How to Treat Sunburn on Horses
Like humans, horses can get burned if they stay out too long in the sun. White and grey horses are especially susceptible to burns. Fortunately, you can help a horse heal from sunburn by keeping them out of the sun and applying a soothing cream to the burn. More severe sunburns should be checked by a vet to see if there is an underlying problem. Repeated sunburns can increase your horse’s risk of developing skin cancer, so take care to avoid the issue in the future.
Soothing Minor Sunburns
Identify where the horse is burned.The most sensitive areas of a horse are the bare patches around their muzzle, down the bridge of their nose, their ears, and around their eyes. They can also develop sunburns on any light-colored patches on their coat. If you notice a sunburn, examine the horse for any other affected areas.
- A sunburn will feel hot when touched. The skin may be more pink than normal or peeling.
- If the skin is blistered and bubbling or if you notice clear or yellowish fluid seeping from the burn, call a vet. These are signs of a more serious burn.
- A horse with a sunburn may become head shy or refuse to put on their bridle.
Move the horse into the shade.You may want to stable the horse for a few days while they recover. If they go outside, keep them under some trees or in a shaded paddock. This will prevent their sunburn from worsening.
- Make sure that your stable is well-ventilated so that the horse does not suffer from heat exhaustion during the day.
- If you take your horse out, try putting on a fly mask or another sun blocking mask to protect burnt areas.
Rub on some diaper rash cream.Creams designed to soothe diaper rash may also treat sunburn on horses. You can choose any commercial brand from your local drug store. Apply it once or twice a day to affected areas until the sunburn disappears.
- Depending on how bad the sunburn is, it may take a few days or a few weeks for the horse to heal.
Apply aloe to the burned areas.Aloe can provide cooling relief while hydrating the horse’s skin. You can buy pure aloe sun gels at a drug store or grocery store. Gently massage it into their burn once or twice a day until the horse heals.
Give your horse plenty of water.If your horse has a sunburn, they may also be thirsty or at risk of heat stress. Give them fresh water to drink. Make sure that they always have access to water as they recover.
Healing Severe Sunburns
Call your vet.If the sunburn is serious or if it doesn’t go away after a few days, call your vet. Some underlying conditions can cause horses to become more sensitive to the sun. You will need to treat these to prevent the burn from worsening or recurring.
- Most minor sunburns should heal after a few days. If your horse’s sunburn is not healing, there may be something else wrong with the horse.
- Tell your vet if your horse is currently taking any medications like tetracyclines or sulfa antibiotics, which can increase their sensitivity to the sun.
Check your field for photosensitizing plants.Some plants can make horses more sensitive to the sun if eaten. Examine any pastures or fields your horse grazes in for alsike clover, St. John’s wort, ragwort, perennial ryegrass, or wild buckwheat.
- Your horse's symptoms should go away once they stop eating the plant. If they continue to eat it, they may be at risk of developing liver damage.
- If these plants are found, you will need to eliminate the problematic plants from your field and introduce safer plants.
Reduce inflammation with a steroid cream.Your vet may prescribe you a steroid cream, such as hydrocortisone, to help reduce any swelling or inflammation from the burn. Follow the label’s directions before applying.
Use an antiseptic cream if the burn is peeling or oozing.An antiseptic cream, such as Savlon or Sudocream, can prevent infections in blistered or oozing skin. Gently rub it into the affected areas.
- If the sunburn is very severe, the vet may inject an antibiotic.
- An over-the-counter triple antibiotic, like Neosporin, can be helpful for treating open sores.
Stable the horse during the day.Keep your horse out of the sun between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM, especially in summertime. Let the horse rest in a cool, ventilated stable. Ride your horse the morning and evening, when the sun is weakest.
- Some stables have a night turn out, where horses get grazing time at night to protect them from the sun and heat. If your horse has lots of white in its coat, ask the barn if your horse can take part in the night turn out.
- If you do let your horse out during the day, make sure they have shade. Let them rest under some trees or in a covered paddock.
Apply sunscreen to your horse.You can use children’s sunscreen or horse sunscreen. Before exposing your horse to the sun, rub the sunscreen around the bare areas of their face as well as to any white or light-colored areas of their coat.
- Extra strong zinc oxide works great on the sensitive, pink skin around the muzzle.
Put a fly mask over your horse's face.A fly mask will protect the most sensitive areas of your horse’s face against the sun. Choose a fly mask that will cover the eyes and muzzle. For the best coverage, look for a fly mask with an extra long nose piece.
- If your horse doesn't like the fly mask, try gently pressing it against their face or hanging it from their ear to let them get used to it.
- The fly mask can get goopy from sunscreen. If this happens, rinse it out with a hose and let it dry in the sun.
Cover light-colored horses with a blanket.If your horse has large patches of white or light colors on their back, drape a fly sheet or blanket over them to keep the sun off. If it is hot, choose light, airy fabrics that won’t overheat your horse.
Video: Sunburn on Horses
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