Sunburn in Horses: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis

When summer slowly reaches its peak, the heat becomes almost unbearable and the sun crashes mercilessly on the earth, many people stock up on sunscreen. Not only do we suffer from it, but also our four-legged friends. In this article, we want to explain to you how you can recognize sunburn in horses, what you can do about it and how you can prevent it. Find out more here!

What is Sunburn Anyway?

Before we deal specifically with sunburn in horses, let’s examine the phenomenon in more detail. Because do you know how and why the skin actually “burns”? Basically, it is initially an inflammation of the skin, which occurs when too much UV-B radiation hits it.

The UV-B radiation itself makes up only a small part of the ultraviolet light in a spectrum from 280 nm to 315 nm. If intense enough, this short-wave radiation can damage the skin cells and cause acute inflammation. This is usually accompanied by reddening, which is triggered when the blood vessels widen around the inflamed area. In general, the surfaces are supplied with more blood, which is why a sunburn is often warm and slightly swollen.

By the way: The intensity of the UV-B radiation varies depending on the location and the time of year and day. It is particularly strong in summer, at high altitudes, near reflective surfaces such as water, at the equator, and at lunchtime. The more these factors come together, the higher the risk of sunburn in the horse.

Detecting Sunburn in Horses

Unfortunately, sunburn in horses often goes undetected because the affected areas of skin are often covered by fur. If the rider does notice a reddening, it is relatively often attributed to an allergic reaction or a rash. So now we explain how you can tell if your animal has burned itself!

Interpret Symptoms Correctly

Sunburn in horses can manifest itself in very different ways. A basic distinction is made between the three levels. The severity of the burn can vary depending on how long the animal has been exposed to intense sunlight and how sensitive its skin is. They are roughly differentiated as follows:

  • 1st degree: slight reddening of the skin, pain when touching the affected areas;
  • 2nd degree: very severe reddening of the skin and blistering;
  • 3rd degree: extensive redness, flaky, peeling skin, and blisters.

While you can also treat mild (Degree 1) sunburns yourself, it is better to consult a veterinarian as soon as you notice blisters. A burn of the third stage should definitely be treated because this can also be accompanied by inflammation and even fever.

Where Does It Occur Most Often?

Sunburn in horses particularly affects those skin areas that are only slightly pigmented and / or areas where hardly any fur grows. Specifically, this means that the head is particularly at risk. Sunburn can occur on the nostrils, around the eyes, on blisters, and on the forehead. But the tip, the base of the tail, the back, and the fetlock are not infrequently affected.

Some horse breeds are significantly more likely to be sunburned than others. Above all, those are at risk whose skin is very light, almost pink under the fur. So-called Cremello, Smokey Cream, or Perlino horses are often mistaken for albinos because their skin is so light. However, they have blue eyes.

On the other hand, it is a myth that molds get sunburn more easily than black horses or browns. The color of the skin under the fur of the white horses is almost black and very heavily pigmented. In these breeds, the susceptibility is the same and depends above all on the environmental factors.

Burned Skin – What Now?

Did you notice that your horse’s skin was burned? Then it is time to help your animal. Basically, you do this in a similar way to how you would do it with a human. Essential are:

  • Cooling: As with any burn, this helps soothe the skin.
  • Water: After a sunburn, the horse has an increased need for fluids.
  • Shade: Further sun should definitely be avoided.
  • Creams: Wound healing ointments are recommended for the regeneration of the skin (no fatty creams, these hinder the release of heat).

Tip! The difference between coolant and skin shouldn’t be too intense. Ice cream, for example, is not suitable because you risk more damage from the cold. Instead, it is best to work with a very gentle stream of water, cooling gels, or moist compresses. If the latter is very hot, it is time to replace them.

Preventing Sunburn in Horses

It is better to be safe than sorry, as the saying goes. And this is definitely true for sunburn as well. With just a few small measures, you can successfully protect your horse from painful burned skin. Find out now exactly how this works and what your options are!

Always a Shady Spot

Whether in the pasture, in the stable, or during training: give your horse some shade. Because that’s the best way to protect it from sunburn. Trees are the most natural way and are ideal to be found on and around the paddock anyway. If this is not possible for you, you can, for example, stretch a sun sail to create a shady area.

But be careful! There should be several shady areas in a pasture. Otherwise, it can happen that the animals that are low in the ranking are permanently driven away and have to stand in the scorching sun.

Blankets, Nets, etc

There are now some solutions that bring sun protection directly onto the horse. For example, you can use holsters, which are covered with a fine net and should protect your head from the sun without restricting your view. Unfortunately, however, these are not accepted by all horses and only have a relatively low level of UV protection.

To prevent sunburn on the horse’s ankles, bandages and jumping bells are suitable. Make sure that the material is really UV-resistant.

In addition, it can also be useful for particularly sensitive skin types to protect the whole body. You can use full-body blankets for this. At best, these are opaque and have a reflective surface, but hardly impede the circulation of heat. Often this also applies to eczema blankets. What else you have to consider when choosing, we have recorded in another article about fly rugs.

Sun Cream for the Horse

If you want to protect yourself from sunburn, you will usually use sunscreen. Such remedies are also available specifically for horses. In contrast to many human products, they are then free of fragrances and preservatives and are therefore particularly easy for the skin, but also for the nose and fur.

But what do you have to pay attention to when it comes to sun protection for horses? As with us humans, this is subdivided into different sun protection factors. However, this does not mean, as is unfortunately often wrongly assumed, that a cream blocks more UV-B rays, but says something about the length of the protection. The self-protection time is multiplied by the sun protection factor. If the skin can withstand the sun for 10 minutes on its own, it can with a cream with a SPF of 15 for 2.5 hours (10 * 15 = 150 minutes).

For you, this means: a higher SPF is not necessarily better. Because if the horse only spends 2.5 hours outside, it doesn’t need a more intensive cream. On the contrary, this can also irritate the skin. After all, a higher concentration of the protective concentrate was used here, to which sensitive skin can react. In principle, however, you use the preparations as you would with humans: Simply apply to the sensitive areas, rub in and let something soak in. Equipped in this way, the summer ride can be fully enjoyed again.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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