April 21, 2021 4 min read
Scratches are a difficult fungal or bacterial infection of the skin, most often seen on a horse’s fetlocks. It occurs when bacteria and fungi find their way into openings in the horse’s skin, developing into lesions that spread and worsen over time. The good news is that with some adjustments to your stable management routine, you can create the right environment to prevent scratches and help manage active cases.
Scratches thrives in wet unsanitary conditions. Providing a dry environment may sound as simple as keeping your horse inside when it rains, but it’s a little more difficult than that.
Cold, frosty mornings and dewy summer sunrises both create wet conditions that weaken your horse’s natural defenses against bacteria and fungi. Moisture collected on blades of grass is easily transferred to your horse’s lower legs. Your horse could be standing in wet grass for hours until it dries, particularly if they’re turned out overnight.
Keeping your horse inside can also be harmful if stalls are not cleaned thoroughly or often. Standing in urine causes a wide variety of issues. If your horse lays down in the soaked shavings, bacteria-filled moisture is pressed closed to your horse’s legs and against their skin. This unsanitary and wet environment allows scratches to grow on your horse’s fetlocks.
To avoid wet environments, you can:
In some barns, it’s common practice to share equipment between horses. Swapping a saddle pad, borrowing a brush, or using someone else’s tendon boots sounds harmless enough. But in reality, you’re transferring bacteria and microscopic fungi spores from one horse to another via their tack. This allows the bacteria and fungi that cause scratches to spread like wildfire.
You don’t have to borrow someone else’s brush to create an unhygienic grooming environment. The bristles of brushes trap bacteria and many equestrians go years without washing them!
Brushing your horse with a dirty brush allows bacteria to enter small abrasions in the skin, leading to scratches and other skin conditions.
Long feathers and winter coats create the perfect environment for scratches on your horse’s fetlocks. Hairy legs trap moisture and fungi close to the skin, take longer to dry, and inhibit airflow. This problem is exacerbated when riders wash their horses legs often. It’s tempting to wash your horse’s legs more than necessary, particularly if you have a grey or light colored horse. But, overbathing your horse’s legs strips the skin of its natural protective oils, as well as creating an artificially wet environment. This paves the way for fungi to develop on the waterlogged and weakened skin, allowing for scratches to develop.
Practice good hygiene by:
Once it gets going, scratches can be a difficult infection to beat. Over time, the occasional bald spot or tuft of hair turns into open lesions, oozing sores, and swelling. If left untreated for too long, your horse can actually go lame. Early detection is key to a full and fast recovery.
In its early stages, scratches can be hard to notice. The small bald patches or tufts of hair could easily be from playing too hard in the pasture. But once the lesions start to develop and the bald spots spread upwards, you have a serious condition that can take time to heal. If you notice that you have an active scratches infection, remember “Don’t scratch scratches.” Picking at the lesions further compromises the skin and creates more openings for fungi to enter. Instead, carefully clip and clean the area, before drying it thoroughly.
To detect scratches on your horse before an infection really develops:
Healthy skin is the best defense against scratches. A strong dermal barrier prevents fungi from growing and spreading. The natural oils of the coat repel water, preventing the skin from becoming waterlogged and weak.
You can promote healthy skin in your horse with a good diet, appropriate grooming/bathing routine, and protection from sun and insects. Using the right products that moisturize and protect the skin instead of dry it out, is also important.
Veterinarians and horse owners alike have used Zarasyl to manage scratches on a horse’s fetlocks and lower legs. Our novel technology provides sustained delivery of orthosilicic acid to the skin, which is associated with healthy connective tissue growth. Applying Zarasyl just once or twice daily can help to manage an active scratches infection.
Find out more about how Zarasyl works here.