Sunburn in horses – how to prevent and treat it.
Just like humans, horses are vulnerable to the Sun’s UV radiation, and they can get sunburns with relative ease. After all, they spend most of their time outside, and if you live in a particularly hot region of the world, sunburn in horses is something that you should definitely pay attention to. Moreover, as you’re about to find out in this article, a horse can get a sunburn even if it’s relatively cloudy outside.
It’s always a good idea to ensure adequate protection for your horse, and fortunately, there are quite a few methods that you can use to prevent sunburn and make sure that your horse stays healthy. These include sunscreen, sun sheets, UV-blocking masks, and even good-old shade.
Before we go into detail on each solution, let’s answer some of the most frequent questions regarding sunburn in horses.
How to identify sunburn in horses.
It’s worth noting that a horse may become photosensitive (photosensitization) due to something it ate or due to other health-related conditions such as liver damage. Most of the time, a horse will be affected by sunburn on non-pigmented, pink-looking areas of the body: around the eyes, on the muzzle, etc. However, a horse can also get a sunburn on its back, in which case it will become reluctant to wear a saddle.
The most common signs of sunburn in horses include red skin and skin that is peeling off or is becoming scaly. Deeper burns will cause blisters, and the skin will start to leak a clear to yellowish fluid. Basically, the signs are just as obvious as sunburn in humans. If your horse suddenly becomes reluctant to wear a halter or bridle, make sure to check if it doesn’t have sunburn on its face.
Sun damage can also bleach out or wash out the color in your horse’s coat. You will most likely notice this if the horse is bay, dark brown, or black.
The sad news is that a horse might need up to a couple of months to completely recover from sunburn, which is all the more reason to protect it adequately during the spring and summer months.
How to protect horses from sunburn.
There are several steps that you can take to ensure that your horse doesn’t get sunburnt. The first thing you can do (and the easiest solution) is to make sure that it doesn’t spend too much time outdoors when UV radiation is at its strongest.
For instance, you can schedule your horse’s grazing sessions to take place early in the morning, in the evening, or even overnight. One of the best solutions I’ve come across is to take the horse out just before dusk and leave it to graze overnight. This way, it will still get a fair share of sunlight exposure (Vitamin D), just not the damaging kind.
As I mentioned before, certain plants can cause photosensitization in horses, including St. John’s wort, buckwheat, ragwort, and perennial ryegrass. Identify plants that can cause this condition and remove them completely from the pasture or make sure to isolate them so that the horse doesn’t have access to them.
Also, make sure that you have shaded areas on the property that the horse can use to shelter itself from the sun from time to time. Keep in mind that a horse can get a sunburn even on overcast days. Vigilance is key when it comes to prevention. Also, never let your horse sleep in the sun on a very hot day!
Sunscreen is a must-have if your horse has any white or rosy patches across its body. You will most commonly find these on the muzzle and around the eyes. Invest in a high-SPF sunscreen with organic ingredients and you can’t go wrong.
Make sure to apply a healthy amount and don’t hesitate to reapply it often on hot summer days. Sunscreen relies on a pair up of organic and inorganic ingredients that create a physical barrier and dissipate heat before it can affect the skin. Ideally, you should look for a product that has at least an SPF factor of 30.
You can also protect your horse’s coat from harmful UV rays by using special sprays or coat conditioners with UV protectants. Apply these regularly in order to minimize the effects of ultraviolet rays. Alternatively, fly sheets and face masks can help out quite a bit. I would use both a coat conditioner and a flysheet, just to be sure.
What can you do if your horse gets sunburnt?
In the unfortunate case that your horse has gotten a sunburn on its face or anywhere else on the body, the best thing you can do is to treat the affected area with a soothing ointment, particularly one that has aloe in it. Moreover, make sure to apply sunscreen on the affected area in order to contain the damage.
A horse will recover from mild sunburn provided it has enough water to drink and is able to spend enough time in the shade. Give your horse time, and do everything you can to improve its comfort during this trying time. Sunburn can be very painful for horses, which is why it’s always better to prevent it in the first place. In serious cases such as deep burns, don’t hesitate to call your veterinarian. Frequent sunburn can lead to serious skin problems and even skin cancer in horses.
Which horses are the most vulnerable to UV rays?
Horse breeds with light coats such as Pintos, Appaloosas, and Paints are the most vulnerable to sunburn. If you own a horse with a light coat, always take appropriate measures to protect it from UV radiation. Even if your horse doesn’t have a particularly light coat, it doesn’t hurt to check for any light-colored markings such as white spots, as these are the most vulnerable to sunburn.
If your horse has pink/pale-colored skin underneath a white/bay coat, the sun’s rays have a much easier time getting through the coat and damaging the skin. A darker coat is able to absorb more heat and radiation, which makes dark-coated horses less vulnerable to sunburn. That doesn’t mean that they’re immune to it, just that it will take longer for them to develop a burn when compared to light-coated equines.
Sunburn in horses is a serious matter and you should take every possible step to prevent it from happening. Deciding whether to use a horse sheet, face mask, sunscreen, or all of the above, depends on your location and the amount of heat that you have to cope with each year.
Hopefully, you now have a better idea of how to identify and prevent sunburn in horses. If you have anything that you would like to add from your own experiences, feel free to get in touch!