ahead of spring, which is prime time for scratches to appear.
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.
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.
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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 pasterns (which have white socks & pink skin).
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. For the successful treatment of scratches I rely on an old horseman's remedy, learned years ago in the backstretch, that is made of inexpensive ingredients readily available at your local Whateveryouwant-mart or pharmacy.
- 4 oz diaper rash ointment (Zinc Oxide 40%)
- 2 oz triple antibiotic ointment (no name brand)
- 2 oz cortisone ointment (no name brand)
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 a 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.
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