Prescription for a Problem: Wet + Hot

The recent wet weather in Texas and the Midwest, followed by searing summer heat, makes me shudder. The mosquitoes will breed with a vengeance, for one thing, and some may even be carrying EEE, EIA or WNV. (Let’s hope not!) I read today that some horses in Texas were put down because of positive Coggins tests: state orders. And they showed no symptoms of Equine Infectious Anemia, which is often the case. (A Coggins test checks a horse for EIA, an insect-borne disease that is transmittable from horse to horse.)

But one of the most common complications of prolonged wet weather followed by humid conditions is the scourge known as rain rot. I always think of rain rot as lurking under blanketed horses here in the Northeast. If you have never seen a horse with rain rot, it looks sort like the horse’s topline (and sometimes legs) has been scoured with steel wool.

All it is is a bacteria-like skin infection, caused by the same organisms that cause scratches and cracked heels, but it is still darn hard to get it to go away. And it is disturbing to have people say over and over and over again; “Eee-eew, yuck, what’s wrong with your horse?”

Treating horses for rain rot is pretty simple, but it’s also a lot of work. Your mantra will be “Clean and dry. Clean and dry. Clean and dry.” But that can be hard to do if your horse itches and insists on rolling in mud!

First you have to kill the bacteria with an antiseptic bathing (and drying) regimen, then you have to treat the bare patches (lots of people like tea tree oil products for this step), and finally you have to use some sort of barrier cream (like Desitin, used for human diaper rash, which is a similar problem).

A couple of things you don’t always hear about: if your horse has rain rot, wash all your sheets and coolers and especially your saddle pads. And if the horse is going to be turned out, use common sense about the exposed bald patches and the risk of sun burn. I don’t know how long a barrier cream lasts or if it contains any sunscreen but it seems likely to me that the sun could burn the exposed skin. And obviously, use common sense before you put a saddle on a horse with rain rot on his back or withers.

Listerine mouthwash (diluted) supposedly is a good antiseptic to dab or spray on the skin after you’ve picked the scabs off. Or is that the equine equivalent of an urban legend? I know that Efferdent makes a great foot bath and toothpaste is supposed to help white-line disease, so you could make your dentist smile with those tips…

The photo you see with this post is courtesy of the International League for the Protection of Horses in Britain. It’s a rescued horse; they thought I’d be impressed with the severity of this case of rain rot, or rain “scald”, as the Brits call it. Obviously, the horse is also emaciated. Look at its coat, not its bony rump. You can double click on the photo to enlarge it and see it in detail.

One of my favorite horse blogs is Lynda Polk’s “Hoofbeats” blog for the Houston Chronicle. She describes one of her horse’s colic-y reactions to the oppressive heat and humidity in the Houston area this summer in a recent post.

Between droughts and floods, it’s easy to imagine that many people are cursing the weather this summer, but I have to say that it has been super here in New England!




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