Why your horse is itchy


If you know anything about me by now, it’s that I always try and narrow down the reason for something. Then a plan can be implemented, and the correct and most helpful course of action can kick in. The same goes for the itchy horse. There are a lot of possibilities here, so grab your veterinarian and start eliminating some itch-causing stuff.


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Reasons why your horse is itchy:


  • Bugs. Sure, this is pretty obvious, and also really complicated. Flies, ticks, mosquitos, greenheads, gnats, it’s a long list. You also need to investigate mites and lice in manes, tails, and feathers. Mites and lice are hard to see and can cause major discomfort. You might be dealing with sweet itch from the Culicoides midge, or a local reaction to a tick, or hives from fly bites. Each bug will have its own best repellent. You can also cover your horse in head to toe fly sheet, boots, neckpiece, and face fly mask. For sweet itch, some medications can help, as well as special sheets with elastic leg and head openings.


green head fly on a horse



  • Dry skin. Genetics, diet, stress, and everything else in this article can cause dry and itchy skin. Start with your horse’s diet and medical issues, then examine your grooming routine. Are you using too much shampoo? Is your fly spray drying? Are you ignoring the most reliable and best form of horse-human bonding – the grooming glove? More dry skin wisdom here.



  • Allergies. So these can be triggered by a wide range of things – like stuff your horse eats, stuff your horse touches, stuff your horse inhales. So basically, the universe. And to complicate matters, being itchy is only one way your horse shows he has allergies. He might develop hives, have diarrhea, have trouble breathing. The list is long. Your mission is to work with your vet to do bloodwork and create an elimination protocol to see if you can narrow something down. Much more on allergies can be found in this peach of an article.



  • Plants. Some plants/weeds/green things can create all sorts of itchy situations in your horse. Some plants can cause laminitis (black walnut) or poisoning (acorns). Knowing that horses are generally weird and also individuals, there’s a reason to suspect that some sort of plant in your horse’s life might make him itchy. Again, time to start ruling things out.


horse with large bug bits on her side

This horse came back from the pasture with some new itchy spots. Weeds? Maybe.


More itch-causing stuff


  • Dust and mold and mildew. It’s a barn, there is going to be dust. There’s also likely mold and mildew spores floating around, even if you can’t see things covered in mushrooms and green slime. Your job is to minimize dust and maximize ventilation and fresh air. More on dust can be found here.



  • Parasites. I was going to say this is a giant can of worms, but I resisted. When you start to think about it, tons of parasites can cause your horse to itch. Lice and mites, which like manes and tails and feathers, are a possibility. If you do some wildly close inspection of your horse’s mane and find pustules, tiny critters, or weird oily and scaly patches, it could be lice or mites. Don’t overlook the possibility of pinworms, either, which lay their wildly itchy eggs under your horse’s tail and make him want to scratch his butt off.



  • Fungal things. Think ringworm and girth itch here. What’s funny about horse people is that we LOVE to say “fungus amongus” but fungal infections in horses are rare. Most skin stuff is bacterial, sometimes with a smidge of fungus. Also, fungal infections are usually super contagious and need meds as antibiotics won’t cut it. Your vet can diagnose and prescribe. Do your absolute best to avoid Dr. Google. If your horse has a persistent mystery skin ailment, a skin scraping or punch biopsy is helpful to narrow down a diagnosis.


punch biopsy on horse elbow area

This punch biopsy takes a deep skin sample for analysis. Sometimes a skin scraping only gets the top layers of dead skin.


Help your itchy horse


  • Time to get going on a plan. Know that horses being horses, they will scratch themselves raw and can get pieces of fence and stall and stuff splintered into their bodies.


  • Feed your horse to combat itching.  Properly balanced diets with appropriate quantities of Omega fatty acids help with skin health.  


  • Your plan for fighting the itches might include fancy sheets, soothing shampoos, supplements if there’s a dietary imbalance, topical meds, systemic meds, allergy testing, and spending a small fortune testing various bug repellents and homemade bug sprays. Don’t forget about weeding, pasture maintenance, mold eradication, ventilation improvement, soaking hay, and perhaps even packing it all up and moving to the North Pole.



Time to experiment with sheets and sprays and all sorts of stuff.



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