What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Itching, Rubbing or Scratching, Generally


Generalized itching and scratching may result from many causes. It can result from an allergic reaction to insects such as flies, lice, or mites. It can result from an allergy to new bedding, feed, or topicals (shampoos and grooming products), or a variety of internal disease processes or infections. Horses that are very itchy may traumatize their skin to the point of bleeding.

With this in mind, this behavior may be attributable to a simple cause that you can resolve on your own, or a more serious condition that requires veterinary assistance. If you treat symptomatically, then you just need to understand that there are many potential causes, and it may take a veterinary examination to determine the condition causing it.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) in the resting horse indicate fever (Temp >101F/38.3C) or heart rate greater than 48 BPM.
    • If the behavior seems extreme, or the horse seems to be in distress.
  • Code Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If you have tried treating symptomatically and there is still a problem.
    • You also notice skin lesions that seem associated with the problem.
You also might be observing
Very Common
Less Common
more observations

your role


What To Do

Assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to their behavior. When is the horse scratching? How intense is this behavior? What degree of damage has it caused to the skin or haircoat? Examine the area(s) scratched or rubbed very closely. Is there hair loss? Inflammation? Insects? Lumps or bumps? Examine the horse all over for other areas, and take careful note of the distribution of the affected areas.

Even if you believe this behavior is the result of a simple cause that you can resolve on your own, it is best to share your findings and concerns with your vet. This is particularly true if your horse is showing any other signs of illness or disease.

your vet's role

Your vet evaluates general health and the horse's environment in order to try to determine the reason for itchiness. Allergy is the most common cause so a careful history is important to search for potential allergens.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • When did you first notice this behavior?
  • Do you notice many small skin bumps over the body (hives)?
  • Do you notice skin lesions elsewhere?
  • Are there particular areas the horse seems to be itching more?
  • How severe do you think the problem is?
  • Have you noticed this happen before?
  • What is your parasite control program?
  • Do you notice insects bothering the horse?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

Very Common
Less Common
more diagnoses

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP