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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Dermatitis and Dermatologic Problems of Horses

By Karen A. Moriello, DVM, DACVD, Professor of Dermatology, Department of Medical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison ; John E. Lloyd, BS, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Entomology, University of Wyoming ; Bertrand J. Losson, DVM, PhD, DEVPC, Professor, Department of Parasitology and Parasitic Diseases, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Liege ; Wayne Rosenkrantz, DVM, DACVD ; Patricia A. Talcott, MS, DVM, PhD, DABVT, Associate Professor, Department of Food Science and Toxicology, Holm Research Center, University of Idaho ; Alice E. Villalobos, DVM, DPNAP, Director;Director, Animal Oncology Consultation Service;Pawspice ; Patricia D. White, DVM, MS, DACVD ; Thomas R. Klei, PhD, Boyd Professor and Associate Dean for Research and Advanced Studies, School of Veterinary Medicine and Louisiana Agriculture Experiment Station, Louisiana State University ; David Stiller, MS, PhD, Research Entomologist, Animal Disease Research Unit, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, University of Idaho ; Stephen D. White, DVM, DACVD, Professor and Chief of Service, Dermatology, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital; Department of Medicine and Epidemiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis ; Carol S. Foil, DVM, MS, DACVD, Professor, Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine

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Dermatitis is a general word for any type of inflammation of the skin. It is the word usually used to describe a skin condition before a specific diagnosis is reached. There are many causes of skin inflammation, including external irritants, burns, allergens, trauma, and infection (bacterial, viral, parasitic, or fungal).

Dermatitis may have many signs including any combination of itching, scaling, abnormal redness, thickening of the skin, and hair loss. The usual progression of a skin disease involves an underlying trigger that causes boils, scabs, scales, or blisters.

Abnormal itching, called pruritus, occurs in many skin diseases. As the inflammation progresses, crusting and scaling develop. If the problem reaches the deeper layer (the dermis), fluid discharge, pain, and sloughing or shedding of the skin may occur. Secondary bacterial and yeast infections commonly develop as a result of skin inflammation. If the dermatitis does not improve, the early signs of inflammation (such as redness) become obscured by signs of chronic inflammation (thickening of the skin, color changes, scaling, fluid discharge). Often the skin becomes drier and, if itching is not already a sign, it will often develop at this stage.

Resolving dermatitis requires that a veterinarian identify the underlying cause and treat secondary infections or other complications. A review of your horse’s history and a physical examination can more precisely define the problem.