Why is your horse scratching?...
Horses scratch for various reasons. Here is a guide to help you find the right solution. Skin itching in horses can be caused by a wide range of factors, both internal and external, which can appear at any time of the year.
He just wants to! We often underestimate how much horses need to scratch themselves. Regardless of whether they have a skin condition, all horses like to scratch themselves and to be scratched (i.e. through grooming).
Sweat : The skin sweats after exercise or when in direct sunlight. When mixed with dust, sweat can lead to itching. Grooming is usually enough to fix the problem, with the occasional bath if necessary.
Insects : Insects multiply and appear when the weather becomes milder (usually in spring, when the larvae hatch). Some insects appear only when the weather is hot (in summer) and others only when the weather is mild but humid. All cause one form of skin itching or another: either through allergic reactions (culicoides stomox, simulium, etc.), through simple bites (horseflies, hippobosca, lice, etc.) or through parasites such as mange (scabies).
Parasites and fungi: These can appear during any season and are responsible for causing a large number of skin problems. They are caused primarily by humidity and a lack of hygiene. They often appear in autumn and can remain throughout the year, including over summer. Itching caused by parasites or fungi is sometimes mistaken for summer dermatitis
Nutrition : Internal upsets always appear as external conditions, often skin problems. This is the case for both horses and humans. Various factors can cause itching or skin problems, such as overly-rich or poor-quality food, too much or too little food or a lack of variety in the grass or hay provided, in addition to photosensitivity. Even if a horse looks well, it is not necessarily “happy in its own skin”!
Sunshine : We all need sunshine, horses included. However, photosensitivity caused by the consumption of certain plants (or medicines) or the application of certain products can lead to dermatitis.
The psychological state of the horse can also lead to dermatitis: stress, boredom and loneliness are, as in humans, “psychosomatic” factors that have been noted in horses.
In summary, scratching can be caused by :
- Insect/mosquito allergies
- Over-feeding, poor diet or under-feeding: these three factors weaken the horse’s immune system, as a result of which various sorts of dermatitis or allergic reactions may appear as an external manifestation of the internal upset
- A dirty environment: parasites and insects breed in droppings, urine and damp areas. They spread and trap the animal, which cannot escape them.
- A weakened mental state: dermatitis often appears after trauma, however minor (accident, recovery from illness, change of living space, sudden social problems, loss of companions, whisker trimming, change of diet, paddock or stable, change of activity, etc.). Allergies in humans are often psychosomatic; the same goes for horses. Improving your horse’s mental health can give real results at a fraction of the cost!
- Sunshine and sweat
- Or simply because your horse likes a scratch now and again!
Horses with dermatitis often experience several of these factors at once. To be sure of the exact cause of the dermatitis, deal with the factors one at time, taking care to be thorough and not to rush. For example, very slowly change your horse’s diet and wait two to three weeks to see if there are any improvements. Then do the same for the other possible causes, each in turn. Never discount a potential cause, however benign it may seem.