“Become dust - & they will throw thee in the air; Become stone - & they will throw thee on glass." Muhammad Iqbal *Beyond the bushes, boiling with dust, is 4Shoes West boundary road.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Heel Scratches Remedy

Also called Dew Poisoning, Mud Fever, or Greasy Heel**,  this painful problem occurs more commonly in the Spring & Fall months & does seem to be more prevalent in horses with white socks & pink skin than in those with dark legs. Scratches initially appear as patches of scurf beneath hair that may look thinned or matted or greasy. Close inspection will reveal itchy, irritated, red, cracked skin that may be oozing thick ‘greasy’ fluid. These sores or lesions will become crusty or scabby as the ooze dries up & will then break open & crack further with flexing of the foot causing a lot of pain & resulting in lameness if left unchecked.
Photo credit: 5 Acre Dream (inactive since 2013)
Though it is commonly thought to be caused by wet & muddy pasture or turnout conditions or by poorly cleaned, damp stalls, in fact, there are a number of other possible causative factors for scratches. Other causes might be a combination of bacterias, or of fungus, contact dermatitis (such as sensitivity to certain plants in pastures or turnouts or from improperly fitted or cleaned & dried boots), genetics, nutrition, bedding, allergies, mange/mites*, or photosensitivity (sunburn). *A skin scraping will quickly confirm or rule out mites/mange as a cause, but oftentimes the exact cause or causes will remain unclear.
Photo credit: Vetnext.com
Scratches can appear to present suddenly as a tiny little spot, but left unchecked the condition will rapidly worsen & can spread even to the coronet band & further up & around the lower leg. Chronic, improperly treated, or untreated scratches may become seriously infected & possibly develop into Cellulitis (inflammation of the deeper layers of skin resulting in heat & swelling in the legs & requiring extensive treatment, aka 'stocking up'), Chronic Progressive Lymph Edema (CPL), or thick scarring called Granulomas. Prompt & regular treatment of scratches from the start should alleviate the symptoms of this condition, but it will not resolve itself unless the trigger can be identified & removed (eg. such as in cases where sunburn is the causative factor & the horse is fine in winter).
Because incidents of scratches present all over the world, from deserts to tropical regions & everywhere in between, there are a number of treatments on the market (such as Panalog or Gentomicin to name just a couple), so you have options with which to experiment should your horse ever present with this problem. 
I've only ever had to deal with 2 horses (knock wood) who regularly presented with scratches - a chestnut pacer on my grooming string years ago, & Mr Shoes' personal mount, a black 1/2 Morgan mare. The chestnut mare was working on a limestone track in a semi-tropical region & required daily treatment year-round to control her problem. Our black mare gets scratches only in the summertime & only on her rear legs (which have white socks & pink skin); this limited presentation suggests to me that her issue could be more related to sunburn/sensitivity. This year I am experimenting with whether sunblock will prevent an outbreak & prove my theory about the cause of scratches for this particular horse.
If your horse has a lot of thick hair or feathering, you may wish to trim it back so that you can more easily apply treatment & monitor the progress; Mr Shoes' mare has neither so I don't trim at all because I believe that the hair she does have is at least some barrier to the sun. For the successful treatment of scratches I rely on an old horseman's remedy made of inexpensive ingredients readily available at your local Whateveryouwant-mart or pharmacy.

Attentive treatment will ease Scratches quite rapidly
Horseman's Heel Scratches Remedy
  1.  4 oz diaper rash ointment (Zinc Oxide 40%)
  2.  2 oz triple antibiotic ointment (no name brand)
  3.  2 oz cortisone ointment (no name brand)
Mix all 3 ointments together until very well blended, store in sealed plastic container (avoid storing in direct sunlight or extreme heat). Gently massage mixture into the skin of affected area daily; do not pick at the scabs, they will soften & slough off with continued treatment.
If you are coming late to the party & the sores are oozing, open, or if there are a lot of scabs, then apply a more liberal amount twice daily until you have the situation under control.
Even if the area clears up completely, you should be closely inspecting & touching the area daily to ensure that the scratches do not return. As with any problem, early detection & treatment is key to the comfort & health of your horse!

**Horses with white faces or muzzles, can also develop Scratches (Facial Dermatitis) with sore, scabby, cracked areas on the nose & around the mouth.  

Disclaimer: I am not a vet. This anecdotal post is based on my own research & experience as formerly professional Groom & an always & forever Owner. Nothing written herein should be construed as a substitute for the advice of a veterinarian. Rule of thumb ~ If you are unsure or uneasy, call your vet. Your horse will thank you for it.


  1. Great post. I had an incident of scratches with my mare last fall. I've heard of the diaper rash remedy, not tried that yet. I used Shapley's MTG which is sulfur based. You can also combine food grade sulfur powder with oil to apply to the legs as well. This recipe you have is much easier to find though! Good to have several different kinds of treatment in our arsenal in case one doesn't work.

  2. Hi Christie,
    Though I'm a big fan of MTG, I will stick to my tried & true recipe when it comes to scratches, not least in part due to the triple antibiotic component of the HHS remedy + the thickness of the ointment as compared to the more liquid quality of MTG.
    I use MTG as my favourite product for manes & tails, massaging it deep into the base of the mane & rubbing it well into the skin of the tail, then combing it through the hair. I don't use the MTG for growth promotion (as they advertise), but for the oily properties which I find make combing out tangles & handling the hair to make tidy, clean-looking braids of all kinds very smooth & easy.
    I know a lot of people prefer to use hairspray when making their braids, but I also kind of enjoy the 'campfire' scent of MTG. One of our strongest lines of defense against bugs is to burn thick smudges, so my horses already smell of smoke.
    This bushland is lousy with all kinds of bugs!
    Get it?
    heh heh I laugh at my own jokes, does that classify me as pathetic? ;-)

  3. This is an interesting post. In Germany 'wildlife' is not that complicated and dangerous, but we also have our animals. In my region my most hated insects are ticks - lots and lots since 6 weeks now. And at the end of June grass mites. The interesting thing is that the little stallion has no problem with it, but the two geldings very much. Point is white and has more pink skin than dark skin and Moritz has on his feet a mixture. My personal guess is the body odor. Pepe has almost no odor, he smells like a dusty stuffed animal, the others smell like horses. The grass mites make them so crazy that Point literally is running from the meadow. That’s not a joke because from end of June until August I can’t bring them on the meadow. Point is only grazing at waysides with his hooves on concrete. And never longer than 20 minutes. Normally shorter. Head and feet/legs have open wounds from scratching. I tried several, also medical things, with no effect. My best choice is Balistol Animal.

  4. Wow Sabine, I wonder how long the mite season is?
    We also battle ticks.... I hate them beyond all sense of reason. I remove them from the poor horses (Saint only gets one on occasion because of the medication we apply monthly) & drop them into a bottle filled 1/3 with rubbing alcohol, all the while I am hoping that they feel PAIN. Tick season will start any day now.
    Horseflies are another big problem here & start usually in July through August - I have literally seen horses with blood running down from the bites. Midges, gnats, mosquitoes, & on & on & on until the fall when they all finally die out or just go away.
    I have a theory that the ticks are more attracted to light coloured horses because the palominos that we have had have always had more ticks to pick off compared to the darker horses.

  5. Hi there. Found your blog when researching other things for horses. I have found a full cure for scratches both on horses noses and under their heels. If interested then you can email at info@bgvanners.com or FB at link below


    Cheers Kathy

  6. sorry forgot to say that both my cures are all natural and free!

    1. I've emailed you... Can't wait to hear your solution; I'm always learning.


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