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The Horse Rug Whisperer

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How to prevent and treat Rain Scald and Greasy Heal

We’ve had a wet spring, and now we are heading into a wet summer. So equine dermatitis (commonly known as rain scald, rain rot, mud fever, greasy heel) is raising it’s ugly head – and it can be very ugly. Equine dermatitis can be very painful, and it can lead to more serious conditions.

The bacteria that causes rain scald is normally dormant on your horse’s skin. It’s called Dermatophilus congolensis for those who need the technical term. Warm wet weather, and biting insects allow this bacteria to penetrate the skin and cause infection.

Normally, a bit of rain won’t be a problem. It’s when the skin stays wet for a long period of time, that it is likely to weaken and crack. Leaving damp rugs on as the weather warms up creates the perfect environment for the bacteria to grow and spread. 

Prevention

Prevention is better than cure. So here are a few easy steps you can take to prevent rain scald from starting.

  1. Avoid over rugging, especially in hot, humid conditions. If you need to rug, use a light rainsheet, and make sure it’s both waterproof and breathable.
  2. Remove wet or damp rugs as soon as possible.
  3. Keep the skin and coat clean with regular grooming.
  4. Avoid rugging horses which are still wet from a bath or sweaty after exercise – unless it’s a wicking rug designed to dry the horse off.
  5. Keep your horse healthy with good nutrition. If you have a horse with low immunity, adding a supplement to improve gut health and immunity may help.

Treatment

If your horse does develop rain scald or greasy heel here are some steps that will help. Remember that this can be extremely painful for your horse, so be gentle.

  1. Wash infected areas with a medicated shampoo such as Malaseb or 10% PVP iodine (like Betadine) daily over a 7 – 10 day period to help control infection. 
  2. Leave the wash on the skin for 15 mins to allow the slow release of the iodine, then rinse off.
  3. Dry the area gently but thoroughly.
  4. Apply an ointment such as Equine Supergoo to all affected areas twice daily for 2 weeks.
  5. Keep the area as dry as you can.
  6. And of course, alway call your vet if it gets worse or doesn’t heal up.

Rugging Right

Rugs that aren’t breathable and properly waterproof will make the problem worse. There are many rugs on the market that don’t hold up to steady rain – some of them very expensive. The Horseware and Bucas rugs consistently stay waterproof even in days of heavy rain. 

Dirty rugs will lose their breathability and will be less waterproof than a rug that has been professionally cleaned and reproofed. Wash your rugs each year before you put them away, and use a wash that retains breathability such as Nikwax. If they are no longer waterproof, reproof them with Nikwax Rugproof for synthetics, or Dynaproof for canvas. Other reproofing products may reduce breathability of your rug.

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