Chronic Scratches - ideas and suggestions welcome!

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.


If he’s getting 100mg copper total (in addition to whatever’s in the hay, which I assume you don’t know, then I might suggest 3x that. If he’s getting 400mg, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest more.

It also matters how much he weighs.

At some point more might be ok, but also at some point more isn’t always better.

1-2 IU per pound body weight, total. If synthetic especially, I’d aim for 2IU/lb. So, subtract the total in the feed/supplement, from that, and add the difference

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My horse has been on (natural) Vitamin E supplement for years and still has chronic scratches.

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I started with 2000i.u. and increased to 3000i.u. after the six month test. His feed gave him approximately 1000i.u. when I started supplementing. The weight tape said he was 1063lbs.


Thank you for the link and the suggestion - it is very reasonable for me to get to Davis, I will definitely talk to my vet about a referral and consult there. The current outbreak has gotten even a little bit worse in the last week. :frowning:


I agree with @CindyCRNA about the Shoo Fly boots. I have tried lots of things but nothing works as well as the Shoo Fly boots for my gelding. He had zero scratches episodes while wearing them last year.


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!

My mare is also very reactive to bug bites. I used a fly sheet last year, but she was absolutely miserable with it (hates clothing, very humid). I did the blood allergy test, and it came back highly reactive to basically all flies and mites—I know the blood allergy test is not as/very effective, but this was a pretty obvious result to me and my vet. However, since allergies have a compounding effect, it’s possible that addressing her bug allergies lessened the effect of other reactions. I don’t know enough about this science to really speak to it, so just noting that it’s possible it wasn’t just the zinc/copper for her.

My vet orders the immunotherapy mixture created for my horse (based on the results of testing) and ships it to me every 8-10 weeks. We are currently on the 1 shot/week schedule. It’s a 1.0mL subcutaneous shot, and she doesn’t mind it at all. There is a loading period where you give a shot every 4 days for for about 10 weeks I think. Ideally, you are supposed to be able to continually increase the interval between shots (every two weeks, every month, etc.) until you no longer need to administer the shots, but that’s dependent on the horse.


I deal with chronic scratches but can usually get it down to just a few tiny spots that I don’t even treat for weeks at a time.

  • Add copper and zinc - someone here even said they dose more than the recommended amount because it seemed like her horse needed that extra.
  • Add Vitamin E - I try to get to 5,000IU total per day across all feeds.
  • Add a probiotic - after treating cellulitis several times, the vet thought we might have killed all the good bacteria from the antibiotics and adding a probiotic might help the good bacteria in the gut and skin recover.
  • My vet recommends using something for 7-10 days and if you don’t see a dramatic improvement, switch to something else. The best for me have been microwaving a jar of furacin and I think 30cc injectable Dex and mixing as well as a homemade mix of 40% zinc oxide, triple antibiotic, hydrocortisone, and clotrimazole.
  • I do not clip anymore, do not wash or scrub the spots, and do not pick at the scabs. I have a small hoof brush to clean off the mud and separate the hair and then apply topicals. My horse cannot wear bell boots, fly boots, etc. that might cause micro-abrasions on his pasterns.
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This is probably me.

I have two horses that need just a LOT of copper and zinc. I don’t know why.

They get a full scoop each of Horsetech poly copper & poly zinc every day. I up that to a scoop and a half when they’re building coat in late summer.

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