Peeling or Sloughing Skin in Horses

Key Takeaways

Peeling or sloughing skin in horses is characterized as an area of the body where the skin has begun to lose its surface layer. 

• Generally appears as flaking or patches of skin that are missing or damaged

• Often seen alongside hair loss, inflammation, and redness

• The affected areas are often painful to the touch

• The causes of skin peeling/sloughing can include cellulitis, photosensitization, and pressure sores

• Diagnostics involve physical examination, skin biopsy, blood work, and specific bacterial or viral testing

• Treatment depends on the underlying condition

• Some treatments that may be utilized are surgery, antibiotics, hydrotherapy, and topical treatments

• This condition is not common in horses, but the risk of infection requires prompt intervention

A Closer Look: What is Peeling or Sloughing Skin in Horses?

This symptom is uncommon in horses, but horses with open skin sores are at risk of developing secondary bacterial infections. Horses with peeling or sloughing skin require prompt veterinary care to begin treatment. Horses that show symptoms such as swelling of the limbs and small red spots on the gums require immediate veterinary intervention, as they may have the life-threatening condition strangles (purpura hemorrhagica).

Possible Causes

Possible causes of peeling skin in horses include

• Decubital ulcers (pressure sores from prolonged laying down)

Cellulitis

• Vesicular stomatitis

• Photosensitization, typically associated with liver disease

• Purpura hemorrhagica from strangles infection

Risk Factors

The severity of sloughing is directly related to the surface area that is covered by the peeling/sloughing. This can range from a small patch of skin to multiple limbs/areas affected. Horses that have large areas affected are typically very painful, and may have limited mobility or show signs of lameness.

Testing and Diagnosis

After completing a physical examination and medical history, a number of tests can be done to determine the underlying cause, including:

• Blood work

• Ultrasound

• Skin biopsy

• Testing for viral or bacterial disease

Treatment will vary based on the cause of the sloughing but can include:

• Antibiotics

• Bandaging

• Stall rest

• Surgical debridement of dying tissue

• Hydrotherapy (cold hosing)

• Topical wound treatments

Similar symptoms

Peeling or sloughing skin is usually self-evident, and is not easily confused with other symptoms.

Associated Symptoms

• Inflammation

• Redness

• Hair loss around affected area

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