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Rain scald

Rain scald is a skin condition that is non-contagious, which can be caused by the same bacteria as mud fever.  However, scabs form in places along the horse’s neck, back and hindquarters rather than the lower legs.

  • Last reviewed: 13th June 2022
BHS STOCK NOV2016 1018 BHS STOCK NOV2016 1018

Signs & diagnosis

Rain scald is characterised by scabs that come off with tufts of hair which look like paintbrushes.

The condition is often diagnosed in the autumn or winter months due to consistent exposure to wet and muddy conditions, although it is also seen when horses are over-rugged, due to the excessive sweating this may cause. If the saddle area is affected, the horse may be unable to be ridden until the condition is successfully treated.    

Speak to your vet for advice if you think your horse has rain scald. It is important to confirm the signs are not mistaken for other skin conditions, such as ringworm - a highly contagious fungal infection. (which would appear more swollen around the affected area).  Your vet may take a sample of the scab or do a skin scraping to help diagnose the condition under a microscope. 

Photo Credit: VetPartners

Photo Credit: VetPartners

Treatment

The bacteria in the scabs can cause re-infection so any grooming kit or tack should be appropriately disinfected. 

  • Initially, the horse should be removed from the muddy, wet conditions; adequate shelter or stabling may be required.    
  • The affected areas should be cleansed with a suitable antibacterial solution such as dilute Hibiscrub and then gently dried.  This will usually be required daily until the area has healed. Be aware that removing the scabs can be painful to the horse so sedation maybe required. 
  • Clipping away extremely thick hair can help in the treatment of the affected areas.  
  • After cleansing and drying, your vet may recommend the use of antibiotic creams. In severe cases horses may require oral antibiotics. Your vet will be able to determine the course of action and treatment plan most suitable for your horse. 

Prevention

Prevention can be difficult as the UK often challenges us with difficult weather! However, there are some preventative measurements you can implement: 

  • Shelter in the field such as manmade structures or natural trees and hedges can help reduce the risk of constant wetting of the skin and of infection occurring.  
  • Rugging your horse can also provide protection from the wet weather, however horses that are over-rugged can become sweaty and the skin susceptible to infection, so ensure that rugs are removed or reduced on mild days.    
  • If possible, bring your inside horse for part of the day to allow the skin to dry and protect against prolonged wetting of the horse’s coat. 
  • Appropriate grooming can remove any clumped areas of mud that can harbour bacteria underneath.  When grooming field kept horses, it is important not to over-groom as you can remove the naturally protective oils in their coat.    

Thoroughly inspecting the skin to identify early signs of rain scald is important and if there is any concern, the vet should be contacted. Horses with a reduced immune function, such as those with Cushing’s disease, are particularly susceptible to skin infections so treating any underlying conditions can help reduce the risk of rain scald. 

With thanks to VetPartners - Vicky Rowlands BVM&S CertEP MRCVS. Ashbrook Equine Hospital. 

Get in touch – we’re here to help 

The Horse Care and Welfare Team are here to help and can offer you further advice with any questions you may have. Contact us on 02476 840517* or email welfare@bhs.org.uk – You can also get in touch with us via our social media channels. 

Opening times are 8:35 am - 5 pm from Monday – Thursday and 8:35 am - 3 pm on Friday. 

*Calls may be recorded for monitoring purposes.