Have you noticed a sensitive oozing lesion on your horse’s eyes or mouth? It could be a summer sore. These painful lesions used to be pretty rare, but now they’re making a comebackdue to longer, warmer seasons and changing deworming protocols. As they become more prevalent, it’s important that equestrians understand how to recognize and manage summer sores before they become a real problem. Luckily, there are six easy ways you can manage and prevent summer sores in your horse.
What is a Summer Sore?
A summer sore, or habronemiasis, is a painful condition caused by a parasitic larvae that burrows into the horse’s skin. There are two types of worms that can cause these sores: Habronema and Draschiaspecies. While they are mostly harmless as they pass through the horse’s system, the eggs passed by adult worms can wreak havoc.
These larvae survive in the horse’s feces until they’re eaten by the maggots that also live in manure. As the maggots mature into flies, the Habronema larvae begin to grow inside the fly as well. When the mature fly lands on moist areas of the horse’s body, the larvae is deposited onto the horse’s skin.
In their search for more moisture, they begin to burrow into the mucosa of your horse which creates an itchy painful lesion. The horse will itch and sometimes even bite at the lesion, making it worse. Eventually, the sorewill appear as an ulcer filled with light red granulation tissue, almost like proud flesh. The habronemiasis can contain pieces of calcified tissue and may leak fluid. While they can occur anywhere on the body, the larvae are better able to survive in the moisture around the eyes, nose, and mouth.
Summer sores can be ugly and frustrating to deal with. No one wants to feel helpless when watching their horse suffer! The good news is that while some do require surgery, most are not too difficult to manage with the help of your veterinarian and a high-quality barrier cream.
6 Tips to Manage Summer Sores in Horses
Tip #1: Confirm your Diagnosis with a Veterinarian
Summer sores can look very similar to a few other skin diseases, such as mast cell tumors, proud flesh, and even squamous cell carcinoma. You would hate to think your horse just had a summer sore and find out later on that it’s actually something more serious! A proper diagnosis from your vet can help you start the correct management protocol right away.
Tip #2: Knock Out the Worms
Regular deworming is an important step to preventing summer sores in horses. Deworming at the right time of year with the right medication will kill the larvae that cause these painful lesions. As a general rule, it’s no longer recommended to deworm your horse every 2 to 3 months. Instead, most horse owners deworm their horses based off of a fecal sample. Talk to your vet to discuss what routine is right for your horse’s needs.
Tip #3: Increase Your Fly Protection
The larvae that cause habronemiasis are not typically a problem, until they’re ingested by any number of flies. These flies then land on your horse and deposit the larvae in moist areas. Protecting your horse from flies is another way you can prevent summer sores from developing. Remember, these larvae need moist areas to survive. Prioritize protecting the wet mucosa of the eyes, nose, and mouth. A fly mask is a great starting point, but you may want to incorporate a fly rug as well, depending on your environment.
Tip #4: Change Your Grooming Routine
Set aside a short period of time each day to go over your horse’s legs with a fine tooth comb. Ideally, you would do this each morning and after they come in from turnout. Because these larvae search for moist areas, any small scrape, cut, or laceration can turn into a painful summer sore. Taking care of these small injuries quickly increases the chance of normal healing and reduces the possibility of a summer sore developing.
Using a high quality barrier cream provides a layer of protection between external bacteria and the injury, as well as supporting an environment that is ideal for healing. Some users have
reported that Zarasyl can be used as a barrier cream in the management of small wounds, decreasing the amount of time that your horse is vulnerable to parasites.
Tip #5: Clean Up Your Barn
While this isn’t always possible if you board your horse, it’s important to remove manure regularly from all areas of the barn. Summer sores in horses occur because larvae can live in the manure until they are picked up by flies and then reinfect the horse. Drying out the mud in your horse’s paddock, cleaning stalls regularly, and dragging pastures to expose manure to sun, are all excellent ways to decrease the number of areas where these larvae can survive.
Tip #6: Use the Right Products
When managing an active summer sore infection, you need to be careful that the products you use will not irritate the area further. Zarasylis odorless, non-volatile, water miscible, chemically
stable, non-irritating and non-toxic. Steroid and antibiotic-free, this FEI and race-day safe high-tech amorphous silica formula provides a sustained delivery of orthosilicic acid to the skin which is the bioavailable form of silicon associated with healthy connective tissue growth. Users have noted “super success with a patient’s stubborn habronemiasis infection.”