How does winter affect skin?
Winter is a great time for most horses - they seem to enjoy the cold weather (sometimes the cold weather friskies are outta hand…), they are not plagued by bugs, and often their exercise schedule is reduced because of lack of daylight! What horse doesn’t love that!
But the winter can also create it’s own set of problems when it comes to your horse’s skin. This is because of a few reasons - less sunlight, more hair, it just happens that way, bacteria, lots of factors. I’m not saying that a furry horse is definitely going to get a skin infection, or bacteria comes out of the woodwork and takes over the horse skin universe. It’s just part of the much larger picture. Your Vet should always be involved with any horse skin issues, as systemic medications may be warranted. And also your Vet can run appropriate skin tests to confirm a diagnosis and create a treatment plan.
Mud and hair and sweat and dirt and lack of sun all play into your horse's winter skin health.
Wintertime grooming has it’s own set of challenges, first on my list of challenges is daylight and cold. (Loosely translated into I can’t see and also I don’t like the cold.) And, the lack of sunlight makes ringworm (a fungus) more likely to crop up. Ringworm lives in the environment (helpful, right?) and eats keratin for a living. Your horse’s skin and hair are made of keratin, and you will find a circular patch where ringworm is having a buffet. It’s good to remember that ringworm is contagious to other horses and to humans, also. Just super.
Rain rot, scratches, general dermatitis of the skin also can easily flare up during winter. These bacterial infections love moist skin to multiply - so rainy, muddy, winter conditions are perfect for these bacteria. Even if your horse is protected from all things mud and rain and winter weather, his own sweat can create the perfect environment. Rain rot is also contagious to other horses via brushes and blankets and the like. More on rain rot here and more on scratches here.
A large patch of rain rot! This case was healed with the help of internal medications.
And then come the lice. Lice love the winter, they can spend their entire lives on your horse eating, breeding, and generally causing trouble. Most are visible to the naked eye, if you look deep into the mane. A horse with lice will have one of two varieties - the blood sucking kind, or the kind that eats skin and hair and causes massive itching. You will often find greasy skin and dandruff around a lice problem. And yes, your horse’s brushes and blankets can pass this along to his buddies.
And then come the mites. These critters cause dermatitis, scaly skin, mange and other gross conditions. Of course mites love winter conditions. Mange is particularly gross, the mites may take up residence in hair follicles, causing hair loss. Other mites cause mange and prefer to bite and drink up lymphatic fluid. These types of infections usually cause hair loss, pustules, scabs, and horribly sensitive and itchy skin. And once again, will be spread to other horses via brushes and blankets.
Hair loss plus dandruff - only the Vet can determine what it is, and how to treat it.
Your horse also may get some dandruff from dry skin - which sometimes is caused by mites or lice, sometimes it's just dandruff.
Again, your Vet can do the tests and find a definitive diagnosis which will lead to your horse’s comfort and healing.
Generally speaking - a fuzzy horse will sweat more during exercise, which may help create a skin issue. It’s also a bit trickier to catch skin infections early with a hairy coat. BUT - clipping is not for every horse and every horse owner. Just be aware and alert to winter skin issues.
How does your horse’s skin fare through winter?