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 Facts and Fiction about Scratches


While we would like to think at times we are all experts in a particular field, the term “expert”

should be attached to a person (s) who have the clarity to recognize that someone is more

proficient than they might be. This would be the case with this paper. Heather Smith Thomas

published a report in the January 2001 Issue of Anvil Magazine from which much of the

information included in this paper is derived. It is by far the most accurate assessment of this

skin malady that we have researched. Kudos to Ms. Thomas for her insight and presentation

skills! “Scratches" is a term that refers to a skin dermatitis problem of the deep layers of skin

of lower legs of horses and cattle. It is a caused by a fungus, specifically Sporotrichum schenki, which in its most advanced form can have a bacterial component. It is most prevalent in the pastern and fetlock area and manifests itself as thicken black and crusty scab like bumps. Due to the location of the sores and the constant movement in the joint area, the skin will move and crack, leaving festering abscesses. Left untreated, the open sores allow the bacterial component to invade inner tissues and even vascular and lymphatic vessels. When this occurs, the whole lower leg may swell and the horse may become lame. Treatment at this point is complicated due to the combined bacterial/fungal components.


The myth about scratches is that it is “inherited” or that it occurs only in horses with white leg

markings. Like any disease or infection, some animals are more susceptible than others. The

fact is that unpigmented skin is more prone to chaffing and abrasion, thereby allowing the

infectious organisms to enter the body. Fungal and bacterial organisms need a break in the

skin in order to infect tissue. Other common fungal infections which act in this manner are

ringworm and girth itch. Both the fungus and bacteria which cause scratches are present in

moist and organically contaminated pastures or corrals. While not specifically identified, the

bacteria which works in concert with the fungus is more than likely anaerobic, which means

that it requires little or no oxygen to live and thrives in moist and manure like environments.


A variety of different treatments for scratches have been used over the years with limited

success. They include nitrofurazone, topical steroids, bactericides, iodine based chemistries

and a variety of home remedies and ointments. One such treatment is a mixture of

thiabendazole (cattle wormer), DMSO (dimethy sulfoxide) and nitrofurazone. There are

number of issues with creating these “compounded” mixtures. First, from top to bottom these

remedies contain chemistries which may be included on the banned substance list for

performance horses. DMSO has been used for years as a “carrier” solvent. Used alone it can

burn or irritate tissue. When mixed with chemicals such as iodine it can cause serious

problems. It will also readily show up on a urine or blood test. Second, it is difficult securing

many of these chemistries; which should tell you something about their safety. With certain

components such as thiabendazole not being readily available, it was substituted with

fendendazole, cambendazole and oxfendizole.


There are additional issues with this tact. Do the people using the products have any idea what

they are applying to their animals? Has there been any research detailing what the

compounding effects of mixing these chemicals together is? Do people realize that some of the

recommended chemistries are listed as being carcinogenic?


Third, with the combination of a fungus and unidentified bacteria, the “throwing” of chemicals at the infection in hopes that it will work allows the organisms to develop immunity to treatment. Drug or chemical treatments are designed to poison the infectious cells. If 100% of the cells are not eradicated, the organisms have the ability to mutate through a complex chemical work around. It not likely that 100% of the cells will be killed in the environment which horses and cows exist. It is however likely that the organisms have engaged in a mutation process based on the difficulty that people experience in eradicating scratches.


There is also another remedy that is being promoted. It is the all natural, essential oil, tea tree

oil formulation. There are two weaknesses with this treatment regimen. First, the bacteria

that co-exist with the fungus are anaerobic. Applying essential oils serve only to prevent

oxygen coming in contact with the infection. Oxygen is an effective agent in the deactivation of

this type of bacteria. Second, while tea tree oil has been evaluated as a bactericide, it has no

specific effectiveness against fungal infections, the predominant infection causing organism.

To be fair, depending on the extent and nature of the infection, this remedy would be

preferred over the drug therapy.


There is a natural alternative for the treatment of scratches. Summit Animal Health’s

technical staff researched this problem for over two years before developing a solution. The

SAH uses a 3 Step Process. The effectiveness treatment is based on the EnvizO3-Shieldtm

Technology formulation. EnvizO3-Shieldtm is an oxygen activated broad spectrum

antimicrobial chemistry which is integrated into a liquid foam spray (Q-Foamtm) as well as a

topical ointment (Q-Ointmenttm). Because the formulation has broad spectrum

effectiveness, it does not care whether the infectious cells are bacterial, fungal, or viral. The

oxygen component readily deactivated anaerobic bacteria. In fact it oxidizes the cell walls of

the bacteria causing them to lyses or “bleed” out. The broad spectrum antimicrobial chemistry

within the formulation does not poison the cell but rather shuts down its metabolic process.

Thus there can be no possibility of a chemical mutation or the development of a more

resistant strain of the organism. Natural anti-inflammatory components work to reduce pain

and swelling.


Treatment is easy. Step 1-The affected area should be well cleaned before applying

Q-Foamtm using Q-Wipestm so no dirt or outside contaminants are carried into the deeper tissues. Step 2-Dispense Q-Foamtm to attack the fungus and bacteria and let it absorb.

Step 3-Apply Q-OintmenttmQ-Ointmenttm penetrates the tissue and continues to

deactivate the fungus/ bacteria while providing a protective barrier against intrusion of

moisture, organic material or other infectious organisms. It enhances the healing process,

keeping the skin soft and making it less prone to cracking and re-infection. While it might be

difficult to change the environment where your horse lives, SAH Healthy Hoof Program is the

preventative solution to keeping your horse sound.


Summit Animal Health

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