Folliculitis in Horses: What to Do?

Q: I own a 28-year-old thin mare that is pastured with approximately 20 other horses. I have been treating her for folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicles) with Betadine surgical scrub baths for four weeks now, and she has many bald spots on her rump. I live in New England and it is getting colder (especially at night), so I worry about her staying warm.

What can I put on her to help grow the hair quickly so she can grow her winter coat back in the bald area? She has a good winter coat on the rest of her body.

Cheryl Case, via e-mail

Q: Your question is a good one, although there are several issues I feel need to be addressed. You say your mare has folliculitis. My question to you would be has this actually been diagnosed by a veterinarian, or are you going by the assumption as it looks like a folliculitis?

Folliculitis in the horse is usually either a bacterial, fungal, or mixed infection of the hair follicle. Either cause, bacterial or fungal, typically requires systemic therapy in the way of oral antibiotic or antifungal therapy, in addition to topical treatment for full resolution of the problem. Either way, topical treatment of the condition alone is rarely successful and takes much longer to resolve than with medical intervention. Betadine scrub is often helpful, but it typically requires an extended contact time prior to rinsing to be fully effective.

Having your veterinarian take a look at it and properly diagnose the condition will result in a more specific treatment aimed at resolving the problem completely and as quickly as possible. Recommending any topical agent to help with hair regrowth is difficult without knowing the underlying cause of the folliculitis.

Secondly, you talk about your concern for the bald spots in the cold weather. I will often counsel my clients with elderly horses to invest in a blanket or two for their horse. Typically I recommend a waterproof sheet to help protect them in inclement weather and an insulated blanket for excessively cold weather. Older horses typically do not have the reserve body stores that younger horses do and often need help during inclement weather so that excess energy is not put into trying to keep warm.

An elderly horse in a herd of 20 horses often finds himself at the bottom of the pecking order. Horses at the bottom of the pecking order often are pushed away from their feed before being able to complete their meals, which can lead to problems with weight maintenance or gain.

I recommend you address the skin issue with your veterinarian, who should also be able to make recommendations on how to best help your horse survive the pending inclement weather as well as enjoy healthy living in the years to come.

About the Author

Kristen Slater, DVM

Kristen Slater, DVM, practices with Kasper & Rigby Veterinary Associates in Magnolia, Texas. Her practice interests include preventive medicine, reproduction, sports rehabilitation, and conditioning.

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