Get Tough On Dandruff

Here's how to minimize flaky skin—and make sure it doesn't signal a health problem.
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Here's how to minimize flaky skin—and make sure it doesn't signal a health problem.

You expect a vigorous currying to raise a layer of dust and hair to the surface of your horse’s coat, but what does it mean when you see large, waxy flakes of skin? Chances are, it’s just a harmless case of primary seborrhea, better known as dandruff.

grooming

Dandruff in horses can be either dry or oily. You may see small, dry flakes forming at the base of the mane and tail as well as the girth area. Oily seborrhea causes large, waxy crusts, usually on the elbows, hocks and lower legs. Dandruff is a lifelong condition in horses who are prone to it, and Arabians and Thoroughbreds are affected more often.

Primary seborrhea is strictly an aesthetic concern, and you can manage a case with regular, vigorous grooming to stimulate circulation and natural oil production. Antidandruff shampoos formulated for horses can dissolve flakes and scales. A gentle, soapy scrubbing with a soft-fingered curry can also help loosen oily scales. But don’t get carried away: Too much washing can dry the skin and make dandruff worse. A number of dietary supplements may help improve the overall health of the skin. Look for ones that include vegetable oils, omega-3 fatty acids and biotin.

Call your veterinarian, however, if dandruff suddenly develops in a horse who has never experienced it before, or if a case that was always mild drastically worsens. Secondary seborrhea looks just like the primary form, but it appears in horses who are developing potentially serious illnesses, such as liver or gastrointestinal disease.