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Scratches & Rain Rot

This article was written by Hilary Self, co-founder of Hilton Herbs Ltd., Medical Herbalist, & author to A Modern Horse Herbal and A Veteran Horse Herbal.

When it comes to these two nasty conditions, prevention is better than the cure!

Scratches and rain rot are no fun for your horse.

They are caused by Dermatophilus congolensis, a gram-positive anaerobic bacterium that penetrates the skin’s keratinised epithelium. There may also be a fungal infection present. The condition can be contagious, and may spread between horses if conditions are suitable.

Scratches results in lesions on the lower limbs while rain rot will appear as lesions distributed over the body, neck and head. The skin becomes sore, inflamed and swollen and oozes serum. Scabs develop with matted hair that comes off when the scab is removed. Horses with white socks, pink skin, heavy feathers or those that live in wet, muddy or warm and humid conditions are most at risk.

How can you help?

1. Improve the overall integrity, strength, condition and resistance of the skin’s epidermal layer.

  • Flax seed – provides essential fatty acids to strengthen the epidermis and support the keratinex layer, making the skin more water resistant.

  • Brewers yeast – contains B vitamins for hair re-growth. Rich source of inositol — vital for hair growth and production of cell membranes. Contains skin respiratory factor (SRF), which has wound-healing properties.

2. Provide a natural supply of the amino acids needed for the construction of keratin and elastin, which form the hair and skin’s first layer of resistance to wet, muddy conditions and infection. These amino acids are channelled by the blood until they reach the hair root, and then require an intake of zinc and vitamin B6 in order to be synthesised.

  • Seaweed – contains zinc and amino acids.

  • Brewer’s yeast – contains amino acids, zinc and B6.

  • Garlic – contains the sulphur compound needed for strong hair and keratin prduction.

3. Use “antibiotic” herbs internally to help destroy the gram-positive bacteria that cause scratches/rain rot. Use infused oils and tinctures topically to kill infection, reduce inflammation and help soften scabs so they can be painlessly removed.

  • Echinacea, garlic, goldenseal and liquorice – use both internally and topically to destroy or inhibit the growth of the disease-causing bacteria.

  • Propolis – anti-microbial, offers superoxide radical scavenging action against gram-positive bacteria.

  • Goldenseal – destroys gram-positive bacteria.

4. Use “antifungal” herbs internally and topically to destroy any fungal infection.

  • Myrrh, garlic, tea tree, calendula and Echinacea WARNING: tea tree oil is for topical treatment only, it should NEVER be used internally.

5. Use herbs internally and topically to encourage strong re-growth of skin and hair.

  • Calendula, aloe vera, brewer’s yeast, coconut oil, flax seed, seaweed

6. Use “anti-inflammatory” herbs internally and topically to reduce the body’s inflammatory response to the infection, and encourage removal of blood toxins from the sites of infection.

  • Garlic, Echinacea, calendula, goldenseal, myrrh, liquorice

7. Use herbs to raise the overall health of the horse so the immune system is able to respond to the infection.

  • Liquorice – adaptogen, anti-inflammatory, recommended for topical application where it has a steroid-like action.

  • Echinacea – anti-fungal, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory when used internally or topically. Will stimulate the body’s immune system to withstand infection.

  • Myrrh – anti-fungal, anti-infective — use internally and topically to stimulate and strengthen the immune system’s response to infection.

I always recommend starting to use these herbs in the early fall, so the skin will be in the best possible shape to resist wet, muddy conditions and resulting bacterial infection.


Hilary Self is cofounder of Hilton Herbs Ltd., a company that manufactures and formulates herbal supplements for animals. She is a Medical Herbalist, a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, and a member of the NASC Scientific Advisory Committee. Hilary is the author of two books: A Modern Horse Herbal and A Veteran Horse

Article originally published over at Equine Wellness Magazine.

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