What is Scratches?
Scratches is a moderately common skin condition typically involving the heels and pasterns of the horse. Veterinarians also refer to this condition as pastern dermatitis. Wet environmental conditions and abrasive footing (such as wet sand) can interfere with the skin's natural protective function. Horses in these settings may be more prone to developing this condition.
An affected horse's heels and pasterns may become reddened, cracked, warm, and have a small amount of serous discharge. As the condition worsens, hair will begin to fall out, the area will thicken, and hard scabs will form. This can become very painful to touch, subject to bacterial or fungal infection, and even cause a horse to become lame.
Diagnosis and Treatment
A veterinarian needs to perform an examination to diagnose the condition and rule out any other diseases. Once diagnosed, the hair may need to be clipped in order to facilitate cleaning and removal of scabs. This must be done very gently and a mild scrub may be recommended. We recommend avoiding any harsh chemicals or aggressive scrubbing of the area. Scabs that cannot be scrubbed away easily should be left in place, as early removal will be painful for the horse. After the area is clean it must be dry prior to applying any ointments. Scratches ointments typically contain an antibiotic, antifungal, steroids, and may contain other medications as well. Most cases respond to topical treatments, but in severe cases systemic antibiotics may also be recommended. For the best results keep the area clean and dry, and follow your veterinarian's instructions.
Keeping your horse in a dry environment will help prevent scratches from developing. If your horse lives outside and is standing in a moist area, they may benefit from clipping of their feathers (long leg hairs), as these often trap moisture and contaminants and can serve as a source of irritation and infection.