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Recommendations and tips for owners of horses with leg feathering
Popular breeds such as the Irish Cob or the Friesian amaze us with their beauty and calm nature. Unfortunately, horses with leg feathering may have skin problems in the hair which need to be taken care of. Owners of other heavier breeds of horses face similar problems. People often wonder why their horse stomps its hind legs, scratches its limbs against various objects, bites its limbs, etc. Then they look in the feathers and find “white scabs”, sores in various places or swellings. The most common in these horses are pastern dermatitis (scratches), hyperkeratosis and also chronic progressive lymphedema (CPL).
Pastern dermatitis or scratches has a number of causes – bacterial infection, skin fungi, parasites (most often feather mites), injuries, etc. It affects all breeds of horses (not just those with feathers). We can also come across terms such as mud fever or greasy heel.
A very unpleasant problem in heavy horse breeds is CPL (chronic progressive lymphedema). The cause of CPL is a lack of elastin and its poor metabolism in the lymphatic vessels. As a result, the limb is swelling, the skin is weakened, and this leads to secondary problems such as parasitic infections (especially feather mites – chorioptes equi), bacterial infections, limping, etc. In more severe forms, large skin folds are visible. There is no cure for CPL; the aim of the treatment is to alleviate symptoms and slow the progression.
Hyperkeratosis is an excessive production of keratin typical especially for heavier breeds of horses with luxuriant leg feathering such as the Irish Cob, the Friesian, the Shire… Keratin is a building protein that is found in hair and nails (and in horse hooves). Hyperkeratosis is manifested by excessive keratinization of the skin. In horses, we encounter it mainly in two typical places, namely on the back of the carpal joint of the forelimb (referred to as “Mallenders”) and on the hind limb in front of the gambrel (“Sallenders”). The terms Mallenders and Sallenders are less known in the Czech Republic. You can read about them, for example, in books of veterinary medicine from the 18th and 19th centuries and in foreign forums.
To give you a better idea, it is something like a rough skin around our heel (hyperkeratosis); if the skin is not treated, painful cracks may form.
Crusts that form on the limbs are unpleasant to horses, painful to the touch, so the treatment of these places is sometimes complicated. They can also be the reason for limping. This disorder cannot be completely eliminated, but regular treatment can keep the skin clean and prevent deterioration (secondary bacterial, parasitic or fungal infection).
A few tips for owners of horses with feathers
It is sometimes difficult to exactly diagnose what problem your horse has. Every horse is different and there is still no universal product that would solve all the problems of every horse. All that remains is to search and try. First, of course, you need to assess whether it is appropriate to start home treatment or if it is necessary to call a vet (there’s no harm in a consultation in any case). Here are some tips that your vet probably won’t give you.
One of the most used products for feathers both in the Czech Republic and abroad is mineral oil with sulphur known as “pig oil and sulphur” (e.g. veterinary product called Feather and Skin Care from Divine Animals). It is a kind of a basic care for feathers, because sulphur has antibacterial, antifungal, antiparasitic and keratolytic effects. Mineral oil keeps feathers clean and soft. The product helps with the removal of scabs and horny skin, eliminates itching, acts against parasites and fungi, etc.
Some horse owners successfully use, for example, zinc ointment (e.g. Veterinary Zinc Ointment from Divine Animals), creams with salicylic acid or urea (for hyperkeratosis), or various herbal ointments, which are more suitable for topical application. Tamanu oil is also suitable for hyperkeratosis and other problems. It encourages wound healing and skin regeneration, and has antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
Anti-dandruff shampoos or antiparasitic shampoos, for example, are recommended for washing feathers. We can recommend Veterinary Care Shampoo from Divine Animals, enriched with chlorhexidine, neem oil, tea tree and bentonite clay, which helps reduce microbial load, including fungi, and can help protect against insects and other parasites. It suppresses inflammatory processes and relieves itching.
Problems that your horse may have need to be dealt with not only from the outside, but also from the inside. In connection with Mallenders and Sallenders, and thus the excessive production of keratin, it is not recommended to give biotin to these horses, as it encourages the production of keratin. Some horse owners report that the problem did not start until biotin was given, or that the condition improved after they discontinued its use (others see no effect of biotin in relation to hyperkeratosis). The effect of biotin has not been demonstrated in a study yet. It is also not recommended to feed the animals with carrots, apples, feed with a high sugar content, black treacle, etc. On the other hand, it is recommended to add turmeric to the feed (it has an anti-inflammatory effect and helps in the treatment of skin problems), cleavers and marigold (for disorders of the lymphatic system, CPL), copper and zinc (in case of their deficiency). Turmeric, cleavers and marigold are part of the herbal mixture DETOX from Herbal Horse, which you can buy together with the above veterinary products (Feather and Skin Care, Veterinary Zinc Ointment, Veterinary Care Shampoo) at www.divineanimals.cz. We also send abroad via Zásilkovna and DPD.
Regular care of feathers will ensure a happier life for your horse. It is important to check the feathers thoroughly, because you may not notice the problem at first glance and skin problems may gradually develop to such an extent that the treatment will be lengthy and expensive.
Please note that the information provided in this article is general advice that is recommended to breeders and should not be confused for veterinary advice.