Rain Scald Prevention and Treatment

Rain scald over the horses back and quarters

Rain scald and mud rash are just a couple of the problems that plague horses over the winter months. As the weather begins to change, we are faced with different seasonal skin diseases to deal with in our horses and ponies. Here we take a look at rain scald, where and when it’s likely to strike, prevention, and treatment.

What is Rain Scald?

Rain scald (or Rain Rot) is superficial dermatitis in horses caused by the bacterium Dermatophilus Congolensis.

This bacterium is a normal inhabitant of the skin, but excess moisture and humidity cause dispersal and penetration of the ’spores’ and infection occurs. It is most commonly found along the horse’s back, neck, and head.

The clinical symptoms of the disease are clumps of matted hair with an ovoid-shaped scab underneath. The under surface of the scab will often have hair roots protruding through, giving the appearance of a ‘paint brush’.

Horses are not often itchy with rain scald, but the scabs can be painful to remove as the skin is painful and oozes serum. Severe cases may mean you are unable to ride your horse due to the painful lesions under the saddle area.

Rain Scald on a horse
examples of rain scald

Confirming Diagnosis of Rain Scald

The diagnosis of rain scald can usually be confirmed by clinical symptoms, however, your vet may take a hair sample, skin scrape, or swab to certify the disease.

Prevention of Rain Scald

Good management can easily prevent the condition. Horses should be kept dry with appropriate rugging and stabling in the wet weather.

The condition can be contagious between horses by sharing of grooming brushes; clippers, numnahs, and other equipment, so take sensible precautions regarding biosecurity measures.

If your horse gets caught in a downpour, make sure you thoroughly dry him before placing any rug on.


If your horse gets caught in a downpour, make sure you thoroughly dry him before placing any rug on

Treatment of Rain Scald

Spontaneous recovery can occur between 3-6 weeks, provided appropriate control and group eradication measures are in place. Horses receiving topical treatment will heal faster.

The bacteria are susceptible to chlorhexidine and povidone-iodine washes, and these washes should be used to help remove the scabs and treat the underlying skin lesions.

Topical antibacterial creams can be helpful, and in severe cases, systemic antibiotics may be warranted. Washing grooming brushes in disinfectant and avoiding sharing tack and equipment with other horses will help prevent the spread of the disease.

rain scald over the back of a horse

Horses do not develop immunity to this condition. If your horse has had it once, it may suffer again in the future, in wet conditions.

It is best to consult your vet if you think your horse may have rain scald so they can advise on the most appropriate treatment

Reasons for Treatment Failure

The key is to treat all affected horses. If a chronic carrier is not treated appropriately then they may be a source of infection to other horses.

Repeated exposure to the wet weather will significantly decrease the success of treatment. As well as topical treatment it is vital that appropriate rugging and shelter is provided.

Special care should be taken for the elderly, immuno-suppressed horses, or those diagnosed with Cushing’s disease.

If there is an underlying disease process, your horse may not respond as anticipated to treatment, and advice from your vet should be sought.

Similar conditions – Mud Fever, read more here

Written by Nancy Homewood BVetMed MRCVS.


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