Natural Remedies for Rain Rot

By Shari Frederick

Photo 1
Neglected and emaciated horse with rain rot. A compromised immune system, a weakened skin barrier, poor nutrition, poor hygiene, or stressful situations open the door to rain rot when external conditions are right.

HHH: Rain Rot is a commonly occurring skin problem in horses.
Prolonged periods of rain, high humidity and temperature, and poorly drained pastures or muddy paddocks are favorable conditions for rain rot (also called rain scald) and mud fever. Add to that a compromised immune system, a weakened skin barrier, poor nutrition, poor hygiene, or stressful situations and this condition will likely set in.

HHH: Both rain rot and mud fever are caused by the same organism, dermatophilus congolensis.
The term 'rain rot' generally refers to all areas of the body while 'mud fever' is more associated with crusting of the pastern and heel area. The organism is actinomycetic, which means it acts like both fungus and bacteria, although it is technically classed today as a bacteria. Some actinomycetes species produce external spores.

HHH: Commonly found over the rump and top line, rain rot lesions may follow the haircoat's rainfall “run-off”, dribbling, or “scald line” pattern.
The hair becomes matted together in groups of oval or irregular shapes. Close observation reveals a portion of the hairs are embedded in thick dried crusts. If you try to remove one, it may be ulcerated, bleeding, exuding pus, or relatively dry and scaly. Patches of hair are readily lifted off or may fall out.

HHH: It is virtually impossible to establish infection (organisms invading body tissues) on undamaged skin.
Skin damage and moisture are the two most important surface factors for the development of rain rot. Skin damage can come from a simple irritation or a small skin breach made by thorny plants or biting flies. The organisms, transmitted from infected lesions to the mouth of a tick, for instance, can survive for months. Non-biting and biting flies can house the infection for 24 hours. Prolonged overcast skies and intense rainfall are key factors in the release of these rapidly reproducing infective organisms or spores.

HHH: Today’s scientific findings are still undecided about the natural habitat of the dermatophilus congolensis organism.
It is suggested that the source of dermatophilus congolensis is the soil, where such organisms contribute to the breakdown of organic matter. It is also thought to exist, dormant, on an animal until the climate is favorable.

HHH: Bacterial and fungal diseases are difficult to diagnose without testing.
Veterinary testing may include examination under an ultraviolet light (fluorescent results indicate fungal ringworm), and/or a skin scraping of the affected area to be examined under a microscope and applied to a medium for growth (culturing).

HHH: Previously infected horses do not necessarily develop immunity to re-infection of rain rot.
Warm moist climates create frequent recurrence of rain rot if susceptible horses cannot escape the wet weather. Moisture is trapped under the hair allowing fungus or bacteria to grow on the skin. Horses with sensitive skin may over-react to fly bites causing persistent itching, which in turn may lead to further damage from the horse rubbing himself raw thus increasing the chances for any infection.

Photo 2
When rain rot sets in, the hair becomes matted together and the skin may ulcerate, bleed, exude pus, or appear dry and scaly. Patches of hair are readily lifted off or may fall out.


HHH: Initially treat all skin diseases as if they were infectious.
Some fungus is very difficult to kill and can readily spread. Unless you absolutely know what you are dealing with, it is always best to wear disposable gloves when applying topical creams. When applying treatments to infected areas, avoid bacteria transfer. Never stick dirty fingers back into a preparation. Keep the affected area clean and dry before and between applications. Use a disposable plastic or wooden spatula. Properly dispose of utensils, as well as all crusts or sores which are removed.

HHH: Do not use the same tack on multiple horses; especially if a fungus is known or suspected.
Expose tack (especially the parts that contact the horse) to the sun to help kill fungus. Wash tack after use. Dry tack properly and keep dry to avoid mold, and store it in a setting that allows for proper air circulation.

HHH: There are a variety of treatment options for rain rot (listed in alphabetical order). A few prepared product options are listed as well:

Acupuncture and acupressure can be used to stimulate the immune system.

Aromatherapy and essential oils provide options. Essential oils are best diluted in a carrier, such as aloe gel, before applying directly to the skin. Suggested blends for hair loss, inflammation, soreness, and other rain rot bacterial infection related symptoms include:
10ml aloe vera gel as a base
10 drops each of Patchouli, Frankincense, Myrrh, and Yarrow
Blend in 5ml of linseed oil. Add Chamomile tea gradually (up to 100ml) until there are no separations. Store out of direct light and extreme cold in a jar or bottle for up to 1 year.
Or, use a few drops of lavender essential oil in aloe vera gel and apply to stimulate healing. Alternate with tea tree oil ointment. Offer lemon and litsea cubeba essential oils for an immune system boost.
Prepared product: Pete's Equine Remedy, apricot kernel oil and essential oil blend - helps heal dermatitis, sweet itch, rain rot, abrasions, stitches, sarcoids, fungus, itch; promotes hair growth (Frogworks, 303-973-8848, www.ffrogworks.com)

Flower essences, specifically those supporting stress reduction, help to alleviate the stress contributing to a lowered immune system. (Consistent and reliable routines for feeding and turn out are important factors to reduce stress as well.)

Crush fresh chickweed herb in your hand and rub on itchy areas for immediate relief. Add the crushed herb to aloe gel or lanolin for easier application.

Feed a balanced natural diet that includes seaweed meal. Offer minerals, especially copper and sulfur, which are needed for keratin to support hair growth. Include garlic in the diet for its antiparasitic properties and to discourage biting flies. Avoid chemical residues.

Herbal blend supplements specially prepared by an herbalist should include red clover, licorice, echinacea, fenugreek, and violet to help with blood cleansing to rid toxins and reduce skin sensitivity. If the horse’s immune system is run down, or depleted by prolonged itching or distress, consider the herbs rosehip and maritime pine bark. Vervain and St. John's Wort strengthen the horse’s nervous system.
Prepared product: Equi-Derm, herb powder supplement (chickweed, plantain, yellow dock) for cleansing, purifying, detoxing, to help the body heal rain rot from within (Riva's Remedies, 800-405-6643, www.rivasremedies.com)

Homeopathic remedies, chosen to match the individual and his unique symptom picture, can be extremely helpful, not just for the current outbreak but for the long run as well. Generally, Aconitum 30c can be used when rain rot is first noticed; Arnica 30c is appropriate for any skin breach; weepy sores, Arsenicum or Graphites; Sulphur 30c has an affinity for most skin conditions; Tellurium is mentioned specifically for rain rot in some texts; Thuja, especially if the condition follows vaccination. Read about these remedies in your Materia Medica to decide which is most applicable to your horse. (Washington Homeopathics, 800-336-1695, www.homeopathyworks.com)

Massage for overall benefits, and gently rub in a little hypericum oil to affected patches to treat sensitivity.

Poultices are excellent to draw out infection. Put slippery elm powder on a clean cotton gauze pad. Fold pad and soak with hot water; cool to body temp, gently squeeze out excess water, unfold, and apply to affected area for at least an hour if possible.

Sprays, such as diluted lemon juice or vinegar (100ml) added to antiseptics like 5ml eucalyptus or thyme oil, and 4 cloves of garlic peeled and crushed are easily applied supports for rain rot, although they may sting sensitive open areas. Add 5ml of Thuja tincture to the spray for additional antifungal properties.
Tea can be made using dried chamomile flowers or tea bags. (Any left over chamomile tea can be used directly on the horses feed.) Spray the tea on a damp coat to soothe the skin. The chamomile is naturally drawn down the hairs to the skin. You can add some hypericum oil, but be sure to agitate the sprayer to assure the oil is released.
Prepared product: Natural Antibacterial Healing Spray for rain rot, sweet itch, and girth itch - contains mineral oil, aloe, grape seed, copaiva, hempseed and more (Espree, 800-328-1317, www.espree.com)

Tonics are a great addition to a horse’s diet to reduce susceptibility to rain rot. Nettle is high in iron, increases circulation, strengthens the blood, and improves the immune system. Use 1-2 cups of nettle (dried or fresh) in 1 liter of water, bring to a boil, cool, and add to the horse’s drinking water. Dandelion, either a few leaves daily or offered as a tonic tea, is a good support for the liver, along with St. Mary’s thistle.

Topical salves help soothe and heal. Alternate or use one or more of the following:
1) propolis cream; 2) aloe vera gel (soothes itching and encourages new hair growth); and 3) tea tree at 10 drops per 1 pint of warm water.
4) Colloidal silver can also be rubbed on, and has even been used against staph infections.
5) Make a preparation of vitamin E oil, Aloe vera gel and 5ml of hypericum oil for topical use. After inflammation has subsided try comfrey ointment or rosemary oil 1-2 times a day to encourage new hair growth.
Prepared product: Grape Balm Herbal Wound Healer for wounds, raw itchy skin, rain rot or scratches; grape seed extract, clove oil, walnut, pau d’arco, garlic, and artemisia.(The Natural Horse Vet, 877-873-8838, www.thenaturalhorsevet.net)

Washes containing 20% copper sulfate and a cup of cider vinegar in a quart of water (or 2 quarts if skin is sensitive) will help kill any fungus.
Prepared product: Skin Condition KIT (Groomer Concentrate scrub and Skin Conditioner) for fungus and bacteria related skin conditions - scratches, rain rot, mud fever; aloe and herbs (Natures Balance Care, 866-821-0374, www.naturesbalancecare.com)

HHH: Farm maintenance matters.
Insect repelling plants can be planted near and around the barn and shelters. Include tansy, garlic, lavender, rue, citronella, scented geraniums, and wormwood.

Manure removal and covered compost heaps help discourage fly breeding.

Pasture rotation reduces parasite exposure.

Rugs/fly sheets made of light cotton or shade cloth can be used during fly biting season over the body and neck. There are even special fly boots for severe needs for leg protection.

Shelter provides a dry area for the horse to get out of wet weather. Along with good health, it is the best defense against rain rot!

Sunshine is an important support for skin diseases, and helps kill fungus. If the animal is stalled, allow a minimum of 1 hour turnout in the sun.


Support health. Rain rot is not considered a life-threatening condition and has been known to clear up without treatment. With proper nutritional support and sensible maintenance, horses can often deal with it themselves.Hoofprint


About the author:HHH
Shari Frederick BS, NMD, LE began her love of horses in 1975, showing quarter horses at the Fort Worth, TX stockyards. As a nutritional educator in over 15 countries worldwide over the past 25 years, she is a staunch supporter of "Truth in Labeling" for ALL manufacturers. Shari has a regular column in Equine Times and is a Safety-Certified Riding Instructor from the AAHS. Happy Horse Haven, 70-140 acres that Shari made available for equine rescue and rehabilitation, was recently established in January 2006. Each horse is placed on a specific nutritional program. 325-948-3451 shari@ktc.com