Winter Scratches (Pastern Dermatitis)

Prevent, heal and protect your horse's pasterns during winter

Winter can be rough on your horse's skin. Constant wetting from mud, rain and snow encourages bacteria and other pathogens to grow. However, mud and constantly wet legs are not the only likely triggers for pastern dermatitis. If your horse lives on sandy soil, the sand can cause skin abrasions which can let in the bacteria responsible. Stabled horses can suffer a similar fate through excessively coarse, wet, or dirty bedding. The pastern area takes an especially hard beating as it is in constant contact with the ground. Thick winter hair around the pastern area can allow conditions to go unnoticed for days or even weeks as they worsen. If your horse is prone to developing winter scratches you can easily cut it off before it has a chance to become a problem.

Scratches is the common term for pastern dermatitis. It is also known as, mud fever, greasy heel, or dew poisoning. No matter the name you'll recognize it when the skin around the coronet, pastern and heels becomes inflamed, scabby and ulcerated. It can ooze fluid and the skin may eventually crack. The first signs are often matted hair with dry crusts. It will often progress to moist, weeping lesions. Beneath the crusty top layer you are likely to see red or pink sores and possibly pus. Scratches is most commonly caused by two organisms; the bacteria Dermatophilus congolensis or the fungus Sporotrichum schenki. This mixed bacterial, sometimes fungal, skin condition can cause severe pain for your horse, especially if it develops deep cracks that lead to infection. Immediate treatment is necessary - The longer scratches go untreated, the more pain for your horse, and the more difficult they are to overcome. The same organisms can also cause similar issues on the upper body, which is referred to as rain scald or rain rot. It is most often found around a horse’s croup, back and neck. At times, it is possible to see a pattern which follows the way rain has run off your horses coat.

In the past, the blame was put squarely on the soil-dwelling bacterium Dermatophilus congolensis, Research now shows that pastern dermatitis can be caused by several causative agents. Even some fungi – notably that which causes ringworm – have been shown to play a part. Mites, especially Chorioptes, can also be the cause. Having multiple foes does not make treatment any easier.

Pastern dermatitis is prevalent in heavy breeds - Friesians, Gypsy's and draft horses because the thick feather causes the area to stay wet for prolonged periods of time. If your feathered horse has developed a bad case of scratches, it's a good idea to clip the feather so air can circulate through and help keep it dry. Don’t worry – contrary to myth – the feather does grow back. Remember, that wet hair holds in mud and moisture and successful treatment means doing your best to eliminate both.

How to Treat Pastern Dermatitis in the Winter

The bacteria take hold when repeated exposure to wet conditions strips away the skin's protective oils, causing chapping and cracking. The earliest sign of scratches is formation of a crust on the back of the pastern, so do an inspection daily as you pick out your horse's hooves.

If you see signs of scratches:

  1. Wash the affected area with Equiderma Neem Shampoo, then rinse and dry it completely. Drying the area is extremely important and will probably require a hair dryer in winter months.

  2. Trim the longer pastern hairs and slather the area with Equiderma Skin Lotion followed by a layer of Equiderma Zinc Oxide Paste to provide a barrier to further moisture and bacteria. (If it's too cold to wash the leg, skip directly to the trimming and skin lotion and zinc paste steps.) Avoid picking off tightly attached scabs because that can be painful to your horse. Instead, use a clean washcloth to wipe the ointment from the leg every other day. The softened crusts will slide off easily. Then reapply the skin lotion and zinc paste.

Equiderma Before & After Photos


Equiderma Treatment F.A.Q.

Q: Is scratches contagious?

A: Yes, It can spread from one horse to another, so your best strategy is to begin immediate treatment and take preventative measures to keep the condition at bay.

Q: Should I pick the scabs off before treatment?

A: No, The Equiderma system is excellent at softening the scabs and will allow them to be gently picked off after the first day of treatment. Remember, pastern dermatitis can be painful to your horse. If your horse is reacting badly to your attention the first 24 hours of treatment will ease the pain. With follow up treatments your horse will be more accepting of your handling. You will easily be able to remove the scabs.

Q: Should I use boots or wraps on the area?

A: Some horse owners have had success in protecting the heels and pasterns with special boots or bandages. Care needs to be taken to ensure the boots or bandages don't rub and cause even more damage.

Q: Can I stop treatment when the condition has cleared?

A: No, Don't drop your guard as the condition begins to improve. The area needs to be kept dry and Equiderma Zinc Paste used as moisture barrier will continue to help in this regard.

Q: Why does my horse only get it on the white legs?

A: There area number of other conditions that can contribute to the problem. The most common one is photo-sensitivity. White legs are more prone to pastern dermatitis. If the pastern dermatitis affects only the white areas and doesn't move into the dark areas, photo-sensitivity is involved. Photosensitive reactions in horses are most likely to occur on the legs or around the muzzle. The most common trigger is exposure to red clover in pastures. The ingestion of red clover can trigger the horse's body to become sensitive to ultra violet light. Other triggers are St John's Wort, perennial rye grass and buck wheat. Photo-sensitivity can also be a sign of liver disease, and is an issue best discussed with a veterinarian. Equiderma Zinc Paste will provide 100% sunblock to both the legs and muzzle. Many of our customers who deal with photo sensitivity also use Sox for Horses.

Q: What is the best strategy to keep scratches from becoming a problem?

A: A sensible strategy is to bring your horse in regularly during damper weather and ensure that their lower legs dry out thoroughly. When thoroughly dry and cleaned of dried mud give them a thorough coating of Equiderma Skin Lotion followed by Equiderma Zinc Paste. This will eradicate most bacteria and fungi and provide a protective barrier to the skin.

Q: Can I just wait for the dry, warm months to solve the problem without treatment?

A: Pastern Dermatitis, aka winter scratches will progressively get worse. A horse can quickly become lame if the scratches and pain associated with the disease are not treated. Without treatment and taking the proper steps to keep your horses pasterns protected it will only get worse. Waiting until warm weather is not a good option.

Q: Why is Equiderma so effective against scratches?

A: The Equiderma Shampoo, Lotion and Zinc Oxide all contain powerful ingredients targeted to fight infection, bacteria, mites and other factors that can lead to winter scratches. For over 25 years Equiderma has studied the disease to develop fast, effective treatments for winter scratches, and many other horse skin conditions. Other products on the market cut corners to increase profits. Equiderma products only use the highest quality ingredients without 100% active ingredients.

Customer Testimonials

Don't just take our word for it - here's what some of our customers have to say:

Bad case of scratches. Nothing worked until I discovered Equiderma products! Bad case of scratches. Nothing worked until I discovered Equiderma products!

This case of scratches was persistent to the point of scary. The vet gave me a treatment protocol that only made it worse. While searching on the internet I found the Equiderma products. Discussed my case with Bethany, who was very helpful, and started using her products. I knew I was on the right course when I started to see the swelling subside and the scabs begin to wipe off. Continued diligence twice a day, using the Equiderma lotion on the infected area and the zinc oxide paste around the perimeter to prevent any spreading along with careful sanitary precautions eventually lead to complete healing! It took time but persistence and constant vigilance with the Equiderma products paid off. I highly recommend these products, they worked wonders. Thank you Equiderma!

Lisa S.
Nothing worked! Then I tried Equiderma Nothing worked! Then I tried Equiderma

My warmblood Sky had scratches for 9 years ever since we came to New England. I tried every product on the market to rid her of this skin issue nothing worked! Then I tried Equiderma and was amazed at the results!!! Honestly, the product healed all scratches! I highly recommend it.

Karen P.
All scratches are gone All scratches are gone

Tried numerous products until I stumbled across the Equiderma skin lotion. I combined it with an exfoliating shampoo and rain rot and scratches are completely gone. I also love, love the fly spray.

Silvia C.
He is scratches free now He is scratches free now

My yearling Stella was struggling with a very bad case of scratches this spring. I battled for over a month before I bought the scratches combo kit from Equidermia. The shampoo has a pleasant smell, laters well and rinses our easily. The blue lotion helped dry up the scratches and the zinc oxide kept her legs dry in the tall prairie grass that was wet with dew every morning. He is scratches free now and I just apply the blue lotion to her legs a couple times a week for maintenance.

Anna H.
Made scratches on her foot disappear Made scratches on her foot disappear

I have been using Equiderma products for about a year now. I started by buying the conditioner and the zinc oxide paste. The zinc oxide made scratches on her foot disappear and I didn't have to worry that I was using harsh chemicals on my horse.

Karen B.

Gstaad has had scratches forever. I tried everything in the tack stores and online. I even tried a special cream that vet created and got no results. Equiderma works!

Beth P.
Today v. Last Week: What a huge difference with only three applications! Today v. Last Week: What a huge difference with only three applications!

My two year old filly arrived with "Scratches" and I tried my very best to get rid of them. I called the vet. We got her pastern under control again, but by now, she was very skittish with any treatment. She was good with bandages but she got more and more upset with scrubbing. I had to call the vet again. This time I was given sedatives. While I'm pragmatic, I didn't really like that solution. Thank goodness I found Equiderma! There was immediate improvement, no pain/no scrubbing, and my filly has settled down. No more Irish step dancing! Thank you for an excellent product... I've even recommended it to my vet who plans to share with his other clients.

Susan F.
Scratches are almost gone after one week! Scratches are almost gone after one week!

My coming 5yo gelding was turned out for the winter to allow for growth and maturity. He was turned out 24/7 and 45 minuntes away, so I was unable to groom him as much as I wanted. I noticed in October he started to get scratches, and I tried to treat, but due to him always being turned out and the terrible, wet winter we had, and the fact that I could only visit him once or twice a week, it was impossible. Once we decided to bring him back to work, I pulled him out of the field and was dismayed to see the scratches had spread to all four legs and were painful and swollen. I purchased the equiderma spa treatment of shampoo, conditioner and lotion and went to work. I still was only able to get out there a couple times a week, but after a week, his scratches started to slough off. When I brought him back to his show barn, I was able to give him a proper bath and really treat the scratches, but didn't need to, as they were almost all gone! I am using just the lotion right now as a preventative and to clear up the few remaining spots!

Valerie W.
Healthy legs make for thick, beautiful feather Healthy legs make for thick, beautiful feather

I use Equiderma Zinc Oxide paste on my heavily feathered Gypsies to keep their skin healthy. It clears up scratches in record time, making it so my horses have healthy legs and in turn, thick and luxurious feather. I have also used it for sunburn and it quickly clears it up.

Cheyenne B.
Gone in 2 days Gone in 2 days

He had scratches put the lotion on and it was gone in 2 days .. I swear by this product.

Lorie A.
Hundreds of dollars spent with the vet! Hundreds of dollars spent with the vet!

I literally have been working with two different vets to clear the "scratches" on Derby's back leg. She was on oral steroids, antibiotics, and several topical creams. I was so frustrated with the lack of results. My vet was going to contact MSU veterinary clinic for addditional help. In the mean time, I decided to try Equiderma as it kept popping on my screen as I searched for answers. Well, I can stop now! Equiderma worked and I am ready to try the lotion and keep it on hand! Thank you!

Kay W.
Scratches are gone Scratches are gone

When we rescued Tika last year, she came covered in rain rot, cannon crud and had a large tumor on the inside of her ear. Scratches on her back legs appeared a month after we had her home. I tried everything - and nothing was getting rid of her skin issues - until someone passed along Equiderma. The blue lotion covered my whiteboard horse and in a couple of days the rain rot areas were gone, cannon crud erased and even (and this is amazing!) the tumor in her ear was shrinking! Scratches are gone too! We are so impressed with this product and how it has treated a grey's sensitive skin. It smells wonderful going on and she seems to be healthier and ready to get to work.

Laura K.
Love your products! Love your products!

Brandy has been plaqued by skin problems her whole life: sweet itch, insect allergies, scratches, possibly threadworm. Every summer she itches and scratches, rubbing on anything she can find. I have tried several different treatments, all with little to moderate success until Equiderma. One shampoo cleared up 90% of her skin lesions! Then using the lotion, zinc and the fly spray daily or even every other day kept her the most comfortable I have ever seen her in the summer with the bonus of a lovely glimmering coat! Melanie B.

Product Recommendations