09 Nov 2012

As I was leaving the local feed and seed this weekend, I overheard an obviously frustrated and disgruntled woman say to the store clerk “please give me something that will actually WORK on this rain rot!” I felt she was about to be disappointed again. You see in my experience, it isn’t the medication that’s failing. It is just choosing the wrong place to apply it.

Rain rot, especially this wet humid late summer and fall has really been a curse. In 40 long years of practice, I have found only one way to affect a cure. The absolute key is to treat the problem where it lives – in other words, where the rubber meets the road.

Lets say your horse’s back and rump is covered with infected lumps and bumps of hairy scabs. The horse will almost always object when these are pulled up and off, but that is exactly what must happen. The best medication applied on top of the scabs and hair is no good – it has to reach the raw, bare skin. I don’t feel you are fighting a particularly difficult bacteria that is hard to kill. You are just not getting to it if you aren’t effective in getting rid of it. Almost anything will kill the inciting fauna once you expose it. So when I am called out to see a severely lumpy and bumpy victim with sore scabs, I normally give a substantial dose of sedative and pain reliever. Then the owner, any other helpers and myself, start – in plain words – picking scabs. Before I arrive I instruct and hope the owner has taken almost any kind of shampoo and very warm water and soaked and softened all the scabs. That is the absolute key. Then the lesions are much easier to flip up and pull off. After all are removed, then the medicated shampoo, either Betadine or Chlorhexadine, is scrubbed in and left for approximately 20 minutes. Now at this point, you horse may well look like a part Appaloosa with a bloody pink spotted blanket. But that is where and when the medication can work. You can scrub and wash thick scabs until this Christmas, but nothing will change. If you are not a scab picker, then a hard rubber scrubber or curry comb will work well if the scabs have been pre-softened.

I have often seen people give up to 30 days of systemic oral antibiotics with little to no improvement. This is expensive, unnecessary, possibly harmful and usually ineffective.

If you choose to work on the problem yourself and not to call a veterinarian, you can try the oral gel Dormosedan as a sedative for help and safety. If you have injectable sedatives such as “Ace” as many people have, it will probably not get you in a non-painful spot for either you or your horse. You can check on the availability of other drugs (Xylazine, etc) to mix with the Ace and get the patient in a better place. All this can indeed be painful for the horse and great care should be taken not to get kicked. Clipping your horse is a possibility but the infected hair is impossible to cut and leaves the horse painfully nude, ugly and cold. Clipping would be a better preventive measure, as it will help keep the horse’s haircoat dry.

So this method works for me in nearly all cases. Remember, a fungus does not cause rain rot and even though a particular bacteria has been incriminated as the causative agent, it is not a disease that requires antibiotics to cure. It is an environmentally induced condition that exists under thick wet hair clumps and almost assuredly has to be exposed to be eliminated.

Please remember, all you DIY horse owners, not all horses are the same and some may not tolerate this treatment well without profound sedation. I would highly suggest professional help to keep you safe and your horse comfortable while you work on treating the rain rot.

Doc Heron

Next installment – a cure for scratches!!

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