Treating Scratches in Horses

Pastern dermatitis, common in spring and fall, can be painful for the horse and frustrating for the owner.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

Scratches can be found in horses of every color, but is most common in unpigmented (white) legs. (Credit: Sara Gugelmeyer)

Mention scratches to a bunch of horse owners, and chances are many of them will have experience with it. It’s even more likely that each will have his own unique method of treatment. Scratches is one of those common conditions that, while not usually life threatening, is still painful for the horse and frustrating for the owner. 

Scratches has many names. The more technical term would be pastern dermatitis, but it’s also called greasy heel, dew poisoning, mud poisoning or mud fever. Caused by muddy or wet conditions, Dr. Laurie Metcalfe explains that bacteria really like areas that stay consistently moist.

“When the conditions are right in the environment, it makes the skin more vulnerable, allowing bacteria and other organisms to invade, leading to inflammation and infection,” Dr. Metcalfe says.

According to Karen Waite, a Michigan State University extension specialist, because it’s a condition that occurs in wet environments, it’s common in her state in the spring and fall.

Continue reading this article in the February American Quarter Horse Journal.

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