How To Prevent & Treat Sunburn in Horses

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During the warmer summer months, it’s normal for most people to take precautions to prevent their skin from getting burned by the sun’s harmful UV rays. However, it is not as commonly known that the sun can be just as damaging to livestock as well, including horses.

Many horses have patches of skin that lack pigmentation or have areas of white skin that is more susceptible to burning. So if you own horses that graze outdoors for prolonged periods in the summer months, you will find the following article highly useful.

Below we outline various sunburn prevention methods, as well as available treatments if your horse is prone to sunburn.

Prevention

Preventing sunburn to your horses should be something taken very seriously. Prevention is the key to keeping your horses happy and healthy. Follow these 5 tips below to prevent sun damage:

1. Field Shelters

Placing a mobile field shelter for your horses in their paddocks, will provide an excellent method of creating effective and flexible shaded areas to protect vulnerable horses skin from harmful UV rays. As they are not permanent structures, they can be easily moved to different locations as and when needed making them ideal for all seasons.

2. Sunscreen

Unknown to many horse owners, sunscreen is one of the best methods to prevent sunburn and related damage to pale skin. You can actually use high factor SPF formula sunscreens for human use, and it is recommended that you apply the lotion to the nose of the horse, which is a highly sensitive area.

If you prefer not to use products designed for human skin, there are also specially made sunscreens that you can spray all over your animals as an alternative.

3. Fly Masks & Sun Sheets

UV resistant fly masks and UV resistant fly sheets are an excellent method that you should use for all of your horses. Fly masks prevent irritating flies and also protect their faces from sun damage.

A horses face is far more vulnerable to burning so masks will bring far greater comfort during intense heat. Sun sheets and cooler rugs are also an excellent method that provides a physical barrier and prevents UV-based sun damage.

4. Plenty of Water

During hotter days, it is essential you provide your horses with access to plenty of water throughout your pasture. Horses need to stay hydrated in the warmer summer months. By providing a fresh supply in various locations out in the field, you will help them stay cooler, better hydrated and less prone to heat-related illnesses.

5. Night Grazing

A very simple solution to dealing with the intense heat and UV-rays of summer is to take your horses out to graze at night instead.

By letting your horses out at night rather than the daytime, you ensure they can graze during cooler temperatures, with no harmful rays and fewer flies to contend with. It’s always advised to bring your horse inside during hotter hours when the sun is out, typically between midday and the early afternoon. But by nighttime grazing, you eliminate all of these concerns.

Horse drinking on a hot summer's day

Treatment

If your horses show typical symptoms of sunburn, then the first thing to do is to ensure they stay out of the sun until their skin has fully healed. You can then try some of the following four suggestions which are said to work well:

1. Nappy Rash Products

It may seem rather unusual but nappy rash creams that are designed to help infants can help treat sunburn on your horses.

You can pick from any of the major brands at your local pharmacy. You will want to apply the lotion one or two times daily until the sunburn is completely healed. It might take from a few days up to a few weeks to heal, but give them time to heal fully before allowing them back into direct sunlight for prolonged periods.

2. Aloe Vera Gel

Another option that works well is to apply aloe vera based gels to the burned areas of the horse’s skin. You can purchase aloe vera gel at any pharmacy or specialist store. Simply rub the aloe gel gently into the affected area once or twice a day until the sunburn has been completely healed.

3. Stay in the Shade

It is a good idea to take suitable care of your horses and help them recover as best they can if they’re suffering from any symptoms associated with excessive sun exposure.

If you allow your horse to go outside while it is dealing with sunburn, then be sure to keep them underneath trees or other sources of shade for the majority of the time. Keeping the horse in a shaded area will prevent their sunburn from worsening.

4. Veterinary Attention

If your horse is showing serious signs of severe sunburn or the affected area does not show any signs of healing after a few days, then it is advised to contact your vet.

Sometimes a horse may have underlying health issues that may cause the animal to be more susceptible to sunburn. Most sunburns will heal after a few days but if not, something could be wrong with your horse. When speaking to your vet, make sure to inform them of any medications your horse may be taking such as antibiotics or tetracyclines which can increase sun sensitivity.