The Reality of Rain Rot

What do you recommend for horses with who are prone (even with good preventive care) to rain rot?
– Thanks, R

Dear R.,

Rain rot, or dermatophilosis, is a frustrating skin condition because some horses just seem to get it each year no matter what you do. There are a number of reasons for this. First, Dermatophilus congolensis, the organism that causes rain rot, is “opportunistic.” That means it’s constantly in the environment, just waiting for conditions to be right so it can cause infection. The right conditions are a break in your horse’s skin AND enough moisture for it to grow. That’s why rain rot is most often seen during the wet season in whatever part of the country you live in and on the top parts of the horse (withers, saddle area, rump).

Experts think some horses have an inherited natural resistance to the organism. In other horses, it causes infection either because their skin is not healthy to begin with or the entire animal is debilitated, either from parasites, poor nutrition, another infection or cancer. Work with your veterinarian to make sure your horse is healthy inside and out to reduce his chances of another episode of rain rot this year. And don’t overlook the value of daily grooming or omega-3 fatty acids to help keep his skin healthy.

I’m sure you’ve got your treatment regimen down: get the horse out of the wet environment, bathe him in povidone-iodine shampoo or other medicated shampoo until healed, and remove the painful “paintbrush” crusts as they soften. To help prevent reinfection, make sure you keep the surroundings as scab-free as possible, so don’t just drop crusts into the stall or aisle. Also, use iodine or other products to disinfect any tack or brushes that come into contact with the horse during an active infection. By following these tips, huge numbers of the organism won’t contaminate your barn and equipment.

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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Posted in Ask the Vet, Skin, Coat & Hooves

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5 comments on “The Reality of Rain Rot
  1. Marlene Thomas says:

    Just found out my horse has rain rot. And I am so glad that I have started her on Smartpak. I am also glad to have this website to refer to. Now I know what to do and when to get my Vet involved. Thank you so very much Dr. Gray I can sleep tonight :)
    Marlene Thomas

  2. Judi McNeil says:

    How do we keep it from spreading to other horses in our barn?

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Judi – To help prevent reinfection, make sure you keep the surroundings as scab-free as possible, so don’t just drop crusts into the stall or aisle. Also, use iodine or other products to disinfect any tack or brushes that come into contact with the horse during an active infection. By following these tips, huge numbers of the organism won’t contaminate your barn and equipment.

  3. Misti West says:

    This year I am challenged with 4 horses suffering rain rot as well as several suffering from poor hoof condition. My vet seems to think selenium would help, but after a year adding selenium I am starting to think overall diet is the culprit. Can you expand on any micronutrients or other dietary factors that may lead to this? We feed a locally produced ration that is high in fat (12%) and all horses get outdoor priveleges except during bad weather. We have plenty of good pasture, but feed more than adequate amounts of timothy during the winter. We also buy ground flax meal in the winter and feed about 1/2 cup 2x a day . Sorry for all the detail, I am just really disappointed in the hoof and coat quality right now.

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Misti – This many horses suffering from a skin and hoof condition does make us think there maybe a nutritional gap. We recommend you speak to your veterinarian again about this issue and consider including a certified equine nutritionist into the discussion, as hay and other analysis may be necessary. Best of luck!

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