Photosensitivity in Horses
 By Winniefield Park   •   4th Jul 2015   •   2,227 views   •   0 comments
Photosensitivity in Horses

Have you had a sunburn yet this summer? I do it once a year because I always forget how strong the sun is, and I play outside, unprotected from its rays longer than I should. I always have the most interesting sunburns too, tracing my gloves or short sleeved shirts, or even my necklace or pony tail. Our horses get sunburn too. If you have a horse with a white coat and pink areas on its skin, you’ll find your horse is particularly susceptible. White markings on a horse’s face, such as white around its eyes or on its nose often get sunburned.

What does sunburn on a horse looks like? On white areas of the face or legs, the hair may stare up straight or come out, the skin will be red and perhaps raised, and will peel as the sunburn starts to heal. The skin on the nose can look particularly cracked and dry as this is an area that flexes often. Elsewhere, the body hair may stare, the skin become raised and red, and the hair may thin or fall out as the skin peels and heals from beneath.

When it comes to sunburn, sun sensitivity or photosensitivity, the sun alone may not be the culprit. Plants lurking in your horse’s hay or pasture may contribute to the problem. St. John's Wort, which is used in making herbal remedies for burns and rashes, can cause sunburn. If your horse eats it, or you use an ointment containing St. John's Wort, it can increase your horse’s sensitivity to sunlight and lead to sunburn. Buckwheat, a common ground cover called snow on the mountain or ground elder can cause photosensitivity if eaten. Alsike clover, in addition to causing slobbers, can cause sun sensitivity where the plants contact the horse’s legs and nose. This is sometimes called dew poisoning. Even stressed alfalfa has been blamed for photosensitivity during a drought.

Grooming sprays and bug repellents may cause a dermatitis that becomes more sensitive to the sun. There are also drugs used by veterinarians that can cause sun sensitivity, just as some prescription drugs affect people.

So, how do you prevent sunburn on your horse’s skin? You can use sun sheets that help reflect the sun and prevent it from shining directly on your horse. Make sure you have a shady spot for your horse to retreat to during the hottest hours of the day. Some stables keep horses in during the day, and put them out at night to protect their coats and prevent bug bites and sunburn. Sunscreen made for babies is safe to use on your horse. Just be careful around the eyes, because as you probably know, even mild sunblock in the eyes can really sting. As an alternative to sunblock you can try zinc cream or Ihle's paste. These products can help sooth an already burnt area too. And there are products made specifically for horses.

Help heal your horse’s sunburn by applying soothing lotions. Be careful to avoid astringents like alcohol, vinegar or other ingredients that might burn. Zinc cream holds the dirt, but it does help sooth and heal inflamed skin. And, wait until your horse’s skin heals before putting a saddle over a sunburnt area or wraps on sunburnt legs.
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