Horses skin diseases: Fungi, Warts, Chewing Lice, etc. - Part 2

In the first part of this blog series we looked at the structure of the horse's skin. In this article, we discuss the common skin diseases in horses. A shiny, smooth coat usually indicates a healthy horse. Horses with a dull, shaggy coat, however, mostly suffer from a chronic disease such as parasites, poor diet or other skin issues.


Skin diseases can occur due to infectious or non-infectious factors, often combined.


Fungal infections are the most common type of equine skin diseases: The contamination with microspores and trichophyti being the most frequent among them. These fungi cause circular, scaly, hairless spots all over the horse. They are very contagious and must be treated with antimycotics, for example, Imaverol. It is important that the treatment is repeated several times because not all fungi die during the first course of treatment.

Horses can be vaccinated against some type of fungi, but the pathogens can also be transmitted via rugs, tack or brushes. Please disinfect thoroughly. Secondary fungal infections occur mostly in the girth- and saddle area. They are painful and can infect easily. Same treatment as described above applies.

My secret tip: Liverwort extract! Liverwort extract is a natural product that acts against fungi and all sorts of bacteria. Mix 20 ml with 100 ml of lukewarm water and spread or dab over the affected areas. Don't wash off. If applied daily, soon the affected areas will diminish. Apply daily at first, but if you see an improvement you can extend the intervals between the treatments. The effect is visible after only a few treatments and the application does not harm the horse in any way.

Caution: Fungal infections can also be transmitted to humans. Therefore, always wear gloves and avoid direct body contact.


Viruses cause visible changes in the skin: warts. Papilomatosis is the most common viral disease in the horse. The papovavirus causes warty skin, mostly in the facial area. Usually they heal after a few weeks. However, if they burst or an injury occurs, you must treat them. They are mainly found in young horses.

Larger, wart-like tumors you come across in the girth area, genitals, eyes, ears, and extremities are called equine sarcoids. They can have various different forms and shapes and they can burst. Although it is a malignant tumor, it only negatively affects the horse once it bursts or grows in the tack area. Surgical removal often doesn't help because the wounds heal poorly or the sarcoids simply regrow. Smaller tumors, however, can be treated medicinally.


Dermatophilosis/Rain rot

Occurs mainly during rainy seasons. A bacteria called dermatophilus congolensis causes skin rashes and pustules in places that are exposed to the rain, such as the horse's back and backhand. Once they have healed, wet, hairless spots remain on the skin. These bacteria can also penetrate the skin barrier (or small injuries) and provoke inflammation. Nonetheless, the main source of infections are flies, transferring the bacteria into small open wounds.

In general, bacterial skin infections occur due to injuries, leading to fistulae, ulcers, and abscesses. For successful treatment, the vet must take a skin sample first. Then, an antibiogram can be used to administer the correct types of antibiotics.

Mallenders can also be caused by bacterial infection. However, we do not want to write about diseases such as mallenders, scabies or sweet itch, since you can find tons of information on it on the internet, for example via the Youtube search function.


Very often parasites are the cause of skin problems. Mites and chewing lice fall into this category, as do bugs like horseflies, flies and mosquitos. These type of bugs can transmit infections and/or worms.

Horses may be infested with lice when you can spot hairless, itchy and sometimes bloody areas; especially under the mane, in the neck, chest and tail area. Lice (blood sucker) or chewing lice (hair eaters) are readily passed on to other horses and preferably jump on shaggy horses or animals with a weakened immune system. You can treat chewing lice with an antiparasitic wash. In severe cases (sarcopenic mites), the veterinarian must inject medication or it must be administered orally.

However, the most important preventive measure against parasites is hygiene, proper use of bug repellants and a strong immune system. Disinfectants can also help – if they are used properly.

The eggs of the horse bots (Gasterophilus) don't cause skin problems. They are mostly yellow, easily detectable and stick to the horse's forelegs during late summer/fall. If the horse licks its legs, they get transferred into the stomach, where they cause real trouble. Therefore, the eggs must always be removed immediately.


Endocrine disorders occur due to the dysfunction of the pituitary glands. Very prevalent: The equine Cushing syndrome, an over function of the adrenal cortex. To many horse owners, it's just "old horse disease" but horses as young as 7 can be affected. They are easily recognized by a heavy, coarse, wavy hair coat that fails to shed in the summer (occurring in more than 85% of cases).

Common symptoms: Polydipsia (excessive thirst) and polyuria (excessive urination), swaybacked or potbellied appearance, increased appetite (generally with no corresponding weight gain), loss of muscle over the topline, chronic laminitis. However, a tumor can also be the cause of any of these symptoms.

In any case, we advise you to always consult your veterinarian if your horse shows unusual changes to the skin.

How do you like this article? You can read more about the skin and natural horse care in our free e-book "Detox for your horse". Just sign-up to our mailing list and you can download it for free from our website.

A happy horsey summer to you all,Nicole


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