Dermatitis and coat problems in horses

What is Dermatitis in a Horse?

Equine dermatitis is a catch-all term for inflammatory conditions of the skin that subsequently affect the overall health and sheen of the horse’s coat. The horse’s skin itself may be red and flaky or, in extreme cases, may ooze fluids.

Equine dermatitis may be caused by bacteria, viruses, or allergies/sensitivities to certain substances including insect venom (bites). The primary types of equine dermatitis are:

Irritant contact dermatitis.

This type of equine dermatitis gives rise to red bumps with crusting and hair loss. It commonly occurs around the muzzle, saddle girth, feet, legs, and other areas in contact with irritants. Healed skin may turn white (depigmentation).

Allergic contact dermatitis.

This form of equine dermatitis also causes red bumps, crusting and hair loss. It is caused by repeated or continuous contact with an allergen (e.g. horse tack, rubber bit). The dermatitis may spread beyond area of contact.

Pruritic dermatitis.

This type of equine dermatitis can cause severe itching, hives and other signs of an allergic reaction. Pruritic dermatitis is commonly caused by insect bites, particularly those of midges, gnats, mosquitoes and horse flies.

Pemphigus foliaceus.

This is a relatively rare condition caused by an allergic response to a substance in the horse’s own skin. The condition initially produces blisters, scabs, and scaly skin. Later on, ulcerations appear with crusting and oozing of serum.

Is my horse likely to develop dermatitis?

Nobody can tell if a horse is likely to develop dermatitis since there are no predisposing factors. Some horses may randomly develop an allergy or sensitivity towards a substance (allergen). Dermatitis is more of a reaction than a disease classification and may be associated with respiratory and/or digestive conditions. If your horse experiences symptoms only during the summer months, it is likely that a seasonal allergy is to blame. This means your horse is likely to suffer the same symptoms in following summers.

What are the symptoms of dermatitis?

A horse with severe dermatitis will usually demonstrate scratching, rubbing, chewing and/or biting in the affected region. This is the horse’s attempt to relieve the itch that usually accompanies the condition. Other signs such as hives (urtcaria), papules, scales and crusts are also indicative of dermatitis. Prolonged irritation of the skin is often accompanied by a loss of lustre in the horse’s coat.

Treatment options for your horse

Lifestyle modifications.

If your horse has been found to be allergic to a certain substance/substances, then avoiding contact with or exposure to the substance will help alleviate symptoms. For example, a horse that is sensitive to the bites of gnats or midges should be kept in the stable before mid morning and after mid afternoon, and insect repellent should be used.


Horses with severe or chronic skin conditions are sometimes given cortisone treatment, which may help alleviate the condition.

Improving skin health

The following lifestyle options will help your horse maintain a healthy skin and coat.

  • Incorporate a daily maintenance dose of Recovery-EQ®
  • Ensure your horse gets daily exercise to improve circulation to the skin.
  • Maintain regular veterinary check ups
  • Avoid excessive use of common anti-inflammatory medications used to treat dermatitis (such as cortisone) as they actually promote skin tissue degeneration when used on a chronic basis.
  • Discuss your horse’s overall nutrition with your veterinarian.

Natural ways to help your horse with Dermatitis


Recovery®EQ with Nutricol®, is an elite proprietary performance and wellness supplement for horses that enhances quality of life.Recovery®EQ improves healing by increasing circulation of nutrients to affected cells and extracellular structures, halting tissue damage and modulating inflammation. It may be usedin combination with prescribed medications. Always ask the veterinarian prior to adding a new natural lifestyle supplement to a horse’s feeding program.

Review in the prestigious Horse Journal in October and December 2003

Recovery®EQrated as “Best Performer Overall” as a pain-relieving supplement for joint pain, back pain and tendonitis – comparison of natural joint care supplements.

Review in the prestigious Horse Journal inJune 2006:

“You get what you pay for” – Horse Journal quote about Recovery®EQ used as a performance enhancing supplement – comparison of natural performance enhancing supplements

For more information on helping your horse stay healthy, please see Tips for a Healthier Horse