Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Even the name of this equine medical condition sounds unpleasant.   Alternative names include Mud Fever, Dermatitis, Greasy Heel and other names which are no less appealing.   Googling for information, horse owners can find all sorts of gruesome photos and read tales of utter frustration by those trying to cope with the condition in their horses.

Scratches can be described as a crustiness of the skin of the legs.   Once the skin gets infected enough, rubbed hair comes out in clumps.   The hair can feel "greasy".   There can be scabs and oozing of the skin.   Swelling of the legs.   Pain.   And more.   It is not pleasant for the horse and in some cases can apparently lead to severe illness and death.

Looking for a cause to their own horse's case, horse owners will find that scratches can be triggered by fungus, bacteria, unrelenting moisture, parasites, stall bedding, and irritants in the environment.   That's a rather long list of potential causes to try to eliminate.

Recently, we have tried to address a fairly longterm, but not so frightening case of scratches on the lower hindlegs of a draft horse.   Like many, we have been through the cleaning, shampooing, disinfecting, complete drying, and various commercially available medications and preparations.   Believe me, there are a lot of products on the market from which to choose!   But, her condition continued.   It didn't get much worse, but it didn't get much better either.

On the advice of her farrier during his January visit, we decided to try a different approach to addressing her scratches.   This started by trimming off her thick feathers, the very long lower leg hair typical of her breed.   We also trimmed her luxurious tail which she would swing back and forth, brushing it against areas where the "infection" was most prevalent, possible spreading, aggravating, and perpetuating her skin condition.

Next, without knowing which of the many possible scratches causes were active and dominant, we mixed up a simple ointment to slather onto her legs.   Using rubber gloves, the mixture was applied in the evening when the horses were in their stalls.   No bandages were applied.   Over the next couple of days, the mixture dried, leaving a think white coating which eventually disappeared.   We did another application a couple of weeks later.   And one more after that.

Last weekend, the farrier returned and was impressed at the noticable difference in the mare's hindlegs.   Her skin was softer and less crusty, her lower legs were not as thick, and she was happier to accomodate the farrier during his farrier work.   He asked what we had used, eager to suggest the treatment to another client dealing with a stubborn case of scratches.   And so our "Secret Recipe" was shared.

PLEASE consult with your own Veterinarian before trying this!

The concoction we used was a mixture of the following.

  • 15 SMZ/TMP Sulfamethoxazole and Trimethoprim 800mg/160mg tablets, very finely ground up with a mortar and pestle
  • Dose of Ivermectin for 600 pound horse   (Roughly half a tube)
  • Half an ounce of 1% hydrocortisone anti-itch cream
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) of aloe vera gel

Mix well, breaking up any little clumps.   Then, while wearing rubber gloves, apply by hand, truly slathering it on.

When done, the mixture has a pleasant consistency which is easy to apply on the legs.   Since we use the tropical green No-Ad Aloe After Sun Gel, the final mixture is a very appetizing pale green in color, kind of like Key Lime Pie.   So don't leave it on the kitchen counter!

With mud season underway, for horses prone to scratches this is Scratches Season as well!   To help prevent infections (and be able to inspect for any injuries), we hose off all muddy legs when the horses come in from pasture.   Standing in dry clean shavings all night helps give the legs time to dry and the skin time to breathe.

Removing the feathers and trimming her tail may in itself be playing a big part of the improvement in this one mare's legs.   None-the-less, we will play it safe and continue to treat her every couple of weeks with our special key lime pie ointment and see how things progress as mud season continues.

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