Ask Horse Journal: 08/06

Help For Itchy Skin
My mare is always itchy. She will rub her mane and tail if I don’t hot wire her stall. Her Skin and coat are soft and shiny. She itches from the tips of her ears to the tip of her tail. We had thought it was no-see-ums, but they’re gone and she is no better.

I sent off an allergy panel, and she came back allergic to orchard grass, Johnson grass, redtop, Bermuda, alfalfa, corn, Milo, borderline allergic to wheat, several trees we have on the property, as well as horse, deer, stable and black flies.

I’ve taken her off the orchard grass and stopped letting her graze. I’m going to get rye grass hay for her. What supplements will I need to give her to balance out her nutrition, and are there any feed supplements that will help the itching’ Also how long after she is off all the feed she is allergic to will it take to see any improvement’

Allergy testing can produce a lot of false positives when they are tested at a time when symptoms are active. Intradermal skin testing (injection of tiny amounts of allergens into the upper skin layers then checking for a reaction) may help you pinpoint her true sensitivities more accurately.

Although food allergies can cause skin symptoms, we really don’t know how common that is in horses so it might be more productive to try intensive bug protection and possibly a change in type of bedding. If a trial of antihistamine relieves her symptoms, she may be a good candidate for Spirulina.

Ryegrass hay is really more appropriate for high-producing dairy cows than for horses. It’s often extremely high in soluble carbohydrates that can cause digestive upset if they reach the large intestine. If you do decide to try it, make sure to make the switch slowly and watch carefully for bloating/gas, change in manure and any signs of abdominal discomfort. Ryegrass hay tends to be high in phosphorus, low in calcium. As with any hay, there will likely be trace mineral imbalances too. Your state agricultural extension service will probably have information on mineral profiles.


Skin Fungus
How do you get rid of summer skin fungus’

Skin fungus usually responds quickly and well to bathing with iodine-based shampoos and to EQyss Micro-Tek (, 800-526-7469) or Aloe Advantage Aloe-Med (, 877-624-9693). If it doesn’t respond to these, you need to get your vet involved. To help prevent problems under tack, keep your equipment clean and be sure to use clean and dry pads.


Arthritis Supplements
My 25-year-old ex-racehorse has knee osteoarthritis on his left knee. What is the best supplement to give him to ease his pain’ I have him on hyaluronic acid (100mg/day). It used to work well, but now he gets bute when it’s needed, too. He runs in the arena and pasture when the other horses do, which isn’t good, but they’re herd-mates and want to stay together.

You might want to consider giving him more broadly based joint support. Laboratory studies are starting to unravel exactly what it is that the various joint nutraceuticals can and can’t do.

Hyaluronic acid seems to be having its major effect as a barrier, preventing substances like fibronectin from gaining access to the cartilage cells and triggering breakdown (Osteoarthritis Cartilage, September 1997).

Reports also continue to mount that the combination of glucosamine with chondroitin is more effective than either one alone, at least under laboratory conditions.

Using the same experimental model of a fragment of fibronectin triggering cartilage breakdown, a study published in the March 2006 issue of Osteoarthritis Cartilage found that the combination, at levels that can be achieved in the blood after oral intake, was effective in blocking/reversing cartilage breakdown and also in stimulating healing, which the individual agents alone showed only a mild anti-inflammatory effect.

There’s nothing wrong with using phenylbutazone periodically for a few days to get on top of a flare-up. If you find you’re using it frequently, though, and adding glucosamine and chondroitin to his regimen doesn’t help, X-rays would be in order to see exactly what’s going on in the joint. Nondisplaced fractures or free-floating bits of bone may be the problem. Your veterinarian will then help you decide what options are best for your situation. If it’s a matter of the arthritis simply becoming more advanced, periodic injections of hyaluronic acid may a good complement to your oral nutraceutical supplements.

In our trials, we’ve found devil’s claw is an excellent alternative to phenylbutazone. A study published in the March 2006 issue of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that devil’s claw inhibits inflammation by blocking the activity of a cytokine (NF-KappaB) that is upstream from the COX-2 enzyme that phenylbutazone inhibits.

The side effects of phenylbutazone and other NSAIDs are related to its COX-1 and also COX-2 inhibitory activity, which are needed for normal tissue repair and remodeling. It blocks COX-2 like aspirin does, by preventing its activation, but has no effect on COX-1 and lacks the direct irritant effects on the stomach.

Good choices include Devil’s Claw or B-L Solution from Equine America (, 803-644-7700) or Devil’s Claw Plus from Uckele Health and Nutrition (, 800-248-0330).


Combo Boots
I’ve noticed this year that the sports boots that we have been using, which are a combo(boot and bell boot combined) for the front legs don’t seem to be used now. We asked someone at our supply store, and they stated that the combo boot didn’t allow enough flexibility for the horse, and it had been causing problems for horses along with some injuries so the suppliers are now not making the combos. This is fine if this is true. But, have you heard anything about any studies done on horses that have been in competition and using the combo boots’ If there’s a potential problem we will not look for the combo and go to the standard sport boot.

Many people feel the combo boots are too restrictive, but we’re not aware of them being proven as the cause of an injury. If your horse works well in them and they’re doing their job, there’s no reason to stop using them, as far as we know at this time.

As for suppliers not making them anymore, a quick Internet survey of major distributors showed the combo boots are widely available. To find out if the brand of boot you are interested in using is still being made, you should contact the boot manufacturer directly.


Peak Performance no longer manufactures the American Ginseng product, Fatigue Alieve, which was in the June article on performance-enhancing products. Just Win (, 800-227-2987) offers Ginseng.


Tail Rubbing Requires A Full Attack
Tail rubbing usually gets blamed on pinworms, but there are other possible causes to consider. Hypersensitivity to culicoides (those tiny bugs that attack the horse and cause skin problems) can do it, too, but you’ll likely see lesions elsewhere, too, especially along the midline of the belly. A dirty sheath can make a horse rub his tail, as can accumulated sweat and grease around the udder of a mare. Sweat, dirt and dead cell buildup around the anus will make horses of either sex rub their tails. A variety of bacterial and fungal infections may either cause an itchy tail or complicate the picture when the rubbing started for other reasons. Although rare, Psoroptic mites (a form of mange) can also cause tail itching and rubbing, with hair loss.

A ”shotgun” approach to treatment is often best. When deworming the horse, use either ivermectin or moxidectin as both of these are also effective against mites. If it’s a gelding, check the sheath; if a mare, clean around the udder. A thorough washing of the tail and anal area with an antimicrobial shampoo is in order, making sure you remove all accumulations of oil, dirt, dead cells and crusting. We also like the effective, disposable Tail Wipes from Carr And Day And Martin (see or your local dealer). After bathing, Bactine spray (human product) or Calm Coat (888-396-0004, about $12 for 8 oz. ) are good topicals for irritated itchy areas on the tail. For severe itching, add a few drops of Campho-Phenique (human product) to the Calm Coat.