying out.
Our Trial. Since different problems call for different solutions, we didn’t expect to find a single does-it-all product.
We found that heavily scabbed conditions like Dermatophilus or pastern dermatitis need pretreatment with a shampoo to remove the scabs and expose the organism to air, then apply the antimicrobial. Since you shouldn’t mix products with different active ingredients, we suggest Eqyss Micro-Tek system, Absorbine Medicated Shampoo/Spray or Matrix 3 Step Wound Care.
The three sulfur-based products (Bickmore Gall Salve, Gateway’s Su-Per Healing Ointment and Shapley’s Original M-T-G) all worked well on abrasions, minor lacerations, superficial infections and irritated, itchy insect-bite reactions. Gall Salve and Su-Per Healing Ointment can also be applied in a thick-enough layer to prevent midge bites.
DermaCloth was rapidly effective with a variety of minor skin problems/infections and did a great job of grooming as well.
Bottom Line. The most versatile product was the Matrix 3 Step Wound Care system from Aloe Advantage. It’s an excellent choice. However, for quick, easy, all-around treatment, it’s tough to beat DermaCloth, which was a tester favorite despite its price. Su-Per Healing Ointment earns Best Buy.
Article by Eleanor Kellon, VMD, Veterinary Editor.