Treating and Preventing Rain Rot

t's that time of year again. We've passed the winter solstice; the days are slowly getting longer and gradually creeping towards spring. But, we still have some severe weather and the problems that go along with it to contend with.

One of those problems is the amount of rain we have been getting and all the mud it creates. I have covered that subject in a previous blog here. Another issue that comes with too much rain is rain rot.

What is Rain Rot?

Contrary to what many people think, rain rot is not a fungal infection. Rain rot, or rain scald as it is sometimes called, is caused by a bacterial infection. Bacteria is normally dormant and harmless in a horse's skin. Problems arise when the skin is compromised. This can be caused when the horse becomes wet for extended periods, high humidity, high temperatures that cause excess sweating, or biting insects. Biting insects (particularly flies and ticks) can spread the infection from horse to horse.

Rain rot is contagious to humans and other animals. Anything that comes in contact with the affected horse, such as brushes, buckets, blankets, etc., should be thoroughly cleaned after use and not shared with other horses. It is also prudent to keep an infected horse separated from other animals on the farm.

How to Prevent Rain Rot

I know it's a clique, but prevention really is better than cure. Daily grooming with clean brushes is very important. This allows you to regularly inspect the condition of your horse and notice any problems before they get out of hand. Reducing the amount of time your horse is exposed to rain is also important. This can be done by providing a safe, inviting shelter for inclement weather. You also have the option of blanketing your horse. It is vital that the blanket is waterproof. A wet blanket will exasperate the problem. When possible, reduce humidity by installing fans in your barn. We used Air King Enclosed Motor fans as their enclosed motor reduces the likelihood of fire due to excessive dust in the barn. Using a reliable insect repellent will also help prevent bites that can compromise the skin and also transfer the infection to other animals.

How to Treat Rain Rot

Rain rot presents as scabs and lesions usually on a horse's body, back, and croup areas. Scratches are caused by the same bacteria but found on the legs. The scabs are usually painful for the horse when touched. They can also ooze.

Step One: Remove the Scabs

The bacteria that causes rain rot is alive underneath the skin's surface. Removing the scabs is a delicate process and can be painful for a horse. Softening them can help. Wearing surgical gloves, I wash the area with warm water soapy water. I use Betadine as it is an intensive antimicrobial agent that treats bacterial infections. Some people suggest using a soft curry comb but I have found (as gross as it sounds) that scraping the scabs off with my fingernails is the best method. Don't be alarmed if removing the scabs reveals bare skin. When the scabs have been removed rinse off the remaining Betadine and thoroughly dry the horse.

Set Two: Treat the Infected Area

Applying treatment before removing the scabs is pointless as it will not reach the infected areas. I use diaper rash cream containing zinc oxide but I have also heard of people using an antimicrobial spray. Either of these methods will help to fight the infection and prevent further spread. Keep the horse dry and re-administer the treatment daily.

Regularly inspecting your horse is the best defense and should be part of your daily routine.

Carol A. Mejia.

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