What can I do for scratches??
Here’s the scene - you are diligently doing your daily leg inspection and you are working your way down the legs and you feel a little scabby bump….Hhhhmmmm…..is it scratches? You may have also heard it be called greasy heel, mud fever, dew poisoning, or pastern dermatitis. And, if you check the legs daily, you will likely catch this case of scratches before any major damage is done.
So before we go any further, please involve yout Veterinarian with your horse’s treatment of scratches. While it can be a seemingly localized pain in the &*$^@, scratches can also be quite serious, causing lameness and pain, and often requiring systemic treatments such as antibiotics.
Scratches is a general term for the scabby crusty skin condition, typically seen on the pasterns. Scratches are common when the legs remain damp or wet - in tall pastures, during the rainy times of year, when there is a lot of mud. It seems to be more common on white legs, and can spread up the cannon bones. For horses with a lot of feathers, it may be harder to find and also treat. For all intents and purposes, the causes are a mixed bag of bugs and environmental microbes. You are unlikely going to pinpoint the actual cause without your Veterinarian doing a skin scraping or biopsy.
YUCK YUCK YUCK... but then it get's better!
So, how do you treat? There is a popular “pick or don’t pick” debate. From the Veterinarian’s perspective, the scabs need to be out of the way so that your treatment can reach the skin under the scab. Now - the conundrum - how to do that without making the already irritated skin more angry! It’s recommended that you use a oxydex shampoo or malaseb shampoo to start. Lather those legs, and let it sit. For a long time - about 10 minutes. Then massage off the scabs carefully with either your fingertips or a pimple mitt. The real trick is to do all of this without making the skin more angry. So, gently shampoo. Careful massaging to remove the scabs. Gentle rinsing, not using the “jet” setting of your nozzle.
The very beginnings....
Now you can cover the affected area with your Veterinarian’s choice of ointments, after the legs are totally dry and clean. Then cover, and keep dry and clean. Standing wraps and quilts may be in order here, too. The primary defense to allow for healing is clean and dry. This means you may need to find alternative living situations for your guy if he's fighting a case of scratches. Bring him in from a wet paddock or muddy lot, or find higher ground with no mud or wet grass.
Clean and dry....keep it clean and dry....
The other debate - clip or don’t clip. This can make the irritated skin angry, so if the leg is super hairy, can you get away with scissors to get the bulk of hair away? This will help your medicine get closer.
If things get worse or out of hand, please talk to your Veterinarian about systemic prescriptions, like antibiotics, steroids, and immune boosters. The key is to nip it in the bud!