Equine Pastern Dermatitis: Stay a Step Ahead or Ignore at Your Horse's Peril

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“EPD is not a specific diagnosis. It is a syndrome. A term--scratches, dew poisoning, greasy heel, mud fever, foot rot, cracked heels--to describe cutaneous lesions caused by a variety of diseases that affect the lower legs of horses,” explained award-winning veterinary dermatologist, research author and full Professor, Rosanna Marsella, DVM, of the University of Florida (Gainesville) College of Veterinary Medicine.

Anyone who has owned a horse suffering from severe, non-responding and various manifestations of equine pastern dermatitis (EPD) knows these are not skin conditions cured with a simple application of Desitin or A&D ointment. Severe cases change not only the quality of an equine's life, but its owner’s as well. The financial cost of healing is compounded by added stress and countless hours of care.

“It is not only alarming to see such skin conditions manifest,” said Ray Petterson, president and founder nearly a decade ago of Sox for Horses pull-on leg protection, “it is even more frightening, if you've faced it in prior seasons, to know the long trail you'll have ahead digging for the reason behind the problem.”

Allergies to environmental conditions such as food allergies, insects, pasture growth, or inability of a horse’s immune system to handle pernicious bacteria and fungi are among the contributing factors to EPD. Photosensitivity (the skin’s reaction to UV rays in sunlight) can not only be a cause, but also contribute to worsening cases of vasculitis.

“A compromised immune system stops a horse from healthfully handling its normal, everyday environment. Anyone out there dealing with a rescued equine knows that in almost all cases, the immune system of a rescue animal is a train wreck and EPD issues are common,” said Petterson, who annually contributes a substantial number of Whinny Warmers and Summer Whinnys Silver Sox for Horses to rescues and equines in need.

A veterinarian's role is to help an owner start the process of research and discovery that can help lead to the internal healing of an equine suffering with EPD, said Petterson, citing Marsella: “Since the list (of potential causes) is extensive, it is important to address secondary infections first and treat the treatable, and reassess once the infections are resolved. It is important to address pastern dermatitis as early as possible, as in chronic cases it can be particularly difficult to diagnose the underlying cause.”*

Staphylococcus, or 'staph,' is among the common bacteria that drive secondary infection. Delaying treatment of sores and wounds sets the stage for more serious problems as your horse’s immune system, already compromised, falls under further stress fighting secondary infections.

The first line of defense to a multi-headed hydra like EPD? Changing your horse's diet can help offset feed-driven allergies, but other contributing factors might not be so simple to amend. Against photosensitivity, allergies to pasture growths or long-term muddy footing, compromised immune systems can not effectively combat environmental bacteria and fungi, or biting insects spreading disease from animal to animal.

“You can’t change the weather,” said Petterson, “and you can't always change where you keep your horse.”

That's where Silver Whinnys (also known as Summer Whinnys Silver) made by Sox For Horses, Inc. help owners exercise control over those otherwise “uncontrollable” factors.

Bacteria and fungi need trapped heat and moisture in an airless environment to propagate. “That pretty much sums up the environment offered by the wraps and bandages most commonly used to protect skin conditions on the legs while they heal," said Petterson. "Traditional bandaging impedes airflow, holds in moisture and allows heat to build up. You are darned if you don’t wrap and you are darned if you do.”

Silver Whinnys pull-on socks are made specifically for equine legs. Because they are knitted, they allow valuable air to reach the skin's surface. The uniquely embedded silver in the yarn for Silver Whinnys inhibits the growth of bacteria and fungi in the socks while the wicking/moisture-managing qualities of the yarn pull moisture away from the skin.

“This accomplishes two vital functions, keeping the legs cool and the skin surface is dry," noted Petterson. "Even in mud and wet weather, Silver Whinnys have been proven to keep actual skin surface dry and clean.”

Double-layered Silver Whinnys also help protect skin from harmful direct sunlight known to exacerbate and even cause EPD. In study after study, Silver Whinnys by Sox For Horses, Inc. have proven a better alternative to traditional bandaging.

“Silver Whinnys cannot cure dermatitis issues,” he noted. “But they do offer owners and veterinarians a way to protect the skin and control secondary infection while ruling out contributing factors. The silver lining is that an owner's rapid response and due diligence, combined with medications chosen as a result of the necessary research conducted by the a veterinarian, can resolve most of these issues.”

The protocol for using machine-washable/dryable Silver Whinnys as leg protection for EPD issues is to replace with clean socks every 24 hours. In extreme cases, changing socks twice daily.

Sox for Horses Inc. welcomes custom protective garment building projects for any animal that may help result in relief of suffering due to dermatitis issues.

Sox For Horses, Inc. (SFHs) is the first company to bring antimicrobial yarn solutions to the equine horsewear industry. The Sox For Horses, Inc. mission is to help owners, trainers and veterinarians better help equines by providing exceptional leg protection with high levels of quality, function and durability, through optimal use of cutting-edge yarn science. Through growth and opportunity, Sox For Horses, Inc. makes a difference in the lives of people and animals, supporting equine and animal rescue organizations while adding jobs in American manufacturing. Whinny Warmers with Celiant and Silver Whinnys (also known as Summer Whinnys Silver) are Made In America. Visit www.soxforhorses.com or call Sox For Horses, Inc. 850-907-5724 to find the socks to fit your horse.

* Reference: Approach to Equine Pastern Dermatitis, by Rosanna Marsella, DVM, DACVD, published Issue 1, 2014 FAEP “The Practitioner” a publication written for the benefit of sharing information among veterinarians and other equine health care professionals.