Wednesday, January 7, 2009


What started out as a minor problem involving a common mishap developed into an ongoing medical situation for my daughter’s horse, Ben. Either while he was being ridden, or from just running and playing in the field, Ben had forged with a back foot, striking the heel of his front foot with a back hoof. He opened a sore about the size of a quarter which in itself wouldn’t have been a problem, but his pasture was a field of deep mud and Ben quickly developed scratches.

My daughter is not able to go out to her boarding facility on a daily basis, was gone over the Thanksgiving holiday and therefore was not able to monitor Ben’s condition. With his fetlocks covered in a constant state of moisture from the mud, the scratches were not discovered in a timely matter. So an open sore developed into scratches, then progressed into an infection and cellulitis - needing a veterinarian’s care and weeks of recovery.

What is "Scratches"?
Scratches is an infection of the heels and pasterns characterized by scabby, cracked areas which can be swollen and hot to the touch. Horses also display tender feet, and sometimes lameness. It is most often associated with wet, muddy or marshy areas and is usually caused by bacteria but fungus is also a consideration. Photosensitivity seems to be interrelated, possibly predisposing some horses to infection, as it seems that horses with white feet are more susceptible to scratches and the same scabby, cracked areas can be seen on the white areas of some horses’ noses.

The key element in the treatment of scratches is to keep the feet clean and dry. The infected areas should be washed with an antibiotic solution and then treated with a combination of medications - each veterinarian has their own proprietary blend of these basic ingredients.
  • nitrofurazone,
  • DMSO,
  • and an antifungal ointment.
Nitrofurazone is an antibiotic; DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide) is an anti-inflammatory and also helps move the treatment deeper into the tissues; and I’ve found that Desenex is a good antifungal ointment.

Because Ben had developed cellulitis, his treatment got even more involved with the administration of Bute, sweat wrapping, cold hosing, oral antibiotics and as he got better, mild exercise.

Ben is now back to his normal self and my daughter has found a different boarding facility where he won't be kept in a field of mud, but also will have better supervision for when she cannot be there to keep an eye on him.

Another remedy which can work for scratches - depending on when in the cycle you catch it - is gall salve, which is a treatment for most any minor wound, chafe or scrape on horses.

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