Mange Causes, Symptoms and Treatments in Horses

Microscopic view of a mange mite.

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Mange is a skin condition that can really play havoc with a horse's health. There are different types of mange, and the horse can be affected in different areas of the body. It isn’t unusual that draft horses with leg mange can suffer real pain and lameness. Mange elsewhere on the body can be painful and inflamed. While you may be tempted to try home remedies for mange, it's best to work with a veterinarian for the most effective treatment.

Other Names for Mange

Mange, Mange Mites, Ear Mange, Leg Mange, Chorioptes Equi, Demodex Equi, Sarcoptic Mange, Scabies

Causes

Mange is a term that describes a skin condition caused by microscope mites. The mites, called arthropods, are eight-legged parasites that burrow or bite into the horse's skin and cause intense itching. Mange symptoms are more common in the cooler months when the horse's longer coat provides a warm, cozy home for the mites. Mange can be zoonotic and can be transferred to your human or animal family members. Very young horses, senior horses and horses in poor condition are more likely to be affected by mange. If you have even a low power microscope, you may be able to take a small hair sample and see the arthropods crawling on the hair shafts. Certain types of mites seem to inhabit certain places on the body. Some mange mites prefer the ear area, fetlocks, pasterns, between the legs or elsewhere on the body. There is a type of leg mange seen in draft and draft-cross horses with long feathering on their legs. This type of mange can cause severe swelling and lameness. In humans, dogs and cats, mange is sometimes called scabies.

Symptoms

Mange mites feed by piercing the skin or burrowing in it, depending on the type of mite and consuming the fluid. Areas affected by mange will weep fluid, become dry, crusty and red. The horse will be very itchy and to relieve the itch may kick, stamp, roll, bite itself or rub itself on fences or trees, causing more skin damage. If left untreated, the skin will become quite thick and inflamed and the horse will lose condition.

Effects

Horses with mange will be very uncomfortable and can lose weight and energy. Treatment is required to kill the mites and stop the damage to the skin. Mange can spread easily from horse to horse by physical contact, or mange mites can live for short periods of time in warm, damp conditions such as saddle pads, blankets or tack and other items the horse may come in contact with. Since mange is a zoonotic disease, it can be transferred to those animals or humans that come in contact with the horse. Anyone handling horses with mange should wear gloves and wash all equipment to prevent carrying the mites to other people or pets. It takes up to five weeks from contact to the first signs of mange mites. Even if it appears only one horse in a herd has mange, the others must be watched for symptoms.

Treatment

A veterinarian can take a skin scraping and easily determine if mites are the problem. If you have a microscope, even a low power one may be enough to view the mites. The horse will be treated with a aracacide wash and an internal parasite control like Ivermectin may be recommended. The treatment may have to be repeated, and you will have to be vigilant about watching all the herd members because the mites may take up to five weeks to incubate.

Since the mites may persist for a short time on the horse's brushes, tack and stable, all must be washed down to prevent further spread. It's important to wear gloves during the treatment time and take care not to pass the mites on to other people or animals. While there are some who have successfully treated mange mites with natural remedies like neem oil, this may not be something you can take a 'wait and see if this works' attitude with, and it is best to work with your vet to make sure the mites are completely cleared up. In some places, mange may be a reportable disease.

Prevention

Keeping your horse in good health is they key to avoiding many problems. It is a good idea for each horse to have its own tack and brushes. Any new horses brought into a stable should be carefully examined and kept separate if there is any health concern. If you suspect mange or any other skin problem, clean all tack and brushes with the appropriate spray or wash and practice good hygiene — gloves and hand washing — to prevent spread.