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


Reddening of Muzzle, Nose, or other Unpigmented Skin


This observation is commonly associated with Paints, Appaloosas and Pintos, because it can only be seen on horses with lots of white hair and/or unpigmented (pink) skin around the head, face, anus, vulva or sheath. The primary question is always whether reddening is a sunburn or photosensitization, two distinctly different problems.

  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If the problem seems severe, or involves a large area.
  • Code Green

    Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources
    • If the problem seems very mild and limited to a small area.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

your role


What To Do

You can treat reddened skin symptomatically under the assumption that it is a simple sunburn. However, you may run the risk of delaying treatment for photosensitization, a complex disease process that requires different treatment. Likewise, if your horse has sustained a serious sunburn that results in blistering or open sores, or your horse appears to be in significant discomfort due to itching or peeling, or seems unwell otherwise, immediately talk to your vet about your findings and concerns.

Prevent additional exposure to the sun by moving your horse to a shaded area or covering the affected area of your horse's face with a face mask with a muzzle extension, if needed. For sunburn on the body, use a light fly-sheet (rated for ultraviolet light protection) over the affected area. Even sunburned horses still like to stand in the sun. Lure them to a shady spot by moving their feed, water, or salt block to a shady area. In severe cases, confinement in a cool stall may be needed until your vet can evaluate the horse.

What Not To Do

Do not apply clear oil-based ointments without sunscreen to the skin without your vet's guidance. They may make the problem worse.

your vet's role

Your vet will evaluate your horse's general health and seek to rule out more serious diagnoses before concluding that your horse has a simple sunburn. Laboratory blood tests may be helpful in this case, to rule out liver dysfunction.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Does your horse seem normal otherwise?
  • How severe do you think the problem is?
  • Is there lots of crusting and scabbing or is the skin just reddened?
  • What treatments have you tried and how did they work?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP