Sunday, June 17, 2012

Rain Rot – Prevention & Treatment

What is Rain Rot?
Rain Rot is a nasty little fungus that occurs on horses during rainy or wet weather.  The fungus is always present in the dirt, but it needs moisture to actually affect the skin of the horse.  Rain Rot can often be felt before it is seen.  It will form scabs under the hair, against the skin.  It is most commonly on the top line and belly of a horse.  Removing the scabs and exposing the infection to air is the first step in treatment.  How early you discover the infection and remove the scabs will determine what you will find under the scabs, and how long treatment will take.  I usually catch it early because I am always looking for it. More often than not, I catch it before it spreads much and simply exposing it to air works.  If you catch it early, you may remove the scabs to find inflamed skin, but if you don’t catch it early, you will remove the scabs and find pus trapped below them.  Early detection is the key to a shorter treatment time.

The best prevention that I have found is actually a good grooming routine that is done daily.  It removes excess dirt from the horse’s coat, thus removing the fungus before moisture can be added.  This is not 100% effective on every horse.  I have one horse that no matter how much I groom or how dry the weather gets during the summer, she always gets Rain Rot during the summer months.  Why?  She gets Rain Rot during the summer because when she gets hot, she will go roll in the pond, then come back to the barn and roll in the dirt under the run-in, and finally drip dry.  That is the perfect combination for Rain Rot to take hold in.  The most that I can do for her is to treat the spots where she gets it, and try to minimize it as much as possible.

How to treat Rain Rot.
There are numerous products on the market to treat Rain Rot, or at least that are marketed for the treatment of Rain Rot.  I’ve used exactly one of them!  Shapley’s M-T-G (Mane-Tail-Growth) works well, and the oil in it conditions the hair for regrowth.  I’ve also heard that it really encourages mane and tail growth.  The sulfur powder in it kills the fungus that causes Rain Rot. 
If you look outside the products marketed specifically for horses, there are some very good options.  I used to work with a lady that swore that a mixture of 50% Bleach/50% hot water, and a good stiff brush would kill Rain Rot in one treatment. I never could bring myself to use this method because it involved scrubbing all of the scabby places with the stiff brush and the bleach/water mixture.  That just sounded too painful.  Have you ever gotten bleach into a cut or scrape?  It burns like crazy, and most people are going to expect their horse to stand quietly to have this done.  I really don’t see it happening, but there will be people that expect it. 
The original amber Listerine will also treat Rain Rot.  If you’ve ever used it, you know it burns like crazy, but it works.  I’ve also heard that Listerine will encourage mane and tail growth because it kills anything that may impede growth.
Athlete’s Foot cream or powder will also treat Rain Rot.  I personally like using Apple Cider Vinegar. It’s acidic enough to kill the fungus and it also repels flies and mosquitoes.
Treatment often depends on the severity of the infection, personal preference and time.  Regardless of the product that you choose to treat Rain Rot, the scabs that form at the base of the hair need to be removed.  This process can be painful, so do not be surprised if your horse moves around some trying to avoid the pain.  It’s necessary to expose the infected area to air and to get the medication directly on the infected area.  Depending on the time of year, you can bathe the horse. The scabs getting wet will often make them come off easier.  If you take this route, be sure to get as many of the scabs off as possible while the horse is still wet, and use a sweat scraper to remove the excess water.  If it is too cold to bathe, you can use hot water and a wash cloth to soften the scabs over a small area, then move on to the next area, as necessary.  If the infection is caught early, before it spreads, this is usually the simplest way to remove the scabs. If you don’t have a hot water tank at the barn, you can simply bring a thermos of hot water from home.

How to prevent spreading Rain Rot to other Horses.
Rain Rot can be spread from horse to horse by brushes, blankets, and anything that comes in contact with their skin. Those same items can re-infect the same horse again without proper disinfection of those items.  The wash cloths that I use at the barn are just the cheapest ones that I can find, so if I need to throw them away, it’s no big deal.  To disinfect them, I fill the kitchen sink with hot water, add 1 cup of bleach and let them soak, then wash them with a regular load of towels.
To disinfect my brushes I fill the kitchen sink with hot water, add ½ cup of Lysol or Bleach and let them soak for about 15 minutes, then rinse them thoroughly.  I like to use Lysol because it suds up a little, so you can tell when it’s completely rinsed out of your brushes.  Air dry the brushes outside in direct sun light. **Note: If any of your brushes have wooden handles, do not soak them.  Simply dip the bristles of the brush in the sink repeatedly and rinse thoroughly trying to keep the handle as dry as possible.  Soaking a wooden- handled brush can cause the handle to start losing the bristles and ruin the brush.
If you blanket your horse while it has Rain Rot, which I would not suggest, you will need to disinfect your blanket as well.  I usually take blankets to the nearest laundry mat, and wash them with hot water, and color safe bleach.  Wash them again with just hot water, to make sure all of the detergent and bleach are removed from the blanket.  During the winter, I will dry them in the dryer, but during the summer I will line-dry them in direct sunlight.

While Rain Rot is a common fungus to deal with, especially in humid climates, it is a simple one to prevent and treat.  While prevention is key, treatment is usually simple.