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The skin inside horse ears is one of the most sensitive parts of the horse’s body, even more so than the nose and the inside of the mouth. Horse skin is generally quite tough and has a protective coat but the ears lack this and consequently are a prime place for the horse to develop skin problems. Some of these horse skin problems can be caused by viruses, cancer or sometimes insects. They can have a major effect on a horse’s health and should be diagnosed as quickly as possible. This guide is intended to help you to be able to spot some of the more common horse skin problems so that they don’t adversely affect your horse’s health too much.
The major cause of this skin condition is a virus that is similar to the one that causes warts, known as pappillomavirus. Small black flies are known to carry this virus and infect a horse’s ears. A common way to protect the horse skin problem against this is to use a fly mask in the summer which will prevent the flies from getting into a horse’s ears. Of all the skin problems that can occur inside horse ears, although contagious to other horses, this is generally fairly straightforward and nothing to worry about too much. The virus will only be active for between three to six months and the papillomas themselves can be removed from horse ears if necessary, for instance, in a show horse.
Sarcoids are a type of tumour that can appear almost anywhere on horse skin, including that inside the horse ears. Although the definite cause is unknown, many suspect that it is caused by a virus. Often the tumours a benign but they can, if left unattended have a serious adverse affect on overall horse health. There are various different treatments for this condition ranging from removing the tumour surgically, cryosurgery and chemotherapy.
Ticks are not uncommon for any animal to get, because horses may spend more time in (long) grass, they can appear on any part of horse skin. Because of the much softer skin in horse ears they are a prime spot for a tick to latch on to. Symptoms of ticks on horse skin are essentially the same as on other animals. Redness, swelling or bumps and irritation should be looked out for. If your horse has a tick it is generally not a major cause for concern. Ticks can carry Lyme disease however which can have a serious impact on horse health, so if you spot a tick, monitor the horse ears carefully to spot for any signs of illness.
An ear mite is a parasite that chooses to live inside horse ears because of the warmth and due to the thin and sensitive skin find it easy to feed. The symptoms of ear mites are fairly easy to spot and include scaly or crusty skin, a dark coloured discharge and a visible irritation. Because the horse finds it tough to scratch this part of the body, a noticeable increase in head shaking may indicate the presence of ear mites in horse ears. This condition can only be fully diagnosed and treated by a vet. The remedy for this sort of horse skin problem is very similar to that used on cats, dogs and other animals.
Of the horse skin problems that this guide has discussed, melanoma is the one that is most likely to strike fear into any horse owner and although it should be taken seriously, horse melanomas are not as aggressive as those found in humans and often grow slower and in a more local area, consequently they are rarely fatal. A grey or light skinned horse is much more likely to be susceptible to this. In some cases it is more detrimental to the horse’s health to operate on the tumour than not. You should always talk to a vet if you spot a melanoma because they can still spread to other parts of the body, including some vital organs. Surgical removal is a common remedy to horse melanoma, as is cryosurgery or a course of medication.
Hopefully this guide will have outlined some of the more common horse skin problems and you now feel able to spot a problem in horse ears and act accordingly. If you are unsure about anything you may spot it is best to contact a vet and be safe.