Noble Life

How to Detect, Treat and Prevent Rain Rot


Rain rot, also called rain scald, is one of the most common skin diseases in horses. Fortunately, it is not career ending or life threatening. Rain rot is a bacterial infection that thrives in damp moist areas and is stimulated by high humidity and warm temperatures. Typically, rain rot appears on the horse’s back and hindquarters and along the back of his fetlock or front of the cannon bone. rain_rot_additional1

Horses (or ponies) with thick coats are more likely to keep the moisture close to their skin and have a higher chance of getting rain rot. Photo: brown pony by Laenulfean, on Flickr

Detection Rain rot is easily detected. Crusty scabs are noticeable along the horse’s back and sides. His coat may also be matted into ¼” tufts or divided into irregular patterns. The scabs themselves are not painful, but can cause the horse irritation when you attempt to remove them. Once you suspect rain rot, begin treatment immediately. Rain rot can last between one and four weeks depending on the horse and the course of treatment, so the more quickly you react, the more comfortable your horse will be. Treatment

  • Remove all scabs. Moisten the scabs to lessen discomfort.
  • Wash your horse’s coat with an antimicrobial shampoo. Lather the shampoo and let it sit 10 minutes before rinsing. Shampoo horse daily for one week.
  • In colder climates, daily baths may not be feasible. Topical solutions may be an alternative depending on how infected your horse’s coat is.
  • For severe cases, antibiotics may be required. If rain rot persists, contact your veterinarian.

Prevention A few basics steps can help reduce the chances your horse will develop rain rot.

  • Horses prone to developing rain rot following a rain, may need to be blanketed or stabled during wet conditions.
  • The bacterium that causes rain rot can be transmitted between horses. Avoid sharing blankets, brushes and saddle pads between horses and disinfect any equipment shared between horses. Clean your brushes will help prevent skin infections.
  • Dirty, stale barns can provide a breeding ground for bacteria. Keep your barn clean and well ventilated.
  • Blanketed horses can sweat in blankets too heavy for the conditions. Check and change blanket weight if the horse is sweating.
  • Cool out a sweaty horse completely before blanketing. Polar fleece or wool coolers encourage wicking and can be used under waterproof sheets until the horse is dry and ready for a heavier weight blanket.
  • The animal has to be infected with the organism by contact. A horse can become infected by shared saddle blankets, leg wraps and brushes with other infected horses.
  • There has to be extreme moisture present. Horses with thick coats are more likely to keep the moisture close to their skin.
  • The skin has to be damaged (by a cut or scrape), for the organism to be able to enter the epidermis.
  • Also, poor stable management, damp stalls, poor ventilation and infected barns can contribute to the development of rain rot.

Rain rot will occasionally clear up on its own. Some horses will naturally get rid of the organism as they shed out their winter hair coat. However, it is not advisable to let the condition persist, you should not wait to see if it will go away…start treating it now, before it gets any worse! If the condition persists, consult your veterinarian.

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The Author:

Katie Navarra has been riding since she was 8 years old. As a youth she competed in local, regional and state level 4-H competitions and open shows, and also rode on the Intercollegiate Riding Team at SUNY Geneso. After a few years away from horses, she purchased a dun Quarter Horse mare in July 2012 with the goal of competing at breed shows in Western performance events. Katie currently lives in upstate New York and has over 300 bylines to her credit, including articles about general horse care and event coverage.

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