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The Bigger Picture: Managing Perpetuating Factors for Pastern Dermatitis

4 min read

Muddy pastures can be one perpetuating factor for pastern dermatitis

Pastern dermatitis is a frustrating condition to treat, for both owners and veterinarians alike. It can be caused by so many different factors that it becomes difficult to track down the root cause of the skin irritation. Standard treatment protocol is often labor intensive for the owner, leading to higher rates of noncompliance with veterinary instructions. And worse, it’s often recurring with the same horse never fully healing or developing the telltale crusty lesions and painful sores year after year. 

While the owner and veterinarian work diligently to control this skin condition, any progress gained could be negated by environmental factors and stable management practices. 

Environmental Factors

You’ve been treating a horse with pastern dermatitis for the last several weeks, but the condition doesn’t seem to be getting better. At your next visit, you watch with dismay as the owner turns the horse out into a pasture filled with mud. 

For many veterinarians, this scenario is all too real. Pastern dermatitis is a condition that’s significantly exacerbated, if not caused by, excess moisture. When you’re treating a horse that lives in a wet and dirty environment, you’ll soon find that you’re struggling to resolve the issue. Excess mud in the pasture not only covers the pastern, which keeps it continuously wet, but it also causes microabrasions in the waterlogged skin, allowing bacteria to enter through the dermal barrier. Sandy soil is not much better, as it acts like a layer of sandpaper against the horse’s skin, particularly when the epidermis is already wet. 

Overgrown pastures may have less mud, but can still aggravate pastern dermatitis. Dew from tall plants will quickly soak the horse’s pasterns, further weakening the skin. Plus, overgrown pastures could contain phototoxic plants, like St. John’s Wort, which will sensitize the horse to UV damage and further traumatize the skin. 

When you’re investigating the root cause of equine pastern dermatitis, look closely at the stabling conditions as well. A lack of ventilation in the stables adds to an unhealthy living environment and the lack of airflow means that it takes longer for stalls to dry out after the horse has urinated. Dirty stalls with a lack of airflow are a hotbed for bacterial infection. 

Anthropogenic Factors

Even the best and most dedicated horse owners may be doing something that could be causing and/or exacerbating their horse’s pastern dermatitis. Oftentimes, what the owner is doing to safeguard their horse’s health may actually be worsening the skin irritation. 

Leg protection, like polo wraps, can trap sand from riding arenas around the fetlock and pastern, causing chafing and rubs. Bell boots and hobbles are notorious for rubbing against the skin and causing abrasions or lesions where bacteria can easily enter the horse’s system. The problem worsens when the equipment is not properly cared for. Dirty bell boots that never get washed are not only more likely to cause rubs, but are also more likely to harbor bacteria that could cause a secondary infection. 

Poor grooming habits can also cause skin irritation. The average equestrian may wash their brushes extremely infrequently, every other month or even less. This means that horse owners are cleaning the pastern dermatitis and the rest of the horse’s body with a dirty brush, spreading bacteria as much as they are cleaning away mud. 

On the other hand, some horses are only groomed every few days. Daily grooming has many benefits, including increasing circulation which may help to speed healing and boost the immune response. Horses that are not groomed on a regular basis are more likely to have a build-up of mud and debris around the pasterns, which traps the bacteria next to the skin and creates the perfect breeding environment. 

Home Remedies

Many horse owners prefer to try home remedies recommended on internet forums and around the barn before calling the vet. As most veterinarians have unfortunately experienced, many of these DIY “remedies” do more harm than good. 

One solution to pastern dermatitis that is commonly recommended by keyboard warriors is to use yellow listerine. While mouthwash does have antimicrobial properties, yellow listerine also contains irritating ingredients that can cause stinging and irritate the skin further, as well as make the horse more difficult to treat. 

Other recommended solutions include using especially harsh cleaners like white vinegar, rubbing alcohol, and bleach. All three of these liquids can dry out the skin, damage healthy tissues, and cause severe irritation.

If your client has been using harsh home remedies, the pastern dermatitis is likely to take longer to heal. Now the area has to heal from both irritating homemade topicals, as well as the dermatitis. 

Mediating Perpetuating Factors

There are several ways you can work with your clients to mediate these perpetuating factors and help improve the horse’s health. Educate horse owners who are struggling with pastern dermatitis on how often to clean their brushes and ensure that they are not sharing equipment between horses, particularly when one has an active skin infection. 

Ask about stable management practices, such as how often stalls are cleaned and pastures are mowed, and suggest increasing the frequency of both chores. It may also be necessary to review the topical products the horse owner is using. The horse may be allergic to certain fly sprays or require the use of sunscreen. 

Unfortunately, we can’t always improve every perpetuating factor, as many equestrians board horses at farms or are otherwise unable to make certain changes, such as decreasing the mud in a pasture. But if your clients are still using home remedies or are struggling to keep up with the treatment protocol you have laid out for them, introduce them to Zarasyl Equine. Non-toxic and easy to apply, over a decade of scientific research has been conducted to perfect the patented, novel technology in this ointment. The steroid and antibiotic-free formula creates a superior moisturizing environment.

Zarasyl also contains a proprietary amorphous silica with a molecular structure tailored to provide sustained delivery of orthosilicic acid to the skin. Orthosilicic acid is the bioavailable form of silicon associated with healthy connective tissue growth.

All ingredients are odorless, non-volatile, water miscible, chemically stable, non-irritating and non-toxic.  Zarasyl is oil-free and, being water-based, ensures a moist, semi-occlusive environment. 

Click here to learn more about the science behind Zarasyl.