Horses and Sunburn
Extreme temperatures are rare in the UK, indeed sunny days of any kind can be a little thin on the ground. This makes it easy to overlook the possibility of your horse getting burnt. But they can suffer from sunburn, particularly if they are at pasture throughout the summer months.
It is the pigment in hair and skin which protects horses from harmful UV rays so areas of white are vulnerable to sunburn, particularly hairless areas. It is a horse’s face and heels which are at the greatest risk.
How Harmful is Sunburn?
In many cases sunburn merely causes discomfort, redness and possibly peeling. In these cases the damage will clear up fairly quickly. But repeated episodes may result in long term issues which are best avoided. Here, the skin can thicken and this can then lead to skin cancer.
Prevention Is Better than Cure
As with most health related issues, it is far better to prevent sunburn than to be faced with treating it. So what can you do?
Always ensure that your field features a shady area where your horse can escape the sun. Unfortunately some horses will keep grazing even in extreme heat and so further protection may be necessary. It will help if you apply sun lotion but that can be easier said than done! If lotions prove tricky to apply then try using sunblock sticks. If you use coloured sun blocks then it is easier to see if you have missed any areas of exposed skin.
Head and muzzle masks are a good investment as are rugs if your horse has vulnerable areas on its body.
What Should You Do If Your Horse Does Get Burnt?
If your prevention measures fail and your horse does suffer from sunburn then you should bring them inside until their skin has healed. If the skin is blistered then you must seek help from your vet. They can prescribe antibiotics if infection sets in, otherwise treatment will usually involves bathing and the application of emollient creams.
If your horse seems prone to skin issues despite your best efforts then they could be suffering from photosensitisation. This is an abnormal reaction to UV light. Photosensitisation is a condition which afflicts horses when there are certain reactive compounds in their circulation. These compounds can be found in some drugs, dyes and plants including St John’s Wort, buttercups and cow parsley. If the underlying cause of the problem is removed then the condition can be effectively addressed.
However, photosensitisation may also be the result of liver damage and that is often caused by ingesting ragwort. If your horse’s liver is damaged then its prognosis will likely be poor. It is always best to seek veterinary advice if you spot damages skin as it may not prove possible to improve your horse’s condition until the cause of the problem has been identified.