What to do about tail rubbing


Tail rubbing is one of those grooming “things” that has multiple causes – so try and narrow it down before you start addressing the possible causes. Don’t wait too long; the rubbing can get out of hand and cause painful and itchy sores on the tail, not to mention hair loss. The best solution for tail rubbing is figuring out the cause of the rubbing! Ask your veterinarian for help if you can’t figure it out.


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Causes of tail rubbing


  • Insects, like gnats, can cause irritation and “sweet itch”. These critters cause a horrible allergic and itchy reaction, which causes your horse to do whatever it takes to scratch that itch at the expense of hair and skin. A veterinarian is needed in this instance.


  • Pinworms. These little buggers live largely in the lumen of the intestine, and the female worms migrate outside via the rectum to lay eggs under the tail. This creates an itchy reaction and, thus the scratching. They will not be detected on a fecal count.
  • Shampoo residues that are drying to the skin. Properly and thoroughly rinsing products (shampoos, conditioners, etc.) can prevent this. Be wary of using detanglers near the tail bone in case they are drying.
  • A sheath or udders that need to be cleaned. You may smell that *oh so pleasant* and distinct smell or see some thick dark goop inside your horse’s gaskin area. OR, you have not cleaned the sheath in a while, and you suspect it’s time.
  • Food or environmental allergies. Often, an allergy causes overall itchiness and sometimes hives. If you have ruled out the other causes, it may be worthwhile to talk to your Veterinarian about allergies.
  • A tick bite. Many ticks leave a crazy itchy spot after feasting and dropping off. This is “good,” as the itching clears, but bad because a tick feasted on your horse. For more on ticks, you can read this stomach-turning article here.
itchy horse tail rubbed hair

Help your horse’s itchy tail



  • Hopefully, it’s as easy as using a veterinarian-suggested shampoo, dewormer, or other medical treatment. Sometimes, the rubbing is a one-time deal…and a good sheath or udder cleaning and/or thorough rinsing of the tail is done.  


  • It’s often super easy to splash some Listerine on the tail, and you are good – but that does nothing to alleviate most of the causes.


  • The best places to start are the easy places – rinse the tail thoroughly to remove any grooming product residue (try white vinegar as a rinse), and then clean the sheath or udders.


  • You can try specialized shampoos.  Some contain soothing ingredients that can help alleviate itchiness, at least temporarily. 


  • If those don’t do the trick, keep investigating. Sweet itch and other insect reactions persist until you eliminate the bugs and/or protect your horse.


  • Food allergies must also be chased down so that dietary changes can be made.  You can do this be stripping down your horse’s diet to forage, and slowly adding in supplements and feeds to look for a reaction.  


  • Your horse’s diet may also lack a proper balance of vitamins, minerals, and oils.  Omega 3 fatty acids help support the skin and coat, and are easy to add to your horse’s rations. 


  • Pinworms need to be diagnosed and treated.  While your vet can’t catch pinworms on a fecal egg count, they can test for pinworms with a handy piece of tape to collect eggs under the tail and then sent to the lab.  



What do you like to use to help an itchy tail?


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