Morgan Murphy

Dealing with Equine Dandruff

Whether you compete in shows or not, getting your horse's coat shiny and healthy looking should be a given. Daily grooming is not only an essential part of ensuring the coat is in tip-top condition, but it can also improve the condition and health of the skin. A glossy coat can be an important indicator of the the horse's condition and overall health.

"Horse grooming" by Phil Sangwell from United Kingdom - Grooming time.


Despite regular coat care and bathing, when grooming your horse you may notice large, white or discolored waxy flakes of skin in the hair of the coat. This is most likely to be a condition called primary seborrhea, better known as dandruff! So, should you be reaching for the Head and Shoulders? Not necessarily. In many cases, over-bathing and shampooing can make this condition worse, and you should instead rely on careful management of diet and your horse’s coat to limit the amount of visible flakes and reduce the overall shedding of the skin. (Over bathing can also compromise the hardness of your horse's feet, creating additional potential problems.)

What is primary seborrhea?
The cause of primary seborrhea is unknown – it is idiopathic (of unknown origin), in most cases and does not cause itching, soreness or pain. In fact, the horse is probably completely unaware of the condition. In the majority of cases, dandruff is completely harmless. When there are any signs of itching or irritation this may point to an underlying known as secondary seborrhea, which may be a symptom of an infection or chronic condition. If you notice the dandruff suddenly worsens or the appearance of other symptoms, consult your veterinarian.

Primary seborrhea can be either dry or oily:

  • dry seborrhea produces small, dry flakes which are seen mainly at the base of the mane and tail
  • oily seborrhea leads to larger, scaly and wax-like crusts found mainly on the elbows, hocks and lower legs.

How can I combat primary seborrhea?

It is very difficult to completely remove all the dandruff from a horse’s coat. Horses who are prone to the condition may be prone to further episodes throughout their lives. It is more common in certain breeds such as drafty breeds horses with "feathery legs," Arabs and Thoroughbred with thin skin and short coats. Nevertheless, we have pulled together some ideas to minimize your horse's dandruff:

  • Groom your horse regularly. Using a curry comb or dandy brush stimulates circulation and the distribution of natural oils known to condition the skin and coat.
  • Do not “over-blanket” your horse – if the horse sweats and is not sufficiently dry or cooled down before being blanketed, it can increase the likelihood of developing patches of primary seborrhea.
  • Bathe your horse now and again with a specially made anti-dandruff shampoo formulated for horses such as Absorbine Superpoo. Do not be tempted to use a human product, as the active ingredients may be too irritating for equine skin. Equally, do not wash your horse too often as this can dry skin out, further aggravating the condition.
  • Adding a supplement to the diet may help improve the overall health of the skin – ingredients such as vegetable oils, omega-3 fatty acids and biotin are thought to improve the skin and coat quality.
  • Do not pick or rub at the skin patches: doing so may loosen them but you risk stressing the horse's skin, leaving it open to infection.
  • Keep your barn and pasture free from flies. Seborrhea plus fly bites can lead to chronic infection. Using Spalding Fly Predators to keep your facilities fly free, means happier horses!

For more tips on grooming and horse care come back here to Spalding again soon.

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