When you have a horse, hair loss is one of those things that you don’t consider being an issue until it happens. There are several reasons a horse might lose hair. It could be due to a variety of different factors including parasites, fungus, allergies and more. Let’s explore some common reasons horses lose hair and what you can do about it.
Why do horses lose hair? Horses may lose hair for a variety of different reasons including parasites, fungi, allergies, skin infections and more.
Causes of Hair Loss in Horses
Ringworm is an example of a common fungal infection that could cause hair loss in a horse. Worse yet, it is contagious to humans.
Though the name can be deceiving, ringworm does not involve a worm at all. There are several different types of ringworm that can affect horses but they typically have similar symptoms.
The first signs of ringworm in horses are small, raised spots. Usually these are circular in shape. (source)
As the infection progresses, the skin may become scabby or scaly and the hair will start to fall off. The horse may also be itchy.
If ringworm is suspected, care should be taken immediately to avoid grooming or blanketing the horse until the organism can be irradiicated.
Ringworm spores are easily spread by grooming and brushes which have not been cleaned or sterilized can easily spread the infection throughout an entire herd. See my article on disinfecting grooming brushes for help in that area.
The basic course of treatment is to wash the horse with an antifungal shampoo and treat with an antifungal ointment. (source)
Luckily, both can typically be purchased over the counter at any drug store. Repeated treatments may be necessary and the horse should be quarantined until fully recovered.
Rain rot is a common bacterial infection that causes irritation and hair loss for horses. It is typically seen on the back and top line but can appear anywhere on the horses body.
Rain Rot is caused by a bacteria that loves damp areas. If you have ever seen the way water flows off of a wet horse, you can kind of see the outline for the areas where rain rot is most likely to appear. But, keep in mind that rain rot can affect any part of the body.
Rain rot is typically first seen by raised patches or clumps or hair. These are often easily picked off or removed with grooming.
The best and most effective treatment for rain rot involves first bathing the horse with an antimicrobial shampoo and then ensuring that they dry completely.
Keep in mind this bacteria prefers damp environments so you will want to keep the horse as dry as possible. This may involve bringing him into the barn until the condition fully resolves.
On severely affected horses, clipping may help as it shortens the hair shaft allowing it to dry ore quickly as well as gives a nice base for which to apply antimicrobial sprays routinely.
Although the bacteria that causes rain rot exists normally on every horses skin, it is best to disinfect blankets and grooming supplies used on an affected horse.
Rain rot is caused when this bacteria multiplies excessively and there is no reason to introduce high amounts of the bacteria to otherwise healthy horses.
Scratches is another common reason for hair loss in horses. Like rain rot, this too is caused by a bacterial infection.
Scratches are most commonly observed on the lower legs of a horse, especially on legs with white or unpigmented skin.
Like rain rot, this typically starts as scabbing and, as the scabs come off so does the horse’s hair. Inflammation and swelling is also common. (source)
While rain rot most commonly occurs on the horse’s top line, it can appear on the lower body and legs as well. Fortunately, treatment for either is usually the same.
Some horses develop a condition commonly called “Cannon Crud” on the front of their cannons. This is more common on the hind cannons than the front however, it can appear either place.
The conditions technical name is Cannon Dermatitis or Canon Keratosis. It is caused by an inflammation of the skin. (source)
Because skin conditions can be caused by a variety of different things, its best to have your veterinarian look at your horses hind legs before beginning treatment so that you can be sure you are treating the right thing.
Cannon crud can be treated a variety of different ways but, most commonly is treated with specialized shampoo. I, personally, have used Betadine shampoo with pretty good success to clear this up in a number of horses. However, your veterinarian will be best able to provide a recommendation for an appropriate treatment.
In this category we have the living organisms that may cause hair loss in horses. These are typically insects though some are microscopic whereas others are visible to the naked eye. Let’s have a look at some of the parasites that can cause hair loss in horses.
Mange is a skin parasite typically associated with dogs but did you know that it can affect horses as well?
There are actually different types of mange. Sarcoptic mange and psoroptic mange. Both can cause hair loss in horses and both are contagious to humane as well so care must be taken when treating or handling a horse with mange. (source)
A horse with mange will typically be very itchy and want to scratch or rub himself on anything and everything available.
You may notice scabs and missing hair here the mite is active. If mange is suspected, a veterinarian will typically take a skin scraping and look at it under a microscope to be sure.
Treatments for mange may vary depending on the type of mange involved and the severity for which your horse is affected. Usually an insecticide is applied to the affected area to kill the mites.
Because horses tend to rub a lot when they have mange, in some cases the veterinarian may have to prescribe antibiotics for any infections that have been caused due to rubbing and itching. (source)
Lice is yet another parasite that can cause hair lice in horses. This parasite is transmitted from horse to horse usually through direct contact or grooming equipment.
The good thing about horse lice is that it is usually easy to tell that a horse has lice. You should be able to notice the small, rice sized lice crawling through your horse’s mane and tail.
If you are like me you probably just got the heebie jeebies thinking about that. Don’t worry, horse lice are not contagious to humans.
It doesn’t make it any less creepy but, while they can get on us, they can’t live on us. Nevertheless, the sooner you treat your horse the better he will feel.
For an in-depth article about the types of lice, how horses get it and how you can treat it, check out my post: Horse Lice: Types, Transmission and Treatment.
Flies are another live element that can cause horses to lose hair. Some horses may have a higher sensitivity than others to the saliva of flies when they bite and the resulting mild allergic reaction can cause their hair to fall out.
Typically you will see horses (and burros) affected mostly on their face, legs and bellies. Usually you can feel individual raised bumps or scabs but, if a horse is very allergic these may kind of meld together and not be discernible.
Because the cause is flies, the best treatment is to keep the area clean, dry and fly free. That means applying fly spray in mild cases and, in more severe cases, making use of fly masks, sheets and fly boots to protect the horse from the flies.
Additionally, several stable management practices can be undertaken to reduce flies such as covering the manure bin, feed through fly control, fly spray systems, etc.
Hair Loss for Benign Reasons
Tight Fitting Tack
Tight fitting tack can cause hair to rub off as well. This is particularly noticeable for halters that are too tight as well as saddles and cinches most commonly though any tight fitting tack could cause the issue. Breast collars, for example, commonly cause hair loss on the front of the shoulders if they are too tight.
Fortunately, this one is pretty easy to figure out and very easy to fix. If you find that your horse is only losing hair UNDER areas where the tack sits, you can start there as a cause and adjust your tack or change it for new tack that fits your horse appropriately.
Remember that not all pieces of tack are universal so, if you have two horses, you may need two different halters or two different breast collars, for example.
Heat and Sweat
Some horses absolutely hate having their face washed. They’ll fight and toss their head and strongly resist. This can lead to an accumulation of sweat and dirt on the horses face. On some horses, this will cause hair loss.
The best way to alleviate this type of hair loss is to make sure the horse’s face and head is thoroughly rinsed after each workout. For horses that are resistant to having their face hosed, you may try a wet rag first and then work your way up to sponging the horses face.
When all else fails, you may just need to spend the time to teach your horse to accept having his face washed. Most horses can be trained to accept it and some even enjoy it.
Sometimes hair loss is just caused by the horse rubbing with no other underlying cause. This could be a horse that is simply itchy or, most commonly, a stalled horse sticking his head through the fence to get a better look out.
When horses are stabled in pipe corrals, often there will be tell tale black rub marks on either side of the horse’s neck. With wood or plastic fences, this may not be so evident.
The fix here is simple. The gap in the corral needs to be closed enough so the horse can’t fit his head through. This can be done with mesh or by simply moving the horse into another corral with tighter spacing.
Manes and tails can also be chewed by neighboring horses. This most commonly happens with mares who have foals at side or, any horse that is stabled with a young foal.
Most young foals have a penchant for chewing on hair, especially easy to reach tail hair. Whether it’s due to exploration or teething I’m not sure but it is easy to come out to find your mare’s whole tail chewed off from one day to the next.
Some horses will continue to chew manes and tails throughout their life. In order to prevent your entire stable from loosing their tail, those horses, once identified, should not be turned out unsupervised with others.
In the case of a young foal who cannot be separated from it’s mother, you might try bagging her tail and/or spraying commercially available chew deterrent on the hairs.
For my mares, I kept things simple and used diluted soap on the tail hairs (no contact with the skin). This cheap and easy fix works for me anytime I have a mare with foal at side. The baby usually tries it once, decides the tail tastes really bad and then doesn’t try again.
How Long Will It Take for The Hair to Grow Back?
Don’t fret. In almost all cases of hair loss in horses, the hair will grow back. It may feel like it is taking ages but the reality is, it should only take a matter of weeks for body hair to grow back.
Mane and tail hair will also start to grow back during this period but, unfortunately, it may take many months for the hair to match the length of the existing mane and tail hairs.
The earlier you notice an issue and begin treatment, the less hair your horse will lose and the more quickly his coat or mane and tail will return to normal.
When to Call A Veterinarian
Most skin infections for horses is simple enough to treat at home if you know what the issue is. That can be the hard part is bacterial and fungal infections, in particular, tend to have a similar look. A veterinarian can usually quickly and accurately identify the type of skin issue your horse has and recommend the best treatment based on the size and type of issue.
If the hair loss on your horse is affecting a large portion of his body or is accompanied by other symptoms such as loss of appetite, loss of energy, coughing, runny nose, fever or any other illness, you will definitely want to have your veterinarian check for a more serious, underlying condition.
Remember, too, that it is a lot easier to treat one horse for a skin issue than to have to treat the whole herd. Quarantine and thorough disinfection of tack and grooming supplies will help prevent contagious skin conditions from spreading throughout the barn.