Equine Pastern Dermatitis: Stay a Stride 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,” explainws award-winning veterinary dermatologist, research author and full Professor Rosanna Marsella, DVM, of the University of Florida (Gainesville) College of Veterinary Medicine.

Anyone that 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.

“Compromised immune systems stop a horse from healthfully handling its normal every day environment. Anyone out there dealing with rescued equine knows that in almost all cases, the immune system of a rescue animal is a train wreck and EPD issues are common,” continued Petterson, who annually contributes a substantial number of SFH Whinny Warmers and Silver Whinnys Sox 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 Dr. 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, veterinarians like Dr. Marsella advise, 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 may not be so simple to amend. Against photosensitivity, allergies to pasture growths or long term muddy footing, compromised immune systems cannot 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 (formerly Summer Whinnys Silver) made by Sox For Horses Inc. help owners control otherwise “uncontrollable” factors.

Bacteria and fungi need trapped heat and moisture in an airless environment to propagate. “That," Petterson continued, “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. 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,” said Petterson, “keeping the legs cool and the skin surface is dry. 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 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.

Veterinarian recommended. Owner referred. Horse approved. Sox For Horses® Inc. (SFH) is the first company to bring antimicrobial yarn solutions to the equine horsewear industry with the mission of helping owners, trainers and veterinarians better help equines by providing exceptional leg protection, high quality function and durability, and cutting-edge yarn science. 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 (formerly 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.