Mange in Horses

A Rare but Irritating Skin Disease in Horses

itchy horse

Jose A. Bernat Bacete / Getty Images 

Mange is a skin condition caused by mites. Now rare in the United States, mange is an extremely itchy and irritating condition and severe mite infestations can damage the skin. Read further to learn more about this skin disease and what to do about it.

What Is Mange?

Mange refers to the reaction on a horse's skin to certain types of mites, which feed by piercing the skin of a horse or burrowing in it, depending on the type of mite, and consuming the fluid. There are a few different types of mange in horses, including chorioptic (leg) mange, sarcoptic mange, and demodectic mange.

Signs of Mange in Horses

Signs are usually very evident and are more common in the cooler months when the horse's longer coat provides a warm, cozy home for the mites.

  • Areas affected by mange will weep fluid, becoming dry, crusty, thickened, and red.
  • The horse will be very itchy and to relieve the itch, may kick, stomp, roll, bite itself, or rub itself on fences or trees, causing more skin damage.
  • If left untreated, the skin will become thickened and chronically inflamed, causing the horse to lose condition.

Causes of Mange

Mange is a skin condition caused by microscopic mites. The mites are eight-legged ectoparasites that burrow or bite into the horse's skin and cause intense itching. Mange can be zoonotic and can be transferred to your human or animal family members. For many years, mange in horses was a reportable disease, meaning the federal government had to be alerted if an infestation was diagnosed by a veterinarian. As of 2006, however, the condition is rare and no longer reportable in horses in the United States. Very young horses, senior horses, and horses in poor condition are more likely to be affected by mange.

Certain types of mites have a predilection toward certain places on the body. Some mange mites prefer the ear area, fetlocks, pasterns, between the legs, or elsewhere on the body. A specific type of mite called Chorioptes causes chorioptic mange, also known in horses as leg mange, as it's 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, another specific mite, called Sarcoptes, causes what is sometimes called scabies. Only Sarcoptes, however, causes this zoonotic disease and it is rarely seen in horses.

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.

Treatment

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

Once mites are identified, the horse will be treated with an acaracide 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 several weeks to complete their life cycles.

Since the mites may persist for a short time on the horse's brushes, tack, and stable, all must be washed 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 animals. It is best to work with your vet to make sure the mites are completely cleared up.

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.

Since some types of mange are a zoonotic disease, they 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 may take a few 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 clinical signs of infection.

person handling horse with gloves on
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If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.