Conditions & Illnesses

Penetrating Wounds of the Foot

Penetrating wounds of the horse’s hoof are quite common with farrier nails and joinery screws being the most frequent cause. When a sharp object has penetrated the horse’s foot, it can potentially cause damage to the sensitive tissues and structures inside. Depending on the depth and location of entry, the penetration can result in very serious damage, and so a penetrating foot injury should always be carefully assessed by a vet.

The equine foot is comprised of hoof wall, sole and frog. Once the hoof wall or sole has been penetrated, the consequences will depend on what structures are damaged. The frog is the softest part of the foot and is prone to penetrating injuries. As the frog has deep grooves (or sulci) on either side, sharp objects can become wedged, before potentially being driven further into the foot.

The horse’s foot contains two very important synovial structures, the coffin joint and the navicular bursa. If either of these structures are penetrated, potentially life-threatening synovial bacterial infection almost always occurs. Prompt assessment of penetrating foot wounds should therefore be performed to assess the site, depth and angle of penetration.

The navicular bursa, is only about 3 cm from the sole; in a pony it is even less. Therefore, a short nail does not have to penetrate very far to reach the bursa. If bacterial infection develops in the navicular bursa or the coffin joint (or both) then there can be disastrous consequences. The body’s immune system, in its attempt to eradicate the infection, also damages the synovial structures themselves, for example destroying the smooth surface of cartilage. In a matter of just a few days, the combination of bacterial infection and inflammatory response can cause such extensive damage to a synovial structure that a horse will be lame for the rest of its life, even with treatment, and in such situations the horse often needs to be put to sleep.

If a nail extends deeper into the foot, it can come into contact with the pedal bone. If there is sufficient force of penetration, the pedal bone is damaged and becomes infected (septic pedal osteitis). Bacterial infection can “eat away” at the bone causing serious problems and treatment is not straightforward, as antibiotics find it very difficult to penetrate infected bone. Usually the entire puncture wound tract must be pared away and the pedal bone scraped away back to healthy bone. Obviously, this procedure has a long recovery time as healthy tissue must repair the hole made in the foot.

Tetanus from any penetrating foot injury is a potentially fatal disease that is extremely difficult to treat, however it is preventable by vaccination (see Vaccination page)

In most situations it is better to leave the nail in place, as long as the horse is not standing on it, driving it deeper into the foot. Try to keep the horse calm, hold the foot up if necessary, and call out one of our vets with an xray machine, as an emergency.

If the nail has only penetrated a short distance into the soft tissues of the sole, the nail is removed, and the entry tract is pared out and enlarged to ensure any pus can drain from the infected site. The tract is drained with iodine, and possibly antibiotic saline and a poultice is placed, to keep the wound clean and draining. Tetanus cover might be given if needed, and possibly antibiotics.

If deeper structures are suspected to be involved, our vet may decide to take radiographs before they remove the nail. This will tell them exactly where the nail has gone and which structures have been damaged by the nail. Bony damage may need surgical treatment and prolonged antibiotics. If the navicular bursa or coffin joint are shown to have been penetrated, the horse will need to be referred as soon as possible to an Equine Hospital for possible further MRI of the foot, and to surgically flush out the synovial structure.

Grass Sickness

Clinical signs are attributable mainly to stasis of the entire alimentary tract, and include depression, inability to swallow, lack of appetite, gastrointestinal distension and impaction, abdominal pain, sweating, elevated heart rate, muscular tremors, weight loss and drooping eyelids. There is no specific treatment for the disease. The majority of affected horses are euthanised on humane grounds, but some horses with mild chronic grass sickness may survive with intensive nursing care.

Acute Grass Sickness

This is the most serious. It is of rapid onset, the horse is severely distressed, has an elevated heart rate, and patchy sweating, may be dull and depressed. Moderate quantities of green fluid may be produced from the nostrils (this should always be considered a serious signs in a horse). There is lack of gut movements, and usually no faeces will be produced. There are often muscle twitches involving the muscle of both fore legs. Horses with acute grass sickness are often confused with colic, but rarely roll or go down. Veterinary attention is required urgently. Often when a stomach tube is passed a vast quantity of grass fluid will flow back. Destruction on humane grounds is the only option.

Subacute Grass Sickness

Affected animals rarely have gastric reflux (green discharge) but will show most of the signs displayed by the acute cases. An inability to swallow is a prominent sign along with drooping of the upper eyelid. Subacute cases are always fatal; the course of the disease is 2 – 7 days.

Chronic grass sickness. These cases are less severely affected than subacute cases and may be able to eat small amounts of food. Some of these horses may survive for considerable periods of time and may respond to treatment.

However many are left permanently damaged, and unfortunately euthanasia is the common outcome. Currently there is no way of treating this disease.

Risk factors include:

  1. Recently introduced to new pasture.
  2. Previous history of grass sickness on pasture.
  3. No hay or conserved feed being fed.
  4. Aged 2 to 7 years.
  5. Highest incidence April – July (but can occur all year

It must be stated however that all horses can be affected by grass sickness. Grass sickness is caused by widespread severe damage to the neurons (nerves) in the autonomic nervous system (this is the part of the nervous system that helps control the intestines).

Patchy sweating is common in all forms of grass sickness.

It is not possible to protect your horse 100% from grass sickness. The following advice may help:

  1. Always feed some conserved forage (hay) even when horses are turned out 24 hours a day.
  2. Don’t put horses in the at risk age group (2-7 years) out onto pasture where there has been previous cases.
  3. Make sure your horse is healthy with regular worming or fecal egg count monitoring.

The cause of grass sickness has remained a mystery for the last ninety years. Research workers have recently made some interesting advances, but there is still much left to find out about
grass sickness. We need to raise awareness and we need more funding for research.

Foal Septicaemia

Septicaemia is one of the most serious conditions in foals, and unfortunately a relatively common occurrence in neonates. It is caused by infection of the bloodstream which causes inflammation all over the body. As soon as a foal is born it is exposed to bacteria. Two of the most vulnerable areas for bacteria to enter a newborn’s system are through its navel area and through its mouth. Therefore it is vital that two things occur shortly after birth: the navel is disinfected with a gentle iodine and the foal must receive the mare’s first milk (colostrum). It is from the mare’s colostrum that the newborn receives vital antibody protection against bacteria.

It is extremely important to observe newborn foals in the first 24 hours as this is when symptoms of Septicaemia will often show up. An unhealthy foal will go downhill very quickly and without veterinary care may die in a matter of hours.

A healthy foal will be exploring it’s surrounding, not be shy about trying out its legs, take frequent naps but be up and alert again after that. The septic foal will just slowly decline, want to sleep all the time, and become less responsive to stimulation.

There are a lot of different clinical signs that can be associated with Septicaemia. Most affected foals will have several of these signs, but not necessarily all of them. Some of these signs can also be caused by other problems, but remember that a newborn foal with problems of virtually any kind is at higher risk for developing Septicaemia. Signs of Septicaemia may include:

  • Depression
  • Lack of suckle reflex (normal foals should try to suck on a person’s fingers or a bottle nipple if placed in the foal’s mouth)
  • Fever (too high a temperature), or hypothermia (too low a temperature)
  • High heart rate (most new born foals have a heart rate between 80-120 beats per minute)
  • High respiratory rate or trouble breathing
  • Gums and lips an abnormal colour (e.g. dark red or purplish)
  • Swollen, painful joint(s)
  • Cloudy eyes (i.e. anterior uveitis)
  • Seizure activity if the brain is inflamed
  • Lack of urine production or renal failure

In most cases, the appropriate action to take if you have a foal with any combination of these signs is to call your veterinarian as soon as possible. A sick neonatal foal is an emergency.


Sarcoids are the most common form of equine skin tumour, they are classified as low grade fibrosarcomas (tumours). Although common, sarcoids vary greatly in appearance and size and the nature in which they grow and the response to treatment. It is this variability which makes them such a challenge for owners and vets to manage and treat. Certain breeds are more commonly affected with thoroughbreds being over represented. Geldings appear to be more commonly affected than mares. Although a tumour, sarcoids do not spread internally. Sarcoids may rise at any site on the skin but most commonly at sites where flies land; chest, groin, sheath, belly and around the face as well as at sites of previous or current wounds. The majority of cases arise between the years 3 to 6 of age, however they may appear later in life. It is thought that flies play a role in the spread of sarcoids between horses.

There are various types:


Appear as hairless grey scaly , rough circular patches of mildly thickened skin. They are the least distinctive and often mistaken for rubs or ringworm.

Verrucous (warty) sarcoids

Wart like in their appearance and often greyish in colour. They are usually slow growing and not aggressive however any interference or trauma may result in these lesions changing to a more aggressive form of sarcoid. They are commonly found around the face, armpit and sheath regions of the body. They may appear singularly or coalesce into groups forming larger lesions.

Nodular sarcoids

Firm and nodular in nature these sarcoids are more common in the eyelid, armpit, inside thigh and groin regions. Often the nodules are freely mobile under the skin although they may be attached to overlying skin. The overlying skin is usually normal but may start to thin and ulcerate. They may remain static in size for many years but can become aggressive if interfered.


Fibroblastic sarcoids are often aggressive and have a fleshy granulomatous appearance.  Sometimes they are pedunculated but can also be firmly attached.  Fibroblastic sarcoids can also develop on wounds and may closely resemble proud flesh.


This is the most aggressive form of sarcoid and most commonly affects the face, elbow and inside thigh regions of the body. Can spread over a wider area and quickly grow in size. They appear like ulcerated nodules but tending to group into larger bundles. This form of sarcoid is more difficult to treat but is rarer.

There may be lesions/sarcoids that display qualities of two or more sarcoid types. It is important to note that no two sarcoids are the same and treatment and response to treatment may vary between sarcoids.


There are a range of treatment options available, dependent on type of tumor, location of the tumor and your budget.  Common treatment methods include the use of creams such as Liverpool Cream, the use of a ring around the tumour, supplements and / or laser treatment and / or a range of alternative therapies.

If you think your horse may be suffering from sarcoids, please give the practice a call so that we can review and consider if treatment is recommended.



Laminitis is a painful inflammatory condition of the tissues (laminae) that bond the hoof wall to the pedal bone in the horses hoof. It can affect any horse, of any age or sex, at any time of the year. Laminitis is caused by weakening of the supporting lamina within the hoof, leading to painful tearing of the support structure suspending the pedal bone within the hoof.



Acknowledgments: Illustrations and format- JamesOrsini, Dvm ACVS. Equine Laminitis in McGraw-Hill yearbook of science and technology. 2008, 114-118.

The level of pain a horse demonstrates does not necessarily indicate either laminitis or founder. Some horses show tremendous pain while they are laminitic, and others show very little.There are many, many different causes of laminitis and it is a common misconception that laminitis is caused by over-eating grass only. We occasionally see laminitis in horses on box rest, or on very limited turnout. There are often a number of factors surrounding the onset and exacerbation of an episode of laminitis.

The type of grazing can be important. Nowadays, many ponies are liveried on land once used for cattle. This type of grazing may have been heavily fertilised and re-sown with particular species of grass which are not ideally suited to horses and ponies. Poor grass which is stressed by such things as an overnight frost or overgrazing will result in the formation of a type of sugar known as fructan in the grass, it is this type of sugar that can directly cause laminitis.
Occasionally, laminitis can develop in one limb where the opposite limb is painful for another reason. This is particularly a problem in heavy horses if they are affected by a foot abscess; the foot abscess causes the opposing limb to take more weight that it is accustomed to, resulting in laminitis.

Equine Cushing’s Disease, also known as PPID, is a very common disease in equine animals from their mid-teens onwards, although it can be seen in animals as young as eight years old. The laminitis which develops secondary to PPID is very difficult to control unless the underlying disease is also treated. Owners with older horses and ponies should be extra careful about their animal’s weight and liaise with us, to discuss blood testing for PPID, and develop a suitable nutritional strategy.

Equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), is another disease of overweight ponies and horses that leads to insulin resistance, and therefore an increased risk of laminitis. In cases of laminitis, we will often blood test for signs of EMS as well as Cushings disease.

Delays between foot trimming or shoeing are an important cause of stress and damage to the laminae. Regular visits by the farrier will also pick up the early warning signs of laminitis.

Laminitis usually affects both front feet but can occasionally affect one foot and occasionally hind feet. In most instances the affected animal will shift its weight from one limb to another, will be reluctant to move, may lie down and there is sometimes heat in the hooves with an increased ‘digital pulse’. A digital pulse can be difficult to find, but please ask one of our vets to show you how to find them next time we are with your horse. In milder cases, there may be only a slight change in the animal’s gait, moving in a ‘pottering’ fashion. These animals will go on to deteriorate further, unless they are rested and treated correctly.

It is absolutely essential that you contact your vet should your horse or pony show signs of laminitis. The treatment of this disease is time consuming and can be difficult, with a poor outcome in some cases.

There are a variety of medicines which can be used to help settle the pain, and reduce the ongoing damage. Box rest is extremely essential. The box should be well bedded down, over the entire surface area of the stable. At Shotter and Byers we aim to make as rapid a diagnosis as possible, and get your pony or horse in frog support pads as soon as possible, to reduce the pain and the damage being caused by the laminitis. Over time, It is absolutely crucial that the affected animal loses weight in a controlled fashion and we strive to work closely with our clients, to make this as easy as possible.

Horses or ponies with laminitis should not be forced to walk or be exercised. Affected animals must not have their feet placed in cold baths, streams or ice unless under veterinary direction. Do not starve overweight horses in an attempt at inducing rapid weight loss.

Clearly prevention is preferable to treating the disease, and the key to the prevention of laminitis is weight control. Being overweight is the most important known risk factor for the development of laminitis. Just being fat will not in itself cause the disease, but it puts the animal at such a high risk of succumbing to laminitis that any additional stress (such as transport or inclement weather) could cause the full blown disease. If you are concerned about your animal’s weight, then please speak to us.

Equine PPID – Cushing’s Disease

Equine Cushing’s disease most commonly occurs in horses aged 19years or older but can occur in horses of a much younger age.
Clinical signs of the disease include:

• Polyuria (increased urination)
• Polydipsia (increased drinking• Polyphagia (increased appetite)
• Weight loss
• Muscle wastage
• Hirutism (thick, curly coat with delayed shedding)
• Laminitis
• Supraorbital (above the eyes) fat pads
• Lethargy and depression
• Hyperhidrosis (increased sweating)suprorbital fat pads

There is no significant breed or gender predilection, but studies have shown that ponies are more commonly affected than horses.


Diagnosis is usually made by the presence of one or more of the above clinical signs, signalment (age, type etc) and diagnostic tests. The tests that are most commonly used are:
• Basal ACTH level testing – this is best carried out during the months of August – October as there is a seasonal rise in the levels of ACTH at this time which gives us an increased diagnostic rate. It involves a simple blood test. bloodsample-300x168

• The overnight dexamethasone suppression test (ODST) – this is not very popular anymore due to the more involved nature of the test and also because of the risks associated with dexamethasone administration in horses with a suspected elevated level of steroid already in their system.
• Thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) stimulation test – this involves injecting TRH into the horse and then collecting a blood sample 2-10 minutes after administration. However, TRH is not licensed in horses and some adverse reactions have been seen. These are usually short lived and not severe.


Treatment is aimed at reducing the clinical signs of Cushings rather than curing the disease. It is also about improving the quality of life of your horse, with this in mind treatment consists of:
• Clipping excess hair to reduce sweating
• Treating secondary infections
• Increasing weight with diet management
• Treating any laminitis that may occur.VT44.02 master.indd

Medical management consists of using a dopamine agonist (pergolide) which comes in the commercially available form of Prascend. This is started at an initial dose of 2g/kg/day. Bloods tests measuring ACTH levels should then be assessed with a repeat blood sample 30days after the initial blood test confirming Cushings. This way doses can be adjusted as required. After this 6monthly repeat blood tests are recommended, these are best carried out in autumn and spring as this is when naturally occurring peaks in ACTH will occur

Generally the prognosis with Cushings is good; however, this is a lifelong condition that requires lifelong treatment and management.

Top Ten Equine ‘Strangles’ Guidelines

1. If you think your horse may have Strangles and need advice?

Call the practice on 01306 627 706. We will be able to offer some guidance and arrange for one of our vets to make a visit.

2. What causes ‘Strangles’?

Strangles is a highly contagious infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract. Strangles is caused by a bacterium called Streptococcus equi (S.equi) and affects horses, ponies and donkeys.

3. What are the main clinical signs?

• Depression and dullness
• Loss of appetite
• Nasal discharge
• Development of a cough
• High temperature
• Swelling of the lymph nodes (glands) under the jaw or on the head or neck which can lead to abscess formation at a later stage

The abscesses which cause the lymph nodes to swell may burst discharging highly infectious, creamy-yellow pus. In some cases the glands swell so much they restrict the airway, hence the name strangles.

4. What is the incubation period / when will I first see symptoms?

The incubation period of strangles is on average 7 to 14 days. However, because infected horses can shed the bacterium for long periods after symptoms have stopped showing, the interval of time between new cases in an outbreak can be up to 3 weeks or more.

5. How is it transmitted / passed between horses?

Strangles can be spread easily by direct contact between horses or indirectly by handlers, equipment or contamination of the environment. This can lead to large outbreaks with many horses becoming infected if strict biosecurity measures are not put in place and adhered to. For example, the infection can be spread:

• by direct contact such as nose to nose contact between horses
• via equipment shared with infected horses, such as:
• water troughs where the bacterium can survive for long periods
• feed buckets
• grooming equipment
• tack / clothing

6. How long can items such as grooming kits and buckets harbor the disease for?

On water buckets in particular, the bacteria can live for long periods, and up to approximately one month. However, using proper anti-bacterial cleaners such as Virkon will kill the bacteria quickly.

7. What can you use to clean your items to kill the Strangles?

Most anti-bacterial cleaners will be effective at killing Strangles. We have had success with Virkon which can be found here:

8. How is it diagnosed?

There are three main methods of diagnosis:

a) Swabbing is where three consecutive swabs are taken at weekly intervals and sent for testing in a lab.

b) Testing via endoscopy has been said to be the most reliable method. A sample is taken directly from the guttural pouch in the throat and sent for testing. This can also determine whether a horse is a carrier or not.

c) Blood tests identify if a horse has antibodies to the Strangles bacteria in their bloodstream. Antibodies are produced approximately two weeks following exposure to the bacteria and last up to six months.

Horses that have been exposed to the bacteria in the last six months will test positive.

9. What is the treatment and is there anything else I should be concerned about?

Treatment is a largely debated subject. Some say the bacteria should be left to run its course on its own without treatment, some say it should be treated aggressively with penicillin. This will be a joint decision with you as an owner and your vet.

There is a second form of Strangles called ‘purpura haemorrhagica’ which is associated with a previous bout of strangles. The head, legs and underbelly of the horse are most often affected and it also causes bleeding into the skin, gums (seen as areas of red spotting) and organs such as the lungs. It can prove fatal within a very short period of time and therefore an exceptionally quick diagnosis is very important.

A third form of Strangles also exists known as Bastard Strangles which can be a complication from the initial infection. It can be seen in the abdominal or lung lymph nodes which may develop abscesses and rupture, sometimes weeks or longer after the first infection seems to have resolved. In severe cases abscesses may rupture in the brain causing sudden death or abscess may burst in the throat and the pus will be inhaled into the lung.

10. How long will it take to recover?

On average the standard form of Strangles can take ten to fourteen days to run its course without drug intervention, this depends on the severity of the case and the general health of the horse at the time of infection. It should however be kept in mind that the bacteria may continue to shed after symptoms have left and therefore testing on more than one occasion after symptoms have gone is recommended.

Other queries?

Please call the practice and we would be happy to help.

Please also review the HBLB Strangles guidelines in the Codes of Practice ( and Strategy To Eradicate and Prevent Strangles (STEPS at

This guide is for information purposes only, if you suspect your horse may have strangles please call the practice and arrange a visit from a vet. The opinions presented in the Guidelines are subject to change and should not be considered to be a treatment recommendation for any individual patient. We cannot attest to the accuracy, completeness or currency of the opinions contained herein and does not accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage caused to any patient or any third party as a result of any reliance being placed on these Guidelines or as a result of any inaccurate or misleading opinion contained in the Guidelines.

Equine Metabolic Syndrome – Feeding

What should I feed my horse with Equine Metabolic Syndrome

The goals of treatment are:

  • Induce weight loss in obese horses
  • Improve insulin sensitivity through weight loss, diet and exercise
  • Avoid dietary triggers for laminitis

Help your horse lose weight

Main methods of weight loss are:

  1. Calorie control/ reduction
  2. Reduce dietary glucose
  3. Increase exercise if possible

A weight loss of 500-700g a day and a loss of 1-2 Body Condition Score points over 12 weeks can be expected with a reasonable weight loss program.

Firstly, eliminate or greatly reduce pasture access. Turning out horses during early morning, on cloudy days, shady paddocks or using a grazing muzzle can help reduce their carbohydrate intake.  However, access to pasture is risky for metabolic horses so it may be safer to remove all grazing while on a weight loss program.

Without any access to grazing, metabolic horses should be fed no less than 1.2% of their bodyweight of a moderate quality grass hay divided into multiple meals.

Soaking grass hay for 30 minutes in hot water or 60 minutes in cold water can reduce the soluble carbohydrate levels further. However it should be noted that this can also remove other nutrients from the hay which should be replaced with a supplement or small amount of low starch hard feed.

Even without soaking their hay, a mineral supplement or low starch ration balancer may still be of benefit while on a reduced feed ration to ensure all your horses’ nutritional requirements are met. Our Multi Vitamin Supplement was designed with this scenario in mind.

You should monitor their weight loss closely using Body Condition Scoring (BCS) and a weigh tape so you can adjust the diet accordingly. (See BCS post)

For metabolic horses you should aim for a final BCS between 4-5, with the more chronically laminitic horses being maintained closer to 4. Some ponies may never reach a 5 or less making 6 acceptable.

Once this target is reached the forage portion of their diet can increased to 1.5-2 percent of their bodyweight to maintain their weight and prevent any gains or further loses.

Once a metabolic horse has been stabilised they may tolerate some grazing, providing they are monitored closely for signs of EMS.

Gaining Weight

If your metabolic horse needs to gain weight, the extra calories should come from an increase in dietary fibre and fat. This can be done by increasing their hay ration or adding in a low starch hard feed.  The addition of oil (such as canola/corn oil) can be a great way to increase the calories from fat within your horses’ diet, starting with a quarter cup and slowly increasing it to around one cup a day.

If you have any questions regarding your horse and metabolic disease or any other topics please call us today.



Tying Up in Horses

Tie Up

Tie up is one of the alternative terms for a condition called exertional rhabdomyolyisis (ER). There are a number of possible causes but the most common of these is over exertion.  This causes damage to muscles, particularly in the hindlimbs and hind quarters, leading to the clinical signs of the condition.


The classic signs of ER are extreme stiffness and reluctance to move. Other signs that may be seen are sweating, hard, painful muscles over the hind quarters, increased respiration rate and dark/red urine.


A diagnosis of ER may be possible based on history and clinical signs alone. However, in many cases your vet will take a blood sample to check for any elevation in the muscle enzymes, creatine kinase (CK) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST), to confirm their diagnosis. These enzymes are released by damaged muscle and the extent of their increase reflects the severity of the damage.

Follow up bloods may be taken to monitor your horse’s recovery.

It may be necessary to conduct further blood tests and take urine samples to check the health of your horse’s kidneys. This is important because the characteristic red urine that ER can cause is due to myoglobin being released from the damaged muscle cells. Myoglobin is toxic to kidneys and their function must be monitored for any sign of damage to ensure your horse receives the required treatment.

Shotter & Byers has a blood machine that allows us to conduct these tests in house to ensure we rapidly have the information we need allowing us to provide your horse with the very best care.


Treatment of ER is dependent on the fundamental cause. Although it usually involves box rest to allow the damaged muscle to recover.

Anti-inflammatories may be given to decrease inflammation and provide pain relief. It may also be warranted to give more stronger pain relief, sedation and anti-anxiety drugs to calm your horse and aid muscle relaxation.

The risk ER poses to the kidneys makes it is extremely important that your horse is well hydrated. Depending on the severity of the ER and level of dehydration this can involve passing a nasogastric tube to give water or the administration of intravenous fluids.

How to Avoid?

ER can be avoided by ensuring your horse stays fit and that they are well warmed up before strenuous exercise.  An hour of exercise a day is better than 5 hours in one day! In some cases, the risk of ER can be lowered by decreasing the amount of concentrate feed. Good quality forage is the most important part of your horse’s diet. If your horse requires extra calories, these can come from the addition of oil to the feed without predisposing for ER.



Ringworm is one of the top 10 most common skin diseases in the horse and is more common in young horses.  It is a superficial fungal infection effecting the epidermal layer of the skin.

It is highly contagious and caused by both Microsporum and Trichophyton species of fungi, some of these are specific to horses whereas others can be passed to other animals and humans.

The spore stage of the fungi is very resistant and can survive in the environment for months to years if the conditions are favourable


  • Small areas of tufted hair similar to urticaria (hives) initially
  • Circular areas of hair loss usually 1-10cm in diameter
  • Moderate reddening of the skin may be visible in white horses
  • Broken hair shafts around lesions with thick crusting
  • Minimal itching
  • Lesions may spontaneously heal and begin to grow hair from the centre outwards.
  • The mane and tail are usually spared


Diagnosis is made by a fungal culture of hairs sampled from the edges of the lesions.  Fungal culture is hard to perform as there is a high chance of contamination interrupting the culturing process.


Ringworm is a self limiting disease meaning it will eventually resolve itself without treatment. However, the contagious nature of the disease often requires it to be treated to prevent its spread.

The best treatment is usually a full body topical application of a veterinary antifungal lotion or solution (such as enilconazole or 2% lime sulfur) two times a week for at least 3-4 weeks.  Oral antifungal medicine (such as Grisofulvin) is not as effective at treating Ringworm but may be used in addition to a topical treatment.


If you have a confirmed or suspected case of Ringworm it is important to prevent transmission of the disease to other people or animals. A licensed antifungal disinfectant should be used to decontaminate the horses stall and any contaminated grooming or yard equipment.  Diluted bleach water can be used as an alternative disinfectant for equipment if a licensed product is not immediately available.

If you are worried your horse has contracted ringworm, or have questions, please call us to discuss on 01306 627 706.


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