Sarcoptic Mange

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Also Known As



Although sarcoptic mange, also known as scabies, is rare in horses, every horse owner should know the symptoms and treatments for this condition that causes unsightly and painful sores along with hair loss when a horse has the condition.

Sarcoptic mange is caused by the microscopic parasite Sarcoptes scabiel var equi  and is a highly contagious condition that may be passed between animals and to people. Identification of the mite in skin scrapings can be negative in spite of a heavy infestation and the diagnosis usually relies on confirmation by a laboratory.

Scaling, crusting, weeping serum, and loss of hair follow invasion of the parasite. The mite is difficult to find, but if an infestation is suspected, treatment should be started immediately to minimize its spread.

Lesions develop where the mites tunnel into the skin. Small red bumps appear and create intense itching usually due to an allergic reaction. As the horse rubs, paws, and bites at the skin causing scratches and sores, crusts, weeping serum, and loss of hair occur.

Secondary bacterial infection often follows and complicates the treatment.


  • Red bumps on the skin
  • Intense itching
  • Crusts and scabs
  • Oozing sores
  • Loss of hair in patches
  • Thickening of skin


The cause of sarcoptic mange or scabies is an allergic reaction to the sarcoptic mite that lives on the surface of the skin or in tunnels beneath the skin. Females deposit eggs in burrows or beneath scabs. Eggs hatch in about four days and a never-ending cycle of infestations occurs unless the problem is diagnosed and treated.

Often, other kinds of equine dermatitis are referred to as scabies, but only those caused by Sarcoptes scabiei var equi are considered true scabies by most veterinarians.


Preventing sarcoptic mange or scabies is best accomplished by effective grooming techniques, careful attention to skin care, and good nutrition. Although a horse's skin appears to be tough, it is very sensitive and easily damaged by careless or rough handling or grooming.

Brushing for a few minutes each day will help keep the horse free from skin problems. If the horse becomes sweaty from exercise, surface moisture should be scraped away and the horse rubbed down with a towel.

During the grooming of the horse, any skin problems should be addressed and treated as soon as possible. Scabs or skin flakes, abrasions, and infections should receive careful attention.

Horses with mange or scabies should be isolated to prevent transmission to other horses and a veterinarian called in to diagnose and prescribe treatment.


Treatment of sarcoptic mange or scabies should be done by a veterinarian. Topical insecticides are often used with a high-pressure spray application to saturate the skin. The horse should be scrubbed with a stiff brush to dislodge and remove scabs. Usually, several applications seven to ten days apart are necessary.

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EquiMed staff writers team up to provide articles that require periodic updates based on evolving methods of equine healthcare. Compendia articles, core healthcare topics and more are written and updated as a group effort. Our review process includes an important veterinarian review, helping to assure the content is consistent with the latest understanding from a medical professional.