Chronic Scratches - ideas and suggestions welcome!

I have read a lot of the threads already with a lot of good suggestions many of which I’ve tried.

Chestnut 11 y/o gelding with white hind feet with pink skin who lives in a stall/paddock combo and we have been fighting scratches year round for the last year. We are in California - it is dry almost the entire year and he gets no grass turn-out. He’s on alfalfa hay cubes, Tribute Kalm Ultra grain, and SmartCombo supplement (which includes zinc and copper).

At various points I have tried:
Stopped wearing brushing boots and switched to polos during rides to keep clean
Wear fly boots all the time to protect pink skin from the sun
Spraying with Banixx
Treat with animax RX ointment from vet - seems to work initially but never clears it up
Treat with homemade combo of equal parts desitin, triple antibiotic, anti-itch cream, anti-fungal cream - seems to work initially but doesn’t fully clear it up
Wash a few times a week with medicated RX shampoo from vet
Never wash legs :slight_smile:
Keeping the legs clipped
Letting the hair grow, to protect the sensitive pink skin
Only clip where active scratches are so medication reaches the skin

The scratches for the most part have been on the leg, but the current outbreak I have been fighting since January is on both hind pasterns. Because of that I stopped the fly boots a few weeks ago, thinking that they may be irritating it because they sit right where the scratches are, but no real change since then.

Things I’m considering and would love if anyone has experience:

(1) More copper and zinc? Since his supplement already has this, does anyone have a suggestion for how much should be fed?

(2) Immune support - due to recent outbreaks of EHV-1 our barn has started Platinum Performance Zinc and Lysine packets and will be interesting to see if this helps.

(3) Coat defense paste - has anyone tried this and had success?

(4) Eqstim - vet suggested this as a monthly injection for immune support to help the chronic scratches - has anyone tried this?

Any other additional things to try are appreciated.

A trainer I once knew used to swear by Sore-no-More “The Sauce.” This was in California with dry lot turn outs. The once time my gelding developed scratches (white socks) I put some of it in a spray bottle and sprayed it on the scratches and then gently rubbed it in. The scratches cleared up and I continued to use The Sauce prophylactically before my horse would get turned out or before I rode him. I also never clipped his lower legs closely, so there was always hair to protect the skin. Call it luck, but I never had a chronic problem.


Get vet to take sample (skin scraping?) so you know what you’re actually dealing with.


Is taking a scraping and testing it common? I saw it mentioned in other threads as well. I’ve been working with my vet on these for a long time and it has not been suggested.

I am dealing with the same thing and have tried many of the same treatments. I live in Pa. Right now the vet has me using bio-mycin (an IV antibiotic often used in foot rot in cows squirted directly on the scratches) followed by DMSO followed by furacin followed by desitin daily. It has been almost 2 weeks and I am finally starting to see improvement. The vet said not to wash his legs at all, just use a stiff brush to get the dirt off, but every few days I wash everything off with an anti-bacterial soap so I can check the status of the scratches. I did not have any luck with Coat Defense. Vet also emphasized using lime in the paddock where he is turned out.

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My BO has a horse that had chronic scratches on white feet for a while. My horse has 3 white feet and never had this problem. All horses are out 24/7 in well managed pastures with run-ins except for inclement weather.

His horse had to be stabled over night because of the morning dew to clear up the scratches when the dew point was unfavorable for him. Also, the owner washed the lower legs daily with anti bacterial plus anti fungal shampoo. He scrubbed the flakes off as per our vet. That went a huge way to squash the infection. His horse got back to normal turnout and hasn’t had bouts of scratches like that since.

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The first thing that comes to mind is removing all alfalfa, as it could be a photosensitivy issue, which can be caused by eating much, or any, legumes (alfalfa, clover, etc)


I was just about to comment this same thing. If it’s up the leg I’d be leaning towards potential photosensitivity.


Vitamin E could be worth trying.

About eight years ago my younger horse got some scratches sort of thing on his leg. I chased it around (literally! Each patch of skin healed but not before infecting the skin around it) with antibacterial and antifungal treatments for months. This horse had always had the tendency to have any scratch or scrape below knees and hocks go fungus-y before it healed. Even a two drops of blood scrape would do it.

His vitamin E level was barely within the bottom end of the normal range when tested initially. Six months of supplemental vit E later it had dropped slightly, BUT the leg fungus had cleared up and new scrapes and cuts were healing without the fungus stage. I did increase his vitamin E and he tested smack in the middle of the normal range six months later.

He did get scratches in the fall of 2020 and they healed quite quickly with a little treatment. My older horse also got scratches at the same time and I was treating him much of the winter. I did add vitamin E to his diet when the scratches stopped responding to treatment.

2 Likes These were the only things that worked for my older TBs pastern dermatitis. I tried many, many other things (including antibiotics). These boots worked inside of a week though they are pricey.


I dealt with this all last year. No amount of creams, cleaning, not cleaning, etc. made much of a difference for long. What (appears to have) worked for us was adding Uckele Poly Zinc + Poly Copper pellets. Once I started feeding that, her scratches cleared up within a week or so and have not yet returned. She was already on TC 30%, but I think adding more zinc/copper helped. Although, it’s not a perfect test because I did this right around the weather change (Fall) and started immunotherapy shots shortly after so YMMV.


Zinc and copper all the way. Seriously. The Uckele one mentioned is probably a great place to start. I tried all the topical treatments you can imagine and everything cleared up never to return when zinc and copper were added


I tried zinc and copper supplementation for 9 months prior to the scratches season here to no avail. Sho Fly boots made all the difference. This past year was the first year he didn’t have scratches.

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As others have stated, at this point it’s probably worth doing a skin scraping/culture/biopsy to help diagnose or at least rule things out.

This is an older article but it’s got some good info on all of the things that “scratches” could potentially be.

UC Davis CEH Horse Report - Dermatology

Since you’re in California and UC Davis has some very good dermatology/dermapathology resources, it might be worth reaching out to them for a consult. They could probably either work with your vet or you could go in for an appointment. I know California is huge so might be quite a trek for an appointment, but I’m guessing it would be very beneficial.

In the meanwhile I agree with trying extra zinc/copper supplementation (as mentioned Uckele Poly Zinc & Poly Copper are great) and maybe Vitamin E.

Current thread on Vit E: Best Vit E


How many pounds of the KU is he eating, and what’s the ppm of cu and zn (so I don’t have to look it up LOL)

How many mg of cu and zn in a serving of the SmartCombo product?

How much Copper and Zinc do you recommend? Then I can bother with the looking up how much he’s getting and compare. Thanks!

One of your posts about it encouraged me to try it and it was going really well until the scratches were on his pasterns rather than his leg. The Shoo Fly boots wrap right around the pastern and were at best rubbing off any ointment I applied and at worst also rubbing and irritating the scratches themselves. I do plan to go back to using them once I get these in better shape.

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Do you have a recommendation for how much Vitamin E? I’m sure the supplement he is on already has it, so want to think about how much to increase. Thanks!

Can you tell me more about the immunotherapy shots? Were they for the scratches or for other reasons, and what was given and how frequently? Thanks!

Nolvasan Ointment.