How to Treat Rain Rot in Horses

Equine hair loss due to Rain Rot
Equine hair loss due to Rain Rot | Source

Rain rot, or rain scald, is a bacterial skin infection that is common in horses, particularly in humid, wet weather. The correct veterinary term is "dermatophilosis." Rain rot thrives in a moist, warm atmosphere and is more common in the spring and summer when the rains and higher temperatures provide a breeding ground for this nasty bacteria. It also crops up in winter, especially if temperatures rise and fall and horses are sweating under their blankets as the temperatures get warmer throughout the day.

The most common symptom of rain rot is hair loss. If your horse has rain rot, you will notice the hair rise up in tufts and it will fall out if rubbed or brushed. A mild case will leave smooth skin underneath; a severe case will leave small scabs or sores. Rain rot in horses looks similar to mange in dogs, but is not the same thing and cannot be treated the same way.

Rain rot can be a sign that a horse is not being cared for properly, but this is not always the case. Some horses have sensitive skin and are more susceptible to rain rot. Horses in the American South are also more susceptible simply because the weather is hotter. Rain rot is awfully hard to get rid of once a horse has contracted it, so we will look at how to prevent as well as how to treat it.

First, prevention! If your horse is living in a pasture setting and has a run-in shed but no enclosed stall, he will get wet. Horses don't seem to mind the rain like people do, so your horse is likely to stay out in the open under light rain. This is okay. Many horses seem to be happiest living outside 24/7, so don't feel like you need to run out and put your horse in the barn every time it sprinkles. If he rolls in the mud however, try to get him cleaned up pretty quickly. Rain rot is believed to be found in dirt, so keeping his coat clean could lessen his chances of contracting it. If your horse has had rain rot in the past and seems particularly susceptible to it, you may have to resort to keeping him stalled and dry in wet weather. Essentially, keeping your horse as clean as possible is your best defense against rain rot.

Now, if your horse already has a case of this nasty stuff, you have to determine how bad it is. Does your horse have raw looking skin or sores where the hair has fallen out? If he does, you need to call your vet. Putting medicine on raw skin can be terribly painful, so you want to get your vet out before you put anything on your horse that could make the problem worse. Antibiotics are usually prescribed in severe cases to help a horse fight off the bacteria.

If your horse's hair tufts up and falls out when you scratch it, but the skin underneath is smooth and not irritated, he has a mild case. You have several options. The first, my favorite and the cheapest, is Listerine. The original golden colored Listerine is what I use on my horse and it works quickly. Get a spray bottle, fill it with Listerine and spray the affected areas. You should take your fingers and brush the affected hair. A curry comb will work as well. The sooner the hair falls out, the sooner your horse can start new hair growth. Brush and spray, brush and spray. Do it every day! If the hair doesn't come out easily, don't force it. Just spray the area. When it's ready to come out, it will, with very little effort.

You can also use M-T-G spray. It's about $16 for a spray bottle. It is sulphur based and smells awful, but will work to kill the bacteria. Do the same thing as with the Listerine. Remove the affected hair and spray the area. I have heard some people say that a bleach/water mixture will work (1 part bleach to 10 parts water), but I would be careful with this. If your horse does have scabs or sores, this will burn him.

Next, you have to clean everything that comes in contact with your horse or you will end up spreading the bacteria. Brushes, combs, saddle pads, blankets, and the like should all be washed immediately to avoid further spreading rain rot. I do soak my brushes in bleach water. It doesn't hurt the brushes, but it will kill rain rot for sure.

Rain rot looks nasty and is a pain to get rid of because it tends to spread quickly. In the grand scheme of horse illnesses and injuries however, it's pretty mild. Yes, your horse will have some bald patches, but he will recover good as new within a couple months as long as you're vigilant about treating him. Take heart, it could be much worse!

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Comments 16 comments

Katie 4 years ago

When you say listerine, do you mean the mouth wash? Thanks


juliaeverheart profile image

juliaeverheart 4 years ago from Kennesaw, GA Author

Yes, Listerine the mouth wash is the thing that I've found works best. The original gold colored Listerine is what I heard I should use, and sure enough, it cleared up rain rot quickly on my horse.


karmicfilly profile image

karmicfilly 4 years ago from Franklin, TN

The research I've done shows that Chlorhexdine is the best to use in a wash/solution which treats the wounds if any and the bacterial factors. Have you ever used this one? I have heard others use Captan Powder which is for fungal infections? I have 1 out of 5 horses who consistantly gets rain rot even though all are treated the exact same way. Every year I know I will be fighting this with him and have gotten use to it. The Listerine has Ethanol in it which is what I assume kills the bacteria. Seems it would be expensive to do an entire horse with that product but I may just have to try it. Thanks for the information.


juliaeverheart profile image

juliaeverheart 4 years ago from Kennesaw, GA Author

Another good product to use is Selsun Blue dandruff shampoo. If you buy the generic version, it's cheaper. I used this once the rain rot was mostly cleared up and the hair was just starting to grow in. It kept my horse's skin from drying out from being exposed.


Amber 4 years ago

Thanks a lot, my horse got rain rot for the first time ever this year and i wasn't sure what to use to treat it, thanks everyone!


Michele 4 years ago

What do you wash the saddle blanket with ?


Maddymoomins profile image

Maddymoomins 4 years ago from Anglesey

My small Shettland has got rain rot on her ear, and your Listerine advise sounds good so i will definitely be trying. Thanks everyone!


vicky 4 years ago

thanks i wasn't sure how to treat this condition either, thanks for info,

is there anything else that is a natural treatment?


Tammy 4 years ago

Just bought two bottles of feneric Listerine for my gelding, who got rain rot last year and again this month.


Freela 4 years ago

If u put m-t-g or minaret oil one it works really well we use it all the time


Jmillis2006 profile image

Jmillis2006 3 years ago from North Carolina

My thoroughbred use to get rain rot really bad and I always used mouthwash it works wonders. Great hub.


Jamie 3 years ago

I have owned my horse for 3 years now. He has never had an episode where he lost hair with balding. I bought the MTG, it's a bit pricey, but after the first day, his skin is clean. He as not access to running water so I bought a cleaning spray where you do not have to have water. It did great! But I brush, brush, brush to get the bad hair out. His new hair is coming in. I feel bad for him...felt like I am neglecting him, but I have taken action quickly. I have washed all his combs, brushes, halters, and lead ropes, even saddle blankets, I have even used a bit of chlorine and water to wipe down his saddle and followed up with anti bacterial dawn soap to clean the saddle. I feel pretty confident. We have been getting so much rain. He likes to go into the pond which doesn't help! and he is a roller!! GRRRR...


Ken Halleck 2 years ago

I would say that spraying down your tack and saddle with generic Listerine would help prevent it's spreading, too


Spiritmare 21 months ago

I found this site while searching for help with rain rot. Hope there is still a following here. Last year one shampooing got rid of the rot but this year...My mare is just prone to get it and I am looking for ways to help her out. She had cut her wither rolling three weeks ago and I guess that was the floodgate for this years mess. Plus we have had a lot of rain and higher than usual temps though it is cool at present. Her hide is so sensitive she doesn't want me working on her. Is there an oil I can use on her between shampooing to soften the hide to help with the sensitivity so I can work on clearing up her coat. Or which product is best to clean rain rot with? I have EquiShieldCK at present but it doesn't seem to do as well as I would have hoped. And for future rain rot avoidance, would keeping her in a waterproof turnout sheet help? My horses are out on pasture with a run in. I live in a humid area, north middle TN, and the mare is a thoroughbred. I would appreciate any feedback as I am pretty much on my own and I am a 56 year old who took on rescues.


craig 16 months ago

how often do you apply the listerin and for how long?


Kathy Anderson 6 months ago

We have an antimicrobial spray that is easy to use, very effective and safe. Called Resolve, it was originally developed, tested and approved for the US military as an antimicrobial spray for fungal infections. Check out our testimonials on our website. Www.equinesafetyzone.com. All you need to do is spray the infected area once a day (many folks tell me even every other day will work) and see it start to work in 2-3 days (many see it in one application). No shampooing, no soaking, no clipping or pulling off the scabs. Works in scratches, thrush, sweet itch, etc.

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