Skin Problems and Climate

Q. We recently purchased a horse in Kentucky which we shipped to Montana to be a ranch horse. His coat is taking a beating with the cold, dry air. He has little hair on his face, and his coat is thin and flaking. Are there any supplements or ointments that would help? Does brushing help?

A. It is most unusual to see horses with dry, flaky skin solely due to a move to a drier climate. Scaly skin in horses is most commonly the result of infection and/or inflammation of the epidermis and/or hair follicles caused by bacteria, fungi, or skin parasites. These conditions are sometimes accompanied by itching. Less commonly, systemic disease, genetic predisposition, ingested toxins, or dietary deficiency might cause generalized scaling. I recommend that you have your veterinarian examine your horse and perform appropriate diagnostic tests (deep scrapings, fungal culture, cytology, and biopsy if indicated) to diagnose or rule out common problems and systemic disease before attributing your horse's skin problem to climate.

Brushing helps by removing scales and loose hair. Brushes used for this horse should not be used on others to avoid spreading infection, and should be cleaned and disinfected regularly. Bathing with a shampoo targeted at the primary cause of the scaling would be useful. However, it is not recommended in winter unless you have a well-heated indoor facility where your horse can be kept until completely dry.

Blanketing might be required until the winter coat returns to a more normal thickness. The only supplement recommended at this time is corn oil--100 to 200 mL per day in the feed--to help restore skin health while the primary problem is being identified and treated.

About the Author

Joy Barbet, DVM, Dipl. ACVD

Joy Barbet, DVM, Dipl. American College of Veterinary Dermitology, is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine.

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