Equine Alopecia - What Causes Hair Loss in Horses?
As in humans, Equine Alopecia (hair loss) is not a disease but rather a symptom of an underlying issue or condition. If you discover any signs of hair loss in your horse, it is important to seek the advice of your vet as soon as possible. A good grooming routine will enable you to identify any problems quickly. Many medical conditions are much easier to treat when we identify them early.
What to Look Out For
Alopecia could manifest itself in your horse as patches of hair loss or hair loss across your horse’s entire body. The symptoms to look out for are as follows:
• Patches of missing hair
• Unusual amounts of hair on grooming brushes
• Matted hair
• Thinning of hair
• Flaky skin
• Abnormal redness of skin
The Causes of Equine Alopecia
There are many potential causes of hair loss, some more serious than others, and it can be hard to determine which is in play. This is why it so important to seek guidance from your vet who will be able to explore the full medical history of your horse.
Your vet will look at any previous ailments and injuries and discuss your horse’s health with you. They will ask when you first noticed the hair loss and they may wish to review your horse’s diet. Think carefully about recent days and weeks to ensure that you give your vet as much information as possible.
Having consulted with you, your vet will examine your horse. This will probably include listening to his heart, lungs and digestive tract, checking his blood pressure and weight and also performing a rectal exam. The vet will check the colour of your horse’s gums and will examine muscle function and the lymph nodes. Your horse may require a blood test or urinary analysis if the cause isn’t obvious. If your vet suspects an allergy, they may recommend an allergy test. In addition, if they suspect parasites then they may request a faecal exam.
The possible causes of Alopecia are as follows:
• Dermatophilosis (rain rot)
• Dermatophytosis (ringworm)
• Fungal infection
• Tight fitting saddle or halter
• Auto-immune disease
• Pregnancy or lactating
Treatment for Alopecia
The treatment options will depend on the cause of the hair loss. Mares which have lost hair during a pregnancy may be offered supplements but the hair loss should be temporary. Dermatophilosis may necessitate the removal of any scabs which have formed and your horse will be treated to a nice wash with an antimicrobial shampoo. Dermatophytosis (ringworm) is contagious and vets usually treat this with antibiotics, antifungal shampoo, iodine and creams.
Malnutrition should be addressed by instituting a balanced diet which can be boosted by supplements. Also if a horse has anaemia then the treatment is to administer B12 injections. If owners find an allergy, then they can address this via avoidance but also by administering corticosteroids, antihistamines and allergy shots.
Where parasites are the guilty parties it will be necessary to deworm your horse and to clear stalls and pastures of manure. You can then institute parasite control measures including insecticides, fly sheets and screens.
Fungal infections are normally tackled with a betadine wash down, antibiotics and topical creams. Treatment for autoimmune disease will depend on the disease and which organs have been affected. Vets can address most with anti-inflammatory and corticosteroids medications.
In the majority of cases, horses make a full recovery from alopecia but will need monitoring constantly in case the problem returns. It is also important to keep an eye out for any side effects which develop as a result of the treatments.