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Rain Rot 101: Addressing Questions and Misconceptions About Horse Rain Rot

What is Rain Rot?

Dermatophilosis, often referred to as horse rain rot or rain scald, is a common skin infection that can lead to your horse developing scabs on its skin. While most prevalent where there is high humidity, any place with an abundance of rainfall can create an increased likelihood of infection.

These scabs or lesions form as patches along your horse's skin, mostly found on the top line. However, they can also be found on the rump, face, or legs. Often, these scabs are clumped with the horse's hair, so peeling them off can leave bald patches in their place. In this article, we'll go over what causes rain rot, some differences between rain rot and other skin conditions, what might happen if rain rot goes untreated, and what is the best treatment for rain rot in horses.

What are Some of the Causes of Horse Rain Rot?

Rain rot is an infection that is caused by a bacterium known as Dermatophilus congolensis. This bacterium lives on the horse's skin and is mostly dormant. However, when the horse is exposed to damp or wet conditions, the bacterium can react with the skin, causing an infection that results in scabs on the horse. While all horses can be affected by rain rot, there have been some positive correlations between lighter coats and higher risks of rain rot. Similarly, young and old horses whose immune systems are weaker than others’ can also be more susceptible 1.

The best way to prevent rain rot from developing is to try to minimize both the length of time the horse remains in these humid or wet situations and the horse’s exposure to insects that bite. Trainers should also keep horses’ immunizations current to help keep bacteria dormant.

Rain Rot vs. Dew Poisoning in Horses: What's the Difference?

Dew poisoning is often confused with horse rain rot because the two conditions share similar symptoms. They both cause larger patches of scabbing along the horse's skin, and both are caused by excessive humidity and moisture. The most significant difference between these two is that while horse rain rot forms in large parts at the topline or rump of the horse, dew poisoning form on the horse's heels and pasterns. Dew poisoning in horses can be especially troublesome in areas where there may be tall wet grass or mud. Both infections are caused by the same bacterium.

What Can Horse Rain Rot Lead To?

If rain rot is in its first stages, it may only be characterized by dry, flaky skin and clumps of loose hair. In this case, grooming the areas affected to remove any scabs and giving the horse an antimicrobial bath may be the only equine rain rot management necessary. Left untreated, this can lead to bleeding lesions. It's important to try to spot horse rain rot as quickly as possible to avoid larger areas being compromised. Rain rot is not just limited to horses. If you notice any signs of potential rain rot or dew poisoning, it's crucial to isolate your horse or other animal as quickly as possible since they're contagious for both animals and humans. For this reason, it's also important to wash any brushes, buckets, or blankets that had contact with the infected horse.

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