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It's a Personal Interest of Dr. Archibald's
Scratches (aka Greasy Heel, Mud Fever) can be a Devastating Condition Affecting the White Socks and Legs of Horses.
The number of cases of Scratches we see fluctuates both annually and seasonally. Typically summer weather, moisture and some pastures combine to increase both incidence and severity.
White skin can become damaged by liver metabolites after susceptible horses ingest certain feeds, especially, but not exclusively, alsike clover. These metabolites react to ultra-violet sunlight in un-pigmented (white) skin, damaging the skin, allowing it to become unusually vulnerable to simple Bacterial and Fungal Infections similar to a person with Aids. Dr. Archibald believes there can be a strong concurrent inflammatory reaction to the fungal hyphae, which can amplify the intensity and duration of what we see clinically as 'Scratches'.
The legs and heels, because of their contact with soil and moisture, are affected most severely, and infection can range from a few scabs to complete 3rd-degree infection and skin loss.
Historically our efforts to treat Scratches involve topical medications compounded by veterinarians or owners.
Standard protocol involves first cleaning & clipping the hair and removing the scabs, often around open sores.
It is often a painful and sometimes dangerous endeavor. Severe cases may either not respond, or soon recur.
The causal agents of Scratches are considered common in the environment, but the incidence is much higher in wet surroundings.
Some clients tell stories of their horses spending weeks and thousands at vet clinics, to have symptoms immediately return.
"The three most common words I hear when people describe their horse's scratches are 'frustrating', 'painful' and 'debilitating'," says Dr. Archibald.
Other Stories include people becoming injured trying to help treat their horses topically, and of horses being unrideable and in constant pain.
"I've seen a professional farrier injured by a typically quiet horse suffering from scratches who reared up and struck him in the back while being trimmed because he was in so much pain."
"The spectrum is quite wide from a few scabs and little to no discomfort, to such chronic and severe pain that owners were resigned to euthanizing their horse to ease the unrelenting episodes of suffering."
In European and other continents immune-treatments for 'scratches' have been licensed for decades.
Years of research and experience have proven these treatments to be both safe and efficacious.
Remarkably these advances remain virtually unknown in North America.
Dr. Archibald has toured the manufacturing facilities in Europe and had discussions contributing to his philosophies of Scratches in horses.
As Veterinarians, our primary mandate is to serve
the health and welfare of the horse.
My first job as a young veterinarian fresh out of school was in a small rural community not far from the town actually called 'ALSIKE' - yes that is the same name of the very clover that exacerbates the condition we call SCRATCHES.
"In order to treat horses with topical medication, some severely affected and painful horses would need strong sedation, their legs frozen, or even to be anesthetized."
"When I drove off the farm after handing the owners a jar of ointment, and instructions to keep the leg clipped and medicated, it just felt like I was falling short of the mark."
Dr. Archibald feels there is a void of research understanding and addressing the scratches condition.
Out of an obligation to improve the welfare of our horses we've started to look at Scratches from some novel perspectives, extrapolating some data from human research as well. Subsequently, Dr. Archibald has attended the 'Frontiers of Science in Fungal Immunology Conference', held only once every two years around the globe, and only by invitation.
"Fungal medicine is a fascinating field of study, and there are some cutting-edge concepts applicable from Opthalmology to Sarcoids to Scratches."
Coincidentally, the current president of the international human fungal research organization in Europe initially also trained as a veterinarian.
We are building a database of horses we see and treat for Scratches, and our clients commit to providing scheduled status updates. Response trends and subtle observations, combined with new research in the human field, is helping us formulate some interesting hypotheses about the etiology of the clinical complex we call 'scratches'. It's a beginning.
Dr. Archibald is available to answer questions or to examine and review treatment options for your horse.
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How Healthy White Legs Should Look: