scratches on horses

Scratches on your horse’s legs!


Scratches, also known as dew poisoning, mud fever, greasy heel, pastern dermatitis, and a few other names, is nothing to ignore. It can be painful for your horse and time-consuming to heal.


  • Here’s the scene – you are diligently doing your daily leg inspection and you are working your way down the legs and you feel a little scabby bump….Hhhhmmmm… it scratches?


  • If you check your horse’s legs daily, you will likely catch this case of scratches before any major damage is done.


small scab on horse heel that indicates equine scratches or dermatitis

The very beginnings of scratches.


Involve your veterinarian with your horse’s treatment of scratches.


  • While it can be a seemingly localized pain in the &*$^@, scratches can also be quite serious, causing lameness and pain, and often requiring systemic treatments such as antibiotics.


  • You can also use an actual barrier to keep the scabs protected and covered and keep additional infections from invading with special horse socks. Yes, they exist, and yes, they are awesome.



white hoof standing in grass with a sock on

These Silver Whinnys keep the scratches infection clean and dry. You can absolutely get the sox gross and muddy and wet.


Scratches is a general term for the scabby crusty skin condition typically seen on the pasterns.


  • Scratches are common when the legs remain damp or wet – in tall pastures, during the rainy times of the year, when there is a lot of mud.


  • It seems to be more common on white legs, and can spread up the cannon bones.


  • For horses with a lot of feathers, it may be harder to find and also harder to treat. And, because feathers tend to hold in dirt and damp, you will need to step up your feather grooming and inspection routine.


  • For all intents and purposes, the causes are a mixed bag of bugs and environmental microbes. The infection is largely bacterial, although in some cases, a small amount of fungus can be present.


  • You are unlikely going to pinpoint the actual cause and specific microbes without your Veterinarian doing a skin scraping or biopsy.



before and after scratches on horse lower leg

YUCK YUCK YUCK… but then it gets better!


Should you pick the scabs?


  • From the veterinarian’s perspective, the scabs need to be out of the way so that your treatment can reach the skin under the scab.


  • Now – the conundrum – how to do that without making the already irritated skin angrier!


  • It’s recommended that you use an oxydex shampoo or malaseb shampoo to start. Lather those legs, and let it sit. For a long time – about 10 minutes.


  • Then massage off the scabs carefully with either your fingertips or a pimple mitt. The real trick is to do all of this without making the skin angrier.


  • So, gently shampoo. Careful massaging to remove the scabs. Gentle rinsing, not using the “jet” setting of your nozzle.


BUT – scabs are a barrier to re-infection


  • Now you can cover the affected area with your veterinarian’s choice of ointments, after the legs are totally dry and clean. Then cover, and keep dry and clean.


  • Standing wraps and quilts may be in order here, too. The primary defense to allow for healing is a clean and dry environment.


  • This means you may need to find alternative living situations for your guy if he’s fighting a case of scratches. Bring him in from a wet paddock or muddy lot, or find higher ground with no mud or wet grass.


The other debate – clip or don’t clip the area where scratches are happening.


  • If you keep your horse’s legs clipped a bit shorter during “scratches season”, you can help keep things clean and dry. Lots of hair can trap microbes and moisture. Clipped legs are also much easier to keep clean, which also helps prevent scratches.


  • Clipping closely can make the irritated skin angry, so if the leg is super hairy, can you get away with scissors to get the bulk of hair away? This will help your medicine get closer.


  • If things get worse or out of hand, please talk to your veterinarian about systemic prescriptions, like antibiotics, steroids, and immune boosters.


  • You can also find protective horse socks that create a barrier between conditions and your horse. These socks are machine washable, so that’s a bonus.


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horse wearing sox for horses on mat

Sox for Horses – for any skin funk, fly problems, summer sore, stomping, etc.