The skin is actually the body’s largest organ. Healthy skin is both an indicator of good health and a requirement for it. An astute horse owner is alert to changes in the appearance of skin and hair coat.
The skin and hair shows a variety of responses to different disease processes. You may see hair loss, swelling, lumps and bumps, drainage, ulcers, crusts, scales, plaques, wounds, heat, discoloration, and many others. Each means something very different and which significant to your vet and gives a clue to the condition causing it.
Halter your horse and start by evaluating their general health. Does the horse seem healthy otherwise or do you notice other signs of illness or injury?
Assess the whole horse and the general quality of the hair coat? Is it consistent or patchy, shiny or dull? If there are areas that are abnormal, consider their location. Is there more than one affected area? How many are there? How large are the affected areas? Are the areas painful to touch, or do you notice the horse itching?
Is there hair loss? Is the underlying skin flaky or reddened? Use your hands, feel the skin lesions. When did you first notice the problem? Is it improving or getting worse? Have you tried to treat it? If so, with what? Did it help?
Tips for safety & Success
Wear latex gloves to help avoid spread of infectious agents to other horses. Rarely, these agents infect people (certain skin fungi).
Do not allow skin conditions to worsen without consulting your vet. You may be able to treat these on your own, but consultation with your vet will ensure that your approach is correct and that you monitor progress appropriately.
Allergic skin disease and skin irritation is common and is often caused by well-meaning owners' application of a variety of substances. Consider materials that might cause an adverse skin reaction. These might include topical sprays, shampoos, blankets, pads, detergents (used to wash blankets and pads), etc...
Dermatologic conditions are often easily photographed and sent to your vet. Be sure to take a few photos at different angles and depths in good consistent lighting conditions to ensure that you document them well.