No one likes red, itchy feet, especially your horse. A quick fix, one might think, is to slather some salve on your horse’s red or crusty skin, and it’ll just go away, but pastern dermatitis in horses can’t be fixed by store-bought lotions. In fact, covering up the lesions, scabs or crust can make the problem worse. If left untreated, the problem on your horse’s legs could lead to frustration, discomfort and soundness issues, according to Kentucky Equine Research.

“Pastern dermatitis simply refers to redness, irritation, crusting, and hair loss on the posterior aspect, or back, of the pasterns. There are actually multiple causes of this condition, including bacteria, fungi, and mites. As such, there is no single cure for dermatitis,” explains Laura Petroski-Rose, a veterinarian with Kentucky Equine Research. Pastern dermatitis is associated with scratches, mud fever and greasy heel.

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recent study conducted by a team led by Linda Frank, an equine veterinarian at the University of Tennessee, examines common causes of pastern dermatitis to narrow down exact symptoms to each cause. Researchers used 15 horses with pastern dermatitis and eight without. Bacteria is a prominent cause of pastern dermatitis; therefore, researchers administered a newly developed DNA-based test on all the horses. It tests for the bacterium Dermatophilus congolensis, which is a widely assumed cause of pastern dermatitis. After the DNA-based test, researchers examined skin scrapings and performed physical exams.

“The veterinary researchers found that, despite being thought of as a common cause of pastern dermatitis, Dermatophilus congolensiswas identified in only one of the horses with pastern dermatitis,” relays Petroski-Rose. “In contrast, the miniscule mite Chorioptes equiwas far more prevalent, particularly in feathered horses.” The longer hair on horses’ legs are called feathers, typical of horses with draft heritage. In this long hair, mites, bacterium and fungi can hide.

The results conclude that four of the 15 horses afflicted with pastern dermatitis were feathered, and all four had chorioptic mange. Fungal infection wasn’t a cause in any of the study’s horses. Treatment for the bacterium and the mites differ, which is why treatment by a veterinarian is highly encouraged as soon as symptoms appear. However, mites are invisible to the naked eye and can spread to humans. With upkeep and observation, pastern dermatitis need not become a severe issue.