Rocky Bay Equine Newsletter, February 2018
Scratches, an itch that doesn't easily go away

Scratches, greasy heel, mud fever, dew poisoning... by any of those names it is equine pastern dermatitis and the nemesis of a western Washington winter. Not everyone has the luxury of a nice dry stable let alone somewhere to roam that isn't knee deep in February mud, so what do we do about dermatitis?

This malady so common to our region this time of year is inflammation and infection of the pastern and heel area of the horse. It is often painful and resistant to treatment once established. A constantly wet environment which decreases the essential function of the skin as a barrier to pathogens may be the inciting cause or a complication once inflammation begins. Contact irritation from allergies or treated bedding, insect or photo sensitivity, parasites, trauma and autoimmune disorders may all be inciting factors. A precise etiologic diagnosis is often difficult to come by since there may be one or multiple underlying causes for the inflammatory reaction. What is most clear is that a wet, muddy environment contributes significantly to the disease. 

Skin is the largest organ of the body and when intact it presents a remarkable barrier to disease. It's no surprise that the horses lower limbs are exposed to a “manure load” of potential pathogens; bacteria, fungi, viruses, parasites etc. These organisms coexist happily ON the skin, it's when they sneak through the barrier and get INto the skin that problems begin. Signs of scratches include, red, swollen, sometimes itchy, scaly, crusty pasterns which may progress to oozing sores and granuloma formation. Much of the time the condition will improve with simple to prescribe but challenging to implement management practices. The primary goal is to provide a clean and dry environment, not so easy in our wet winters. Successful management in less than perfect conditions is still possible with a little effort and creativity. Trimming long hair around the pastern, physically cleaning the area and drying it as best you can and keeping it dry as much as possible are steps in the right direction. Several commercial topical applications can be useful to help improve the barrier function of inflamed skin or to soothe mild irritation. You can tell by the number of concoctions on the shelf that there is no single topical “cure all” that works consistently. It’s ok to try your favorite ointment or salve with the goal to decrease irritation and cracking of the skin but if the condition doesn’t improve or if it worsens it may be time for a more systemic approach to treatment. Your horse’s immune system may need an assist to clear the infection or break the cycle of inflammation. Scratches can become extremely difficult to resolve in its chronic form, or worse, it can lead to more widespread cellulitis which if left untreated can even be life threatening. 

You’ve heard it before, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and it definitely applies to this disease. There are many approaches for management and treatment of simple cases of scratches. If you have any tips and tricks that have worked for your horses to minimize this problem we'd all love to hear them.

Updated Rabies Vaccination Recommendations
Updated recommendation from the AAEP (American Association of Equine Practitioners). “Rabies is an infrequently encountered neurologic disease of equids. While the incidence of rabies in horses is low, the disease is invariably fatal and has considerable public health significance. It is recommended that rabies vaccine be a core (annual) vaccine for all equids.” 

"Three vaccines are licensed for rabies prophylaxis in horses. All are inactivated tissue culture derived products. The vaccines are given by intramuscular injection and appear to be safe. Rabies is an excellent immunogen and these vaccines induce a strong serologic response after a single dose." Click to read more specifics from this AAEP article .
LIFE HACKS from Lotti

Lotti's advice for humans in cold weather is to use thermal heat pads. Similar to hand warmers, these larger air activated heatwraps go around the waist and will keep a human's core warm for up to 10 hours. Even better, they're only $3.00-4.00.  Perfect for standing with the farrier or veterinarian or while playing with your alpaca on a chilly day. 
Rocky Bay Equine Veterinary Services    (253) 858-4529   (360) 876-1544
Vaughn / Gig Harbor, WA 98394          find us on Facebook