Pastern Dermatitis in Feathered Horses

Feather is the long hair on draft horses’ lower legs, that flows down around their feet. It adds a certain amount of beauty and grace to an animal so large and muscular. To see a draft horse in action is truly breathtaking. ┬áJust look at the popularity of the Budweiser commercials:

I’ve always loved those Clydes! So beautiful and powerful. In fact I was drawn to Siofra because she reminded me of a mini Budweiser horse.

But that which gives the draft horse its elegance can also bring trouble. A common problem among feathered horses is pastern dermatitis, known by several names, including mud fever, scratches or greasy heel. Chroi has been suffering with this for a little while, but the symptoms she shows do not look like the examples I’ve seen. I’ve tried a few different treatments, and searches on the internet will result in any number of remedies. Most therapies center around treating the condition as a fungus problem. The long hair draws and holds moisture, like a paintbrush. Keeping the feather and skin dry is one of the main cautions you come across when researching the condition. Well, being in the desert, keeping dry is usually not a problem. In fact, the dry air, dust and dirt cause problems for my horses’ feather in that it breaks off in the front – you can usually see it in pictures:

So I kind of thought I was spinning my wheels when it came to treating Chroi’s dermatitis as fungus. In doing more research, I came across an article written by Dr. Gregory Ferraro at the UC Davis┬áCenter for Equine Health,┬áspecifically as it applies to draft horses┬á(most other articles are aimed at common “light” horses). The article had some great information in it, but was slightly outdated – I figured there might be new findings, and emailed Dr. Ferraro, on the outside chance that A. He might answer, and B. He’d be able to figure out the problem from an email. I described the scabs on Chroi’s lower back legs, and the fact that she constantly itches, bites and rubs them (breaking off more feather – ugh!), and sent him this lovely image:

I was pleasantly surprised when Dr. Ferraro emailed me back, with the suggestion that if Chroi is itching and rubbing so badly, her condition is most likely due to mites. He recommended using Frontline spray to first get rid of the mites, and then tackling the skin condition. Since I am a bit of a freak when it comes to research, and I like to try homeopathic remedies before resorting to toxic chemicals (especially, as I said, she bites at the areas on her legs, and she IS pregnant, so we want to avoid ingesting harmful toxins), I thought I’d see what I could find that would get rid of the mites. I came across a few interesting ideas, and I will let you know what I found that works. Wish me luck! And, if any of you readers out there have had similar problems with your horses and found a great solution, please leave it in the comments section.

Thanks!

*UPDATE* see how Chroi’s doing after the vet’s visit. Click here to see her shaved legs: Midweek Mish Mash
*UPDATE #2* So, turns out that it was NOT mites. My vet said he’d never seen that type of problem here because it’s so dry. The only thing that worked was the fungicidal shampoo that you can only get through the vet. But the good news is that Chroi’s feather is growing back nicely and it seems like she feels better – I don’t see her biting and scratching like she was before.

If you have a horse with this problem, I hope my experience helps you find a solution. Good luck!

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Published by

Heidi

www.westceltgypsy.com

8 thoughts on “Pastern Dermatitis in Feathered Horses”

  1. I just stumbled upon your blog via The Hermitage, and wanted to follow yours because I too love horses. In fact, my beloved horse I owned since the age of 11 (I'm 30 now) just died last year – he was a 30 year old Arabian horse. Anyways, I wanted to share that occasionally he used to get this strange crusty like thickening of skin – almost like mud had adhered to his skin and hair – near the back of his rear hooves. I was told by my vet and farrier to soak his hooves in a warm epsom salt solution, which seemed to work – the hard part would be getting him to stand still with his foot in a bucket! Good luck

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  2. Thank you for all of your comments! Susanna, I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your dear friend. I have been treating Chroi's skin issue and will add an update to this post soon. Unfortunately, it involved clipping her feather :( but if it means she will feel better, it's worth it.Thanks for everyone's well wishes.

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  3. Hi
    The pastern dermatitis in the article by Greg Ferraro is part of the research which led to the discovery of Chronic Progressive Lymphoedema. It’s not a seperate condition, when the article appeared the lymphatic component of the disease had not been identified,though I think Dr Ferraro does refer to a vascular element. Unfortunately this article has been used by some to argue against the existence of CPL by suggesting it refers just to a form of pastern dermatitis which is mistakenly diagnosed as CPL! Chronic progressive lymphoedema is quite different to mud fever, mite and fungal infestation, though all of these can make it much worse, and it in turn makes it much easier for them to take hold. Sincerely hope you have found the cause of your horse’s discomfort and that it clears up.

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    1. Wow, Thanks for the info! Chroicoragh had scratches, and some fungicidal shampoo cleared it up. Unfortunately, I had to clip her feather back, but better to have her healthy and un-bothered.

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