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Winter Skin Care

by Vet Stephen Ashdown
of Global


horse and foal

Is skin more than just the
bag that we live in?

Well of course it is. In
fact it is the largest organ of yours or your horse’s body.

Skin protects the inside
of the body from the wind, rain, dirt and contamination of the
world around and also helps to maintain conditions inside at just
the right temperature.

All in all skin is vital
and when it’s not working properly we and our horses really know

Because skin is integrally linked
to all the parts of the body beneath it also provides a good indication of
the health and general state of well being of the whole body.  We know ourselves that if someone is looking very ‘pasty’
there is something wrong going on inside. 
In winter if the coat is dull and lifeless we know that the whole
body is more susceptible to infections and disease. 
On the other hand the protective hair can get so long to protect
the body inside that we are not sure what lies beneath!

It is also worth knowing that skin
is a very complex organ.  It
is not just a layer of cells like the paintwork of a car. 
It has many different layers of cells which work together with
blood vessels and nerves beneath.  There
are also a whole host of different harmless bacteria and parasites and
other micro organisms that live in the skin creating a living community. 
All the different parts of this community work together to protect
the inside of the body.  If one of the parts of this community disappears e.g. by
using an antibiotic or steroid cream the whole skin structure is weakened
and more susceptible to disease.  This
is why once damage has occurred skin is more likely to become problematic
again – because the balance of the community has been upset.  Some people get upset once they learn that their beautiful
smooth skin that gives them a wonderful complexion is more like a wild
jungle than the beautiful new shiny waxed surface of their sports car. 
There are all sorts of wild animals and monsters living within that
beautiful complexion and they do not look very pretty when seen close up.

So what makes
good skin?

  1. Good
    nutrition with plenty of minerals and vitamins (more than the minimum
    recommended levels)
  2. Good
    oil production for waterproofness
  3. Healthy
    bowels and digestion that absorb required nutrients correctly while
    keeping out harmful bits of food and waste.
  4. A
    generally healthy body below
  5. A
    reasonable amount of good weather
  6. Sun
  7. An
    environment that allows the body to escape dangerous situations e.g.
    excessively wet conditions or too many flies.


What wrecks good

  1. Mineral
    and vitamin deficiency
  2. Poor
    digestion, diarrhoea or impaction or colic.
  3. Parts
    of the body below ceasing to work properly e.g. Liver disease, worms,
  4. Toxins
    that are eaten or breathed in
  5. The
    use of powerful chemicals of medicines
  6. The
    use of antibiotics or parasiticides on the skin
  7. The
    use of steroid medicines
  8. Long
    term damp conditions
  9. Stress
  10. Flies


What are the
specific problems in winter:

Of course we all know that Mud
Fever is the major problem.  This
disease is caused by a bacteria, Dermatophilis congolensis that also
causes problems like Rain Scald and Greasy skin.  The bacteria lives in the mud and but also likes to breed in
the skin if given the chance.  It
does however not normally get a chance to live in the skin because the
skin is very good at defending itself. 
This situation changes when the environment gets very damp and the
skin becomes water logged.  When
this happens the skin is more easily damaged in the field or stable and
even a tiny scratch allows the bacteria to move from the mud on the skin
into the sensitive parts of the skin.

Once Mud fever has started the
normal environment of the skin changes a bit like when Amazonian rain
forest has been chopped down to make way for fields 
of grass for cattle.  In
such situations it takes a long time to get back to normal and often
complete normality never returns.  This
is why once your horse has had Mud Fever it is always likely to return for
a long time afterwards.


What are the
other problems that your horse’s skin might face:

  1. Cuts
    and wounds and kicks
  2. Fungal
    infections like Ringworm
  3. Mineral
    deficiency and loss of colour
  4. Tumors
    like Sarcoids and Melanomas

Of these problems most can occur
in Summer as well but certainly winter can be challenging time for skin
when nutrition is not quite right and severe changes in climate cause
stress and strain on the immune system. 
Interestingly though Summer can be just as stressful when horses
are supposed to survive on little food and as a consequence do not get
adequate minerals in their diet while at the same time have to flight of
the flies.

How do we treat
Mud Fever

The best way of treating such
difficult patches of skin is to keep the affected area dry and clean while
applying preparations which kill of the bad bacteria and not the good ones
while stimulating skin cells to divide quickly 
One of the very  best
agents for healing up damaged skin and killing of bad bacteria is honey. 
In people it is wonderful and miraculous for leg ulcers and cuts. 
More practical is often to use creams based on Cedar, Tea Tree oil,
Marigold and the like.

Sometimes it is also useful to
feed a supplement in the food which does the same job from the inside. 
I may even advise the use of an immune booster which speeds natural
healing of all the skin cells whilst supporting the body’s immune system
to fight of the Dermatophilis  bacteria.

Free Veterinary
Advice from Vet Stephen Ashdown at Global Herbs (www.globalherbs.co.uk)

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