A well-groomed horse will have a smooth shiny coat. Some occasional issues with skin irritation and hair loss may occur. Many of these problems are easy to identify and treat with over-the-counter equine medications. Hair loss other than shedding is a symptom of a skin problem, illness or disease.
Horses shed their winter coats naturally in the spring. If a horse has a heavy winter coat, the shedding may appear patchy and extreme. However, there should be summer hair under the shedding patches. Regular good grooming practices will help identify problems that need intervention. Include combing the mane and tail in the regular grooming routine.
Other Hair Loss
An ill-fitting saddle will cause hair loss and can be quite painful. Check the saddle blanket, girth and the padding under the saddle for worn places that could be causing irritation. The same goes for the halter, which can also be a cause of spotty hair loss where it rubs on the face or mane. Any part of the tack that contacts the horse is a potential source of irritation.
Hair loss can be an overt indicator of malnutrition. A malnourished horse will sometimes eat whatever hair he can reach on his own body or from another horse.
Simple changes in horse care can cause skin issues and hair loss. Horses can have allergies to any chemicals used on them, including fly spray and medications. Washing the saddle blanket with a new detergent is a possible cause, as is a new shampoo or other bathing product used on the horse.
A horse may lose mane hair in patches. This can be from reaching his head through a fence to reach grass on the other side. Telltale bits of hair will be caught in the fence if this is happening.
Sometimes a horse loses hair from minor injuries when turned out in a pasture. A kick from another horse might scrape off hair and not leave a bruise or cut. Scrapes from shrubs or from rubbing along edges of fences or buildings can easily remove hair. This kind of hair loss usually leaves spots with jagged edges and broken hairs left behind.
When a bald spot occurs that has smoothly defined edges and no hair at all, and perhaps sore or oozing skin, it is probably caused by a skin condition rather than an injury. Rain Rot is a common fungal infection. It appears as small round spots where hair falls out, and can grow to large blistered areas. There is usually some oozing with rain rot. Ringworm is similar, but the oozy bald patches have a red ring around the perimeter of the sore.
Fleas and horse lice will cause itching and hair loss. Internal parasites such as worms will often cause horses to lose hair, especially on the tail and rump from rubbing to scratch the itch.
OTC Anti-fungal and dermatological equine preparations should be used at the first sign of a problem. If hair loss continues or irritation worsens, seek a veterinarian's advice.
Meeting a horse's general nutritional and hygiene needs helps prevent skin problems and hair loss. A good grooming routine helps with early identification of symptoms. If a problem exists, use separate grooming tools on infected horses only, and sanitise them between each use.
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