Common Skin Diseases in Horses

The Basics | What to Do: Management | What to Do: Health | Prevention

Horses occasionally develop problems with their hair coat and skin, such as flaking, crusting, or lesions itching. Steps can be taken to determine the cause and minimize the severity of the problem.

  • Minimizing your horse's exposure to sudden environmental changes and slowly acclimating your horse to these changes can help prevent skin problems in your horse.
  • Management changes, such as using blankets and/or clipping (if needed), can help some horses avoid skin problems.
  • Do not share equipment, such as brushes, among horses because this can transmit diseases such as ringworm infection.
  • If your horse suddenly develops a skin problem, contact your veterinarian.

The Basics

Many horses maintain a good haircoat under many management conditions, such as 24-hour turnout or a combination of stall and turnout. Frequent grooming can help maintain your horse's health and enhance your bond with your horse. However, the following important tips can help you avoid problems with your horse's haircoat:

  • Do not share equipment, such as brushes, among horses because this can transmit diseases
  • Use blankets and/or clip your horse's haircoat, when needed, to keep your horse comfortable and avoid dermatitis (for example, rain rot)

What to Do: Management

Grooming your horse frequently and turning your horse out in a well-maintained pasture will help avoid problems such as burrs, which can become trapped in your horse's mane and tail. For shelter, keep your horse in a stall or provide a three-sided enclosure. Examine your horse frequently in the summer to remove ticks as often as possible. Bathe your horse occasionally, when the weather is warmer, to remove mud and dirt; however, to avoid stripping away protective oils from your horse's skin and to prevent the haircoat from becoming dry and dull, don't bathe your horse too often.

What to Do: Health

Despite excellent management and care, horses can develop skin problems. When this happens, it is important to consult with your veterinarian to have a thorough physical examination performed. He or she may recommend diagnostic tests, such as blood tests, to evaluate your horse's health. Horses can become sunburned on white areas of their bodies, such as their noses, or can develop dermatitis or ringworm infection due to a bacterial or fungal infections. These diseases can affect your horse's overall health, and horses severely affected may eat less and become depressed. In addition, some diseases, such as ringworm infection, can be transmitted to people, so it is important to have your veterinarian evaluate your horse as soon as possible. Some diseases, such as rain rot and scratches, are due to prolonged moistness on your horse's skin and need prolonged treatment to resolve.


It is much more effective to prevent skin problems in horses than to treat a problem for a prolonged period. Grooming your horse frequently and providing a warm, clean environment and shelter from inclement weather are imperative. Scheduling your veterinarian to perform regular physical examinations can help detect problems when they begin when they are more amenable to treatment. Most veterinarians are accustomed to working with many types of horses and management styles, so ask for useful tips.