Mange in Horses

A Skin Disease with Serious Health Implications

Mange mite
Microscopic view of a mange mite.

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Mange is a skin condition that can play havoc with a horse's health. There are many different types of mange; just a few of the more common varieties include ear mange, leg mange, sarcoptic mange, and scabies. Horses with leg mange can suffer significant pain and lameness, while mange elsewhere on the body can be painful and inflamed. You may be tempted to try home remedies for mange, but it's best to work with a veterinarian for the most effective treatment.

Symptoms/Signs of Mange in Horses

Mange mites feed by piercing the skin or burrowing in it, depending on the type of mite and consuming the fluid. Signs and symptoms are usually very evident:

  • 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.
  • Horses with mange will be very uncomfortable and can lose weight and energy.

Causes of Mange

Mange is 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.

Mange can spread easily from horse to horse by physical contact, and 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

Mites are diagnosed by a veterinarian who will take a scraping and use a microscope to view the mites. 

Once mites are identified, the horse will be treated with an 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, 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.

How to Prevent Mange

Keeping your horse in good health is the 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.