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How to tackle scratches?

I think I’ve read every thread on this issue and have had my share of personal experience also. I have no way to keep him in a dry environment as he is on pasture 24/7 with tall grass, so I just need to figure the best way to manage the scratches each fall when they set in.

Here’s my question…to soak off the scabs first or not? That is the part that hurts him, and I read on a vet site that removing the scabs can actually cause more cracks in the skin to form. I usually wash with a fungicide shampoo or chlorhexidine and then follow up with Desitin and a triple antibiotic. But the scabs re-form each day it seems and I hate to keep soaking them off because even spraying to rinse the area after the scabs gently come off hurts him so badly. I kind of just want to apply the stuff on top of the scabs to avoid the painful part.

What do you guys do? I did buy some Equiderma skin lotion to try today!

For the crusts, I have had success in the past using sauerkraut.
Drain pulp, place on crusty areas, wrap overnight.
They peel right off painlessly.

But yes, then prevention is the challenge.

Can his field be mowed?

I mean, it could be, but we’d basically have to scalp it to get it low enough to not get the pasterns wet. It’s thick thick thick bermuda. And the grass carries over into the fall/winter until we have to start feeding hay again, so it’s not a great solution for us.

I think you need to get rid of the surface bacteria. I’ve used equal parts of athlete’s foot cream, dmso, and a topical antibacterial. I use that 3 days in a row, then every other day for 10 days. It’s never not worked.


WRAP. My horses are turned out 24/7 as well in tall grass. And every summer, someone seems to get the start of scratches. I had two horses this year with it, one got it pretty bad.

I get a “magic cream” my vet whips up. I know it’s got an antibiotic, antifungal, and a few others things in it. It works quite well. But it seems to work the best to get the scabs off first (so the medication can get to the sores). I usually wash with a fungalcidal shampoo, soaking for the full 20-30 minutes. Then I can usually use the jet setting on the hose nozzle to spray off the scabs and/or hand pick the rest off. Then let it dry. Then I put a generous amount of the ointment on, and WRAP. Depending on how well my wrap stayed on, I will leave it on 24-48 hours. I don’t rewash but I will re-apply and re-wrap if we need to. My one horse, I did that for a week to take care of his.

I feel the benefit of wrapping, is the scabs will NOT reform under the wrap and then the medication can work round the clock. Seems like the scabs literally come back in a couple hours if you do not wrap, and then the offending fungus/bacteria lock themselves in and just keep proliferating.

Wrapping seems to work the best (on a horse on pasture turnout) to do a loose band of duct tape above the ankle, and then make a duct tape “bottom” that you can wrap around the hoof. This keeps the vetwrap and gauge pad bandaging in place and keeps it from riding up or falling down. Even for a horse on turnout.

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I do not wash, scrub, or pick scratches scabs on my chronic horse as I then risk him blowing up with cellulitis. By removing scabs you are creating openings in the skin, which is risky. I also stopped clipping the legs for this reason.

Diet changes had the biggest impact long-term. For treating active scratches, I will apply different mixes of ointment and gently rub for a few seconds - the scabs that fall off during this process are generally those that are “ready.”


What’s the diet? IME, most chronic scratches (either chronic in the moment, or chronic in that they return every year) are because there’s not enough copper and zinc in the diet. Sometimes it’s about too little vitamin A or E (highly unlikely if they’re on pasture), occasionally not enough selenium.

For treatment in the moment, I like a mix of a tube each of Desitin (40% ZnOx, not 10%), cortisone cream, antibacterial ointment, all generics are fine, mix well, and apply. Start with a washed and dried leg. Clip hair if possible, even if it’s just skimming the surface to remove length above the scabs.

Apply liberally, it will keep moisture off the skin, and facilitate healing and softening the scab. Wipe off - don’t wash. Just wipe when it’s dirty, and apply a new layer. Scabs will start softening and coming off with the wipes. Don’t start picking at scabs, that makes more breaks in the skin. If it’s REALLY bad, it will help to have your vet sedate and clip the leg to remove all the scabs. But if it’s not toooo bad, don’t do that.

Continue that until enough hair has grown back to cover the skin.

I’ve never had to wrap this, but sometimes you might need to.


I don’t ever remove scabs myself but I really have zero luck treating if the scabs are present. So I slather something emollient on to soften the scabs, so they fall off of their own. Petroleum jelly works fine. I’ve also used corona or udder balm. It also helps moisturize the skin, which seems esp important if you’re drying it out with washing.

Then treat with whatever works for you.

This is also the time of year I see scratches pop up in my horses that need extra cu/zn supplementation. If I up their dose, the scratches clears right up.


This is the horse I purchased 2 weeks ago. Had no scratches (also was only turned out at night in former home) when I got him and now he has a small cluster. He is now on pasture 24/7 with wet grass and south Georgia sun.

I’ve used that mixture on my last horse. I can try that again.

I’d just make sure there’s AMPLE copper and zinc to try to prevent this from happening again.


Maybe a photo sensitivity, rather than “true” scratches? Fly boots might help in that case, too :slight_smile:

Congrats on your new horse!


Minor case, but my vet recommended antifungal plus steroid. I mixed hydrocortisone cream and jock itch cream. It worked quickly.

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I have an old horse with chronic scratches. It is not moisture related as we live in the dry, dry, dry desert and he is out in a very large dirt pen with a run in shelter. His scratches blew up pretty bad this past summer with our >100 daily temps and bright sunshine for over 60 consecutive days. My vet has a cream compounded for me that includes triamcinalone (steroid), nystatin (antifungal), gentamycin (antibiotic), and DMSO in a cream base. I paint it on with a paintbrush daily. The particular horse gets worse with wraps but I want to keep the sun off his legs and as much dirt out of the cream as possible. I bought a big roll of stockinette (the stuff they put under casts) from Amazon. It’s like the 6 inch size. I cut a length off for each leg and sleeve it up from the hoof to high over the knee (almost to the top of the leg) so that it drapes down over his whole leg. I then use vet wrap (pretty tight) above the knee to secure it in place, fold the excess down over the vet wrap, and put a wrap or two of duct tape over that. It stays on pretty well. When I go to reapply the cream each day, I simply pull up the stockinette, paint the legs, and then pull the stockinette down again. I do not wash or pick the scabs off, I just keep painting the legs until I have nice pink skin everywhere.


I’m going to order the Mad Barn supplement now!

what’s the current diet?

Pasture grass 24/7, 1 quart of ProElite Senior twice a day (about 3lbs/day), UltraCruz electrolyte, and MSM.

How big is the horse? 3lb of Sr is under-feeding by probably at least half, if he’s at least 1000lb. To that end, I would add 1lb of the Grass Advantage ration balancer, or just switch entirely to the balancer at 1.5-2lb. That will be more copper and zinc than what you’re feeding now, and may be all you need to do at this point.

Then if you can’t really get rid of the scratches, or you do but they come back, then I’d consider supplementing

You’re right. That is one downfall of having our amazing pastures, the horses balloon out on the grass alone. All are fed very little. Although, the seller did feed him just 3 lbs of Strategy per day and that was only on half day turnout, so he is a very easy keeper.
15.3 and about 1100-1200 lbs I’d say.
I hadn’t considered a ration balancer. That would be an option for sure!

Perfect! And simpler. Try just the ration balancer, even at the high end of the feeding rate which is around 2lb for his size, and see what happens :slight_smile:

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Needs some hoof work, but gives you an idea on his current condition.

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