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How to Detect and Treat Horse Skin Conditions

Issues affecting your horse's skin can not only be annoying and uncomfortable in most cases but some can be downright painful and may lead to serious complications if left untreated. Here, our equine vets in Ocala share some of the most common skin conditions affecting horses and what symptoms you should watch for.

Horse Skin Conditions

There are a number of different horse skin conditions that can range from minor irritations to more serious life-threatening diseases.

These conditions can affect many different areas of your horse's body and have a variety of accompanying symptoms.

Here our vets at Florida Equine Veterinary Associates share some of the most common horse skin problems and what symptoms you may see with each of them.


Sarcoids are the most common type of skin tumor affecting horses. While these are non-cancerous, they can be unsightly and invasive. 

The appearance and symptoms of sarcoids can vary depending on the type. The five main types of sarcoids found in horses are:

Occult: Flat, round, and hairless patch of skin that is grey and scaly. Most commonly develops on the face, neck, or between the back legs and is often mistaken for ringworm.

Verrucose: Multiple warty and scaly lesions that reach deeper into the tissue than occult sarcoids.

Nodular: Nodular sarcoids are shiny bumps that form under the skin. These are most commonly found around the groin and eyelids.

Fibroblastic: These are the most commonly seen type of sarcoid. Fibroblastic sarcoids are fast-growing and invasive, usually appearing as a large hanging mass.

Mixed: This occurs when a number of different types of sarcoids form as a 'colony'. 

Sarcoids are typically treated with surgery or chemotherapy medications.

Pastern Dermatitis

Pastern dermatitis is one of the common horse skin problems that affect the horse’s lower legs.

This condition can be mild to severe and results in lesions affecting the pastern (the sloped part of the foot, between the hoof and the fetlock).

Treatment for pastern dermatitis is to clip the hair, remove the crusted skin, and clean with antibacterial and antifungal shampoos.

Sweet Itch

Sweet itch is one of the most common horse skin conditions and is a type of allergic reaction. It is usually caused by the saliva of midge flies as they bite a horse.

If a horse experiences sweet itch, it will begin scratching excessively resulting in loss of fur or bald patches along with sores and lesions.

Treatment for sweet itch can include antihistamines, antibiotics, and anti-itch shampoos.

Rain Rot

Streptothricosis or rain rot, is a horse skin condition characterized by oozing, crusty lesions, and matted hair. This matted hair will be stuck to the scabs and result in bald patches once the scabs have been cleared.

Rain rot should be treated promptly as untreated rain rot is also associated with lameness, serious infections, or even death. 

Treatment for rain rot usually includes antimicrobial shampoo and antibiotics.

Eosinophilic Granulomas

One of the most common horse skin conditions is eosinophilic Granulomas. These are non-itchy, firm, round, raised nodules that develop on the skin of horses, commonly in the saddle region or neck of the horse.

The size of these nodules can vary greatly and the hair covering the area will be unaffected.

Treatment for eosinophilic granulomas in horses includes high doses of corticosteroids given by mouth or injection and antibiotics if necessary.


Melanoma is a serious and potentially cancerous skin condition typically affecting the area under the horse’s tail, around the anus, or on the sheath of geldings.

There are two main types of melanomas. They are:

Dermal melanomas: These are typically small, individual tumors

Dermal melanomatosis: These are small individual tumors that eventually merge and become on large solid mass.

While melanomas can develop in all horses, grey horses are most commonly affected with up to 80% of all grey horses eventually developing this skin condition.

Surgery and chemotherapy are the most common treatment options for horses with melanomas.


Grey horses are also most commonly affected by another skin condition – vitiligo. With this condition, the melanocytes in the skin are destroyed resulting in a lack of pigment in the affected areas.

These patches are usually found around the eyelids, lips, muzzle, and occasionally around the genital area. 

Vitiligo can not be treated but creams and sun protection may be used to help protect the affected areas.

Chronic Progressive Lymphedema (CPL)

Chronic progressive lymphedema is one of the more serious horse skin problems affecting the lymphatic flow in the horse’s legs. 

some of the symptoms that are typically seen with this debilitating condition are thickening of the skin and fibrosis, the development of skinfolds and nodules, hyperkeratosis, and ulcerations on the limbs.

There is no cure for Chronic Progressive Lymphedema but some of the management options include keeping the feathers clipped short, ongoing exercise, routine foot, ergot and chestnut trimming, daily hoof cleaning, and manual lymph drainage massage.


Ringworm is a common fungal infection that can occur in horses and other mammals.

The most common symptom of ringworm is an itchy, circular pattern of hair loss, which has a rash-like appearance. The girth and saddle region are most commonly affected but this skin condition can easily spread to other areas of the body.

If your horse has a ringworm infection then your equine vet may recommend treatment using antifungal shampoos, dips, or topical therapies.


The type of wart experienced by a horse will depend on its location on the body. The three main areas are mucocutaneous (lips), haired skin, and ears. 

Warts can develop as a single lesion or up to several hundred, in varying sizes. If a horse has warts in their ears, they will take on the appearance of white, plaques that are quite sensitive and may bleed or develop infections.

Treatment for warts on horses can include surgical removal and antibacterial ointments.


If a horse suffers from cellulitis, they will likely experience lameness with the affected limb becoming warm to the touch and painful for your horse. You may also note a fever and lethargy while examining your horse.

Along with inflammation, a horse may develop an infection that will require prompt treatment.

Antibiotics along with hydrotherapy are commonly used to treat cellulitis in horses.

Summer Sores (Habronemiasis)

Summer sores are ulcerations that commonly bleed, may be itchy, and/or may contain granules. There can be a number of lesions that commonly appear on the limbs, chest, lower abdomen, around the genitals, or near the eyes of the horse.

These lesions may become recurrent and result in infections and the associated symptoms of infections.

Summer sores can be treated with deworming and topical creams.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is a common type of skin cancer affecting horses.

This type of skin cancer results in tumors typically developing around the eyelid, penis, and perianal region. These tumors will be ulcerative resulting in dead tissue around the mass and a foul-smelling discharge.

It is possible for burns and other reoccurring wounds to contribute to the development of squamous cell carcinoma.

Surgery as well as cytotoxic chemicals is used to treat squamous cell carcinoma.

Exuberant Granulation Tissue (Proud Flesh)

Proud flesh is an ulcerative, hairless mass that commonly forms along the edge of a wound developing granulation tissue. This granulation tissue will be pink and rough or bumpy and the wound will not be improving.

Proud flesh can be treated with surgical skin removal and/or grafting as well as topical medications.

Pemphigus Foliaceus

Pemphigus foliaceus is an autoimmune disease that affects the skin and hair coat in horses.

This horse skin condition is characterized by circular areas of skin blistering, scaling and crusting. These lesions appear around the face and limbs and eventually spread to the rest of the body.

Your equine vet will likely use specific doses of corticosteroids to treat pemphigus foliaceus in your horse.

Hereditary Equine Regional Dermal Asthenia (HERDA)

HERDA is a genetic condition that causes a defect in the collagen fibers of the skin, leading to the separation of the epidermis and dermis resulting in loose skin and extreme scarring.

The early symptoms of HERDA usually appear by the time a horse is two years old and are caused by continuous pressure from the saddle which causes the skin to tear. 

There is no cure or treatment for horses affected by HERDA and horse owners commonly turn to euthanasia.

In Conclusion

Many common horse skin conditions have symptoms that are similar to other issues. This makes an examination and diagnosis from an equine vet important. Contact your vet for diagnostic testing when needed to help determine the cause of horse skin problems before they cause serious complications.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding animals or professional advice regarding equine regulations. For the diagnosis of your animal's condition and help to navigate rules governing the care and transportation of equine animals, please make an appointment with your vet.

Are you concerned that your horse may be experiencing symptoms related to a skin condition or disease? Contact Florida Equine Veterinary Associates to speak with our equine vets today.

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