How to Manage Rain Rot in Horses: Symptoms, Treatments, and Cures
What Is Rain Rot or Rain Scald in Horses?
Rain rot, or rain scald, is a bacterial skin infection that is common in horses. The correct veterinary term for the condition is dermatophilosis, and it is caused by a bacterium called Dermatophilus congolensis. It most commonly occurs in humid, wet weather.
Rain rot thrives in a moist, warm atmosphere and is more common in the spring and summer when the rains and higher temperatures provide a breeding ground for this nasty bacteria. It also crops up in winter, especially if temperatures rise and fall and horses are sweating under their blankets as the temperatures get warmer throughout the day.
The condition is awfully hard to get rid of once a horse has developed it, so we will look at how to prevent it as well as how its treated.
Advice From a Veterinarian
What Does It Look Like?
Rain rot in horses looks similar to mange in dogs, but is not the same thing and cannot be managed the same way. This condition can be a sign that a horse is not being cared for properly, but this is not always the case as some horses have sensitive skin and are more susceptible. Horses in the American South are also more susceptible simply because the weather is hotter.
Signs of Rain Rot
- Hair loss
- Hair that rises up in tufts
- Hair that falls out if rubbed or brushed
- Smooth skin underneath hair loss (mild cases)
- Small scabs or sores (severe cases)
How to Prevent Rain Rot in Horses
First, prevention is key! If your horse is living in a pasture setting and has a run-in shed but no enclosed stall, he or she will get wet. Horses don't seem to mind the rain like people do, so your horse is likely to stay out in the open under light rain. This is okay. Many horses seem to be the happiest living outside 24/7, so don't feel like you need to run out and put your horse in the barn every time it sprinkles.
Mud Exposure Is a Huge Risk Factor
If he or she rolls in the mud, however, try to get them cleaned up pretty quickly. The bacteria that causes rain rot is believed to be found in dirt. If your horse has had rain rot in the past and seems particularly susceptible to it, you may have to resort to keeping them stalled and dry in wet weather. Essentially, keeping your horse as clean as possible is your best defense.
How to Manage Mild Cases and When to See a Vet
Now, if your horse already has a case of this nasty stuff, you have to determine how bad it is. Does your horse have raw-looking skin or sores where the hair has fallen out? If they do, you need to call your vet.
Putting medicine on raw skin can be terribly painful, so you want to see your vet before you put anything on your horse that could make the problem worse. Antibiotics are usually prescribed in severe cases to help a horse fight off the bacteria.
What to Do If You Cannot Get Your Horse to a Vet
If your horse's hair tufts up and falls out when you scratch it, but the skin underneath is smooth and not irritated, this is likely a mild case of the condition. If you are unable to have a vet out to see your horse immediately, you have several options:
Equine-Approved Anti-Bacterial Spray
- Acquire an equine-safe anti-bacterial spray per your vet's recommendation from your local shop.
- Take your fingers and brush the affected hair. A curry comb will work as well. (The sooner the hair falls out, the sooner your horse can start new hair growth.)
- Brush and spray, brush and spray. (Do this every day!) Brushes, combs, saddle pads, blankets, and the like should all be washed immediately to avoid spreading the bacteria.
If the hair doesn't come out easily, don't force it. Just spray the area. When it's ready to come out, it will, with very little effort.
You can also use M-T-G spray if the skin is not broken. It's about $16 for a spray bottle. It is sulfur-based and smells awful, but will work to kill the bacteria.
- Remove the affected hair and spray the area.
- Clean everything that comes in contact with your horse to prevent the spread of the bacteria. Brushes, combs, saddle pads, blankets, and the like should all be washed immediately.
- I soak my brushes in diluted bleach water. It doesn't hurt the brushes, but it will kill rain rot for sure.
How Soon Will It Go Away?
Rain rot looks nasty and is a pain to get rid of because it tends to spread quickly. In the grand scheme of horse illnesses and injuries, however, it's pretty mild. Yes, your horse will have some bald patches, but they will recover within a couple of months as long as you're vigilant about caring for them. Take heart, it could be much worse!
If for any reason your horse's condition is worsening, see your veterinarian right away.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.