August 20, 2021 5 min read
After learning about some interesting ways equestrians manage equine scratches, I decided to patrol horse advice forums to see what people were recommending. The things I learned were astonishing. Desperate equestrians struggling to manage equine scratches were willing to use a wide variety of substances on their horse’s skin, the majority of which were not designed to touch anyone’s skin, not even the humans that are supposed to be using them. Be warned of the advice you get online. You could be doing more damage than good, even if “HorseGirl83” swears it works.
At Zarasyl, we believe the horse comes first. So, we decided to write this blog to debunk some of these “home remedies” and spread the word that these tips are NOT how you should be managing equine scratches.
One of the most common suggestions I saw while patrolling the forums was to curry off all the scabs and remove all loose hair from your horse’s cannon bones in an attempt to manage equine scratches. Aggressive and excessive grooming can actually weaken the already-damaged skin further. Picking off the scabs just leaves larger openings for bacteria to breach the skin barrier and cause more problems, such as secondary infections like cellulitis. Remember the number one rule: don’t scratch scratches!
I’ve heard bleach solutions recommended for a variety of hoof conditions, such as thrush, but this was the first time I’ve heard of it being used straight on the horse’s skin. Bleach is not designed to be used on anyone’s skin. Remember, when we use bleach to clean an organic substance like mold, we use it to kill the offending fungus or bacteria. And it’s very good at its job of killing organic matter. Sure, it will kill any bacteria or fungal spores on your horse’s skin, but it will also damage good cells and healthy organic matter, which only prolongs your horse’s case of scratches. Managing equine scratches with a bleach solution will only dry out and weaken your horse’s dermal barrier, thus irritating the skin further.
Similar to bleach, hydrogen peroxide is a great sanitizer and bleaching agent. With antiviral properties, hydrogen peroxide is ideal for killing germs on doorknobs and countertops. However, the days when it was advisable to use it as a wound cleanser are long gone. According to the Cleveland Clinic, hydrogen peroxide irritates the skin and prevents wounds from healing. While most people don’t think of managing equine scratches as treating a wound, the truth is that scratches is a series of abrasions in the skin surface, essentially dozens of small open sores. If you wouldn’t use it on a wound, then you shouldn’t use it on equine scratches.
Several members of one forum swore that their horse’s scratches went away after wrapping sauerkraut onto the leg with plastic wrap. In theory, the acidity of sauerkraut will lower the pH of the skin, making it inhospitable to bacteria. Unfortunately, this sounds more like a recipe for a great reuben than something that will actually heal your horse’s dermatitis. There is no scientific evidence to support this claim. It’s important to remember that sauerkraut is not packaged in a sanitary medical facility. There’s a possibility of bacterial growth, particularly in the heat created by the saran wrap around your horse’s legs. The combination of trapping heat close to the skin plus bacteria plus an open wound sounds like a recipe for secondary infection.
Many forum users recommended over-the-counter cortisone when managing equine scratches. In truth, hydrocortisone ointments and creams can be very useful in many aspects of horse care and may even be recommended by your veterinarian. However, most equestrians fail to realize that even non-prescription hydrocortisone is still a steroid. If used too close to the start of a competition, it could cause your horse to test positive for drug use. When better options like a steroid-free barrier cream exist, it doesn’t make sense to try and use hydrocortisone cream to manage equine scratches on a competition horse.
One of the most repeated “horse hacks” of all time, yellow listerine is supposed to be the answer to a wide variety of equine skin issues, like rain rot, scratches, scurf, and any type of dermatitis. Let’s take a look at the ingredients of listerine: essential oils from thyme and eucalyptus, as well as menthol, methyl salicylate, alcohol, and benzoic acid. The minty freshness of menthol and methyl salicylate may taste great in our mouthwash, but can cause stinging and irritation when used on wounds. The alcohol will kill bacteria, but also dry out the skin and make it harder for the wound to heal.
Benzoic acid is used to prevent microbial growth, which may be useful in preventing secondary infections. However, side effects of benzoic acid are listed as a burning sensation and irritation. While yellow listerine may kill bacteria, you could get yourself kicked while trying to apply it to the cannon bones thanks to the stinging sensation it creates. It may also prolong the time your horse’s scratches takes to heal as it dries out the skin.
Using Vicks Vaporub to manage equine scratches was an interesting piece of advice that I saw repeated throughout the forums. Initially, the benefits of Vaporub sound pretty good. Its effects as a topical analgesic could help to relieve any pain or discomfort associated with equine scratches. But the product label reveals some very problematic ingredients.
Camphor is commonly used as a respiratory stimulant, which is why it’s used in Vicks Vaporub, but that’s also why it’s listed as a prohibited substance by USEF. While topical application of prohibited drugs does not always cause a positive test result, repeated use prior to an event may cause your horse to test positive at its next show. Menthol is also listed as an active ingredient. This cooling substance can often create a burning sensation and irritate the skin. While Vicks Vaporub could potentially relieve pain, it could also cause positive drug results, further irritate the skin, and do nothing to actually promote healing.
The combination of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol was one of the more painful “remedies” that I found on a forum. The user explained that the white vinegar would lower the pH of the skin, making it inhospitable to bacteria and fungal spores, while the rubbing alcohol would sanitize and cause the scabs to fall off. Unfortunately, this combination will also drastically dry out your horse’s skin, reducing its ability to heal and further weakening the dermal barrier. Both the vinegar and alcohol cause stinging sensations when they come in contact with open wounds, making this tip for managing equine scratches very uncomfortable and painful for the horse.
Bottom line: if a cleaning product says to wear gloves while using it, it’s probably not a good idea to pour it all over your horse. Stick to using products designed to be safe for horses. Zarasyl equine barrier cream is steroid and antibiotic-free and contains no irritating or toxic substances. Its FEI & race-day safe high-tech amorphous silica formula is tailored to promote wound healing and overall skin health. Check out our case studies to see the success other equestrians have reported with Zarasyl.