Wet Weather Woes
By: Jeffrey Smith, DVM
Every winter we see a constellation of problems that we are free of in the summer.
Rain Rot. Especially after prolonged soaking of a thick winter coat, horses will develop an infection in the skin on their back. The skin itches and come out in “paintbrush” clumps—with the pus actually substituted for the paint! A bacterium called “dermatophilus” is the cause. The cure consists of antibiotics and antibacterial shampoos, not to mention staying dry for a period of time. Prevention is usually accomplished with good grooming, blanketing, and the provision of shelter.
Scratches. Behind the pasterns or around the heels is an area susceptible to a bacterial infection. Most often there will be bloody, crusty lesions that are very uncomfortable for the horse, even causing lameness in some cases. Ponies and draft horses are particularly vulnerable, but any horse, and especially those in filthy housing conditions, can be affected. These infections can be frustrating to treat and do not clear up nearly as easily as rain rot. Usually we sedate the horse, and then we clip and prep the foot so that medication can reach the infected skin. We usually prescribe a unique topical ointment along with antibiotics. Bandaging, daily cleaning, and clean, dry footing also can be critical.
Foot Abscesses. 90% of winter time lamenesses are caused by foot abscesses. These infections result when bacteria work their way through the hoof wall (through cracks, injuries, or nail holes) and reproduce in the “living” part of the foot. The discomfort is similar to the blood blisters that people get under their fingernails when they smash their finger with a hammer. OUCH! Again, these infections are much more common in horses standing in muck 24 hours per day, but they can occur in even the best cared for equines. Treatment consists of surgical drainage, soaking, antibiotics, and protection of the hoof until healed.
Chills. Feelings of coldness occur when wet or sweaty horses stand in a draft. Although California horses have it way easier than their friends in Montana or New York, prolonged chilling is a stress to the body that makes it susceptible to bronchitis and other illnesses. All horses should have shelter from the wind and the rain—this typically means a three-sided pasture shelter or a barn. Alternatively “winter coats,” waterproof if desired, are available for particularly bad or long lasting storms. However, horses wearing these coats need to be closely monitored to prevent overheating, rubbing sores, and self-entanglement. Sweaty hot horses should be covered with a “cooler” until they are nearly dry. Also of value is a little extra feed to provide extra calories for warmth—this is especially important for skinny horses that do not have as much fat for insulation.
We may avoid these problems this winter if our drought continues, but that’s hardly something we are wishing for. During February, we offer dental specials
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