Skin Conditions and Homeopathy
One of the most puzzling aspects of owning a horse is when something "mysterious" appears on the skin. We call a veterinarian to diagnose the condition, and do biopsies (in some cases) or culture tests to determine what it actually is. These tests can be costly, and in some cases unproductive. Some skin conditions may be simple, acute, or minor allergic reactions that can be relieved with over the counter medicines or "natural remedies". Others can be more complicated but may be cured with the proper use of homeopathy by treating the patient rather than the condition. Whatever the situation, it is important to determine the underlying cause of the problem and correct it.
There are many ways of maintaining a healthy coat on a horse. Of course proper diet, exercise, shelter, and overall care play the major role and are essential to the good health of the animal. But aside from that, with the onset of new coat products, fly sprays and, yes, horse blankets and sheets, there are a surprising number of horses who are becoming sensitive enough to have adverse reactions. Some basic tips include:
Don't overbathe your horse. Once a month can be too much for many horses. Bathe only once before a show and perhaps hose down specific areas if necessary, but avoid the constant use of soap, as even mild soap can be damaging over time.
Don't overspray your horse with fly sprays. If fly spray must be re-applied, wipe him down with a damp rag first before re-applying. This will help prevent build up.
Don't leave sheets and blankets on for days and days. The skin needs to breathe too.
Don't overmedicate minor abrasions. Give them the chance to heal naturally.
Homeopathic remedies can be very helpful in treating animals with skin conditions, from injuries to allergies. The way homeopathy works is "like cures like" and its success depends on a careful matching of the remedy to the patient's characteristic symptoms as well as the disease symptoms. Homeopathy is not "this remedy for this" and "that remedy for that" but certain remedies do have affinities for certain conditions based on the typical or unique symptoms. Homeopathy treats the patient, not the disease. Skin problems can be very challenging in that many are 'whole body' problems, and what shows on the surface is often just the tip of the iceberg. Constitutional treatment may be best for these cases, so it is essential to consult a homeopath and a Materia Medica for complete 'pictures' of the remedies to choose the closest, and to have the best chance of success. Homeopathy's general rule is 'one remedy and wait' for it to work before changing remedies in non-emergency situations.
The horse owner, with guidance from an experienced homeopath, can often successfully treat her horse with homeopathy. Other alternative therapies have also proven effective. Following are several skin conditions commonly encountered in horses, and though there are suggested remedies, these are just a select few (there are many others) that can be effective in treating and/or eliminating the problem. A Materia Medica will provide complete pictures of these remedies.
Abscesses and skin ulcers
An abscess is simply a collection of pus encapsulated in the tissues underneath the skin. An abscess may first appear as a swelling under the skin and can be hot, painful, and firm, or can be cold to the touch as well. In later stages, the localized swelling often becomes softer and less painful, and it may form a point. Some horses with abscesses exhibit an elevated temperature, disinterest in food, and lethargy. The cause of most skin abscesses is usually a closed-over puncture wound where foreign matter, such as dirt or a splinter, has penetrated the skin. Abscesses under the jaw are often caused by an internal infection or disease such as strangles. Internal abscesses also occur on the liver, lungs, and other areas and are usually associated with generalized bacterial infections.
The abscessed area of the skin should be cleaned thoroughly with soap and water. The application of hot compresses will help to draw the abscess contents (pus and foreign matter) to the surface, which is commonly referred to as 'coming to a head'. If the abscess forms a point it may burst on its own while being hot-compressed, or it could be carefully lanced to allow the contents to drain. Pressing gently on the areas surrounding the abscess may aid in the drainage. If a large pocket exists after the draining, homeopathic Calendula can be used. It is important to keep the surface hole open to allow continued drainage and to promote closure from the inside out. The surface hole should close up last. Always inspect the wound during each cleaning for any foreign bodies. If embedded, they may need to be physically removed to hasten healing.
Homeopathic Ledum can be used when the abscess is the result of a puncture wound to the body or the hoof and is accompanied by discoloration of the surrounding tissue. Hepar Sulph is useful for abscesses that are sensitive to touch. Using a high potency such as 200c encourages the abscess to burst and drain, and a low potency such as 6c aids the body in re-absorbing it. Lachesis is applicable if a septic state (infection) is present. It is also effective against snakebites and most useful if given immediately after the snakebite. Silica (also spelled Silicea) can help the body eject a splinter or other foreign matter (it will help form pus to bring it to a head) and is useful in reducing scar tissue. It is also useful for ill effects of a vaccination. Mercurius Solubilis may be helpful in mouth ulcers or dental abscesses. Calendula solution can be used orally and topically as a general cleanser and to help the abscess heal from the inside out. When the abscess is almost healed, homeopathic Calendula can be administered to aid in the final stages of healing.
Skin allergies and dermatitis
Skin allergies, and allergic tendencies in general, are becoming more and more common these days. I suspect some of it is due largely to the ingestion and inhalation of unconscientiously applied pesticides and to the erratic seasonal changes that have resulted in increased pollen in the air. Horses are now exhibiting symptoms similar to those of dogs, cats and even humans such as runny eyes and nose, coughing, swelling and or itching of various parts of the body, and hypersensitivity to insect bites. Dermatitis is a condition that can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or an allergy of some kind. This term is loosely used to indicate a scaly or dry coat, dry spots on the skin, or lesions. Conditions such as these should be evaluated by your holistic veterinarian, and constitutional treatment is advised. Horses that are in poor condition resulting from lack of proper care and hygiene are candidates for various types of dermatitis. These animals should be allowed a natural, healthy, clean environment along with proper nutrition. It may help to bathe the horse thoroughly, remove any long hair from the affected areas if necessary to allow air circulation, and gently scrub the affected areas with mild soap and tepid water. Arsenicum is a homeopathic remedy that can be considered for many skin conditions, especially when symptoms are accompanied by restlessness, worsening after midnight, and a preference for warmth and rubbing. Apis is used to treat hot puffy swelling or welts that are better with cool applications. Calendula solution can be used as a rinse on the affected area in mild cases to aid healing. Consider Hepar Sulph when hair follicles become infected and the affected areas become sensitive to touch. Urtica Urens is useful in allergic conditions accompanied by intense itching, particularly if the area is relieved by warm applications. Mezereum is effective in eruptions after vaccinations, intolerable itching, and in ulcerations with scabs having underlying pus. Sulphur is very effective in skin conditions and is useful for a variety of symptoms, especially when the condition is widespread. Sulphur has centrifugal action and encourages internal troubles to surface, often making the skin condition appear worse before clearing up.
Common skin problems and injuries
Minor cuts, wounds, abrasions, bites, stings, rashes, hives, summer-, saddle- and pressure sores can all be treated with homeopathy. Clean any open wounds thoroughly with warm water and mild soap, rinse well, and pat dry. For cuts and minor wounds, homeopathic Calendula and Hypericum can be administered, and the combination of Calendula and Hypericum tinctures can be used as a rinse to clean the area and aid in healing. This rinse is also effective for eye injuries and minor cuts around the eye area. For puncture or stab wounds, homeopathic Ledum can be administered. Homeopathic Hypericum and Ledum are used together in the prevention and treatment of tetanus. The Calendula/Hypericum rinse can be used to flush the puncture wound and to help prevent infection. Insect bites and stings can be treated by administering homeopathic Apis. Apis will also aid in reducing any swelling that may occur. Minor burns can be helped with Cantharis. The area can also be kept moist with a Calendula or Calendula/Hypericum cream. For hard-to-reach wounds, a squirt or spray bottle could be a safe and effective method. Rescue Remedy, a liquid Bach flower essence, is an effective remedy that can be administered orally and used in a rinse if Calendula is not available. Rescue Remedy is also available in a cream for easy external application. It may be best to keep the animal isolated to allow the condition to be supervised or monitored and to prevent any contagious condition from spreading. Provide plenty of fresh clean water and proper feed.
This condition is a result of a sensitivity to sunlight and usually affects the unpigmented parts of the skin, whether on the face or on a white horse. The condition may lead to dermatitis. Lesions may occur depending on the severity of the exposure and this can be accompanied by liver disturbances as a result of overexposure. Limiting exposure to the sun is advisable. Hypericum has proven very useful for lesions accompanied by itching. Chelidonium is useful when signs of jaundice occur. Calendula, in both homeopathic administration and external application, can aid in healing. Cantharis can be useful when burns are accompanied by heat from the area. This may also be available as a rinse to aid in soothing the burn.
Rain scald - sweet itch
Rain scald is not as common as it once was since there is more of an effort to keep horses in a better environment. This condition is common in neglected animals, and leaving a horse exposed to rain over long periods of time without proper shelter encourages rain scald. The skin loses clumps of hair around the back and croup area and can become inflamed; fluid often oozes from the skin. The skin areas on which hair remains often peel off too, leaving the surface area raw and bleeding. Sweet itch is a complex allergic condition and should be addressed accordingly. Horses with this condition have been treated successfully with homeopathic Sulphur and supportive care. Other remedies may be appropriate if chosen according to symptoms. Wash the horse thoroughly with mild soap and water, dry him thoroughly, and apply Calendula cream on the raw areas to encourage healing. Provide adequate shelter for the horse.
Ringworm is a contagious fungus that appears as small circular lesions on a horse's skin, which can be sensitive to touch, may shed the hair leaving circular bare patches, and may produce a crusty exudate. It may be accompanied by itching. It generally starts on the chest or hindquarters and spreads to other parts of the body. Horses with ringworm have been successfully treated with homeopathy as well as other alternatives. Homeopathic Bacillinum, which has been known to completely clear up this condition, is helpful for rough, dry skin accompanying ringworm. Sepia is also effective against ringworm, particularly in mares when the outbreak is cycle-related. Tellurium is useful for ringworm that is very sensitive to touch, especially along the back, and around the eyes and ears. There is usually an offensive odor from the affected areas. An affected horse should be isolated while being treated and any grooming tools used on the horse should be disinfected after each use. It may be helpful to clip away long hair around the area and scrub with a mild soap and water. This condition can be difficult to clear up so persistence pays off. After the horse is clear of any signs, disinfect the stall, halter, buckets and any grooming tools that were used during treatment.
Summer sores are created by flies biting on one particular spot on a horse, usually on the underside of the stomach or chest area. Left untreated, they get bigger, itch terribly and develop a scab, and if severe, can eventually scar the area. Keeping a horse sprayed down with a fly repellent is one alternative, but sometimes this situation can get away from you. Homeopathic Calendula is a helpful remedy for clearing up the sores. To treat the sores externally, you can use Calendula solution or Calendula cream topically.
Warts usually develop in horses by the time they are 2 years old, and there are homeopathic remedies that are effective against warts in general. Thuja is the most commonly used remedy for warts, especially large fleshy ones. Causticum is also effective and works well for firmer, tougher warts. Though most warts clear up on their own in time, some can bleed or cause discomfort.
Keep in mind that treating the patient and not the disease is what homeopathy is all about. Many acute conditions will respond favorably to a well-chosen homeopathic remedy and supportive care, and for chronic or more complicated conditions, consult an experienced homeopathic veterinarian.
This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace professional or veterinary care.
About the author:
Cheyanne West, C-Hom. is a homeopathic consultant and educator and is the author of A NATURAL PATH FOR HORSES - A Guide to Homeopathy and Other Alternative Therapies, A NATURAL PATH FOR DOGS, and AUSTRALIAN TEA TREE OIL - First Aid for Animals. She offers weekend clinics on equine and small animal homeopathy for both professionals and lay people alike. Her mail order catalog - Alternatives - A Natural Path to Animal Health Care offers a wide variety of books, tapes, homeopathic remedies, kits and other alternative products. Send catalog requests to:
A NATURAL PATH
PO Box 70
Lewis, CO 81327
or visit www.cheyannewest.com.