Rare Equine skin diseases

How to spot when something goes wrong with this essential barrier to the outside world.

Once the integrity of a horse's skin is compromised, it is not only the site of the irritation that's a problem, but the general health of the horse since the immune barrier has been breached.

Skin diseases in horses are prevalent throughout the year, although some may be seasonal. They may be due to infectious agents (e.g., bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites) or environmental irritants. Here are some important skin diseases and conditions encountered in horses.


Dermatophytosis, or ringworm infection, usually manifests as a crusting dermatosis with hair loss and circular lesions on the body.

"Sometimes you see lesions that look almost hivelike, " says Christine Rees, DVM, DACVD, a veterinary dermatologist who practices at Hillside Veterinary Clinic, Dallas. "Since there are various ringworm fungal genus species, the best method to diagnose the disease is to do a fungal culture, which also helps to determine the potential source, " she says.

For example, it's helpful to know if the horse has contracted ringworm found in the ground (Microsporum gypsum). "If so, you can get more aggressive in bleaching or treating the ground or stall floor, " says Rees.

Ringworm infection is common in most animals and is zoonotic, so it's easily passed between individuals. If it's the type usually seen in cats, evaluate any barn cats to determine if one has skin lesions, thereby transmitting it to the horses. Ringworm infection doesn't seem to be species-specific—unlike infections caused by lice or other organisms—so it can be indiscriminant.

"Normally, you'll see it in a stressed animal or one whose immune system is slightly compromised; therefore, it's more common in older or younger horses, " says Rees.

Moreover, it can be difficult to treat since the organism can linger. So if horses are sharing tack or grooming aids, ringworm can be spread easily among horses. "One has to treat the environment as a source of infection, which is as important as treating the animal, " Rees says.

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Popular Q&A

What are five rare curable skin diseases?

There is no information on rare curable skin diseases. Most rare cases are incurable. !

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