Comprehensive Care + 24 Hour Emergency


Belgian draft horse with a skin condition

Meet Our Specialists

HorseThe Dermatology Service at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals provides the best-available specialty care for horses with skin and ear conditions. We work closely with other services including Ophthalmology, Surgery, Oncology, Neurology, Imaging and Internal Medicine to provide comprehensive care for your animal.

We offer state-of-the-art diagnostic techniques and treatments, including intradermal allergy testing. We also read skin biopsies submitted to our diagnostic laboratory through the university clinics and from private practitioners.

Advanced Techniques

- Intradermal allergy testing

What to Expect During Your Appointment

Your scheduled visit to the Dermatology Service at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals begins when you pull up to the circular driveway in front of the Large Animal Hospital. Please park your vehicle in the driveway, come into the reception area and check in at the front desk. After a small amount of paperwork, a technician or student will help you unload and walk your horse to its assigned stall.

Often times, you may leave your vehicle and trailer right in the driveway but, if the lot is full, the receptionist will provide you with a parking pass and directions to nearby longer-term parking where overnight parking for trucks and trailers is also available.

After your vehicle is parked, a technician and student will work together to conduct an examination of your horse and ask you questions about the animal's past medical, surgical, travel, vaccination and deworming history and current health. The student will leave to report their findings to a resident or faculty member.

The resident or faculty member will return with the student to perform a second comprehensive examination that will include a discussion with the students, interns and residents; the clinician will also discuss all of the findings with you. We appreciate your patience and understanding in allowing our veterinarians-in-training to interact with you and your animal.

Working together, we will discuss the diagnosis and develop a treatment plan for your horse. Often, you will be asked to leave your horse in the care of our students so that we can begin appropriate testing, which can include blood tests or allergy testing. Given our busy schedule and consultations with other specialists regarding your horse's care, you may be asked to return to discuss our findings later in the day.

The Dermatology service also frequently sees Cornell patients admitted under the care of other specialties.

Many skin diseases are chronic in nature and require a lifelong treatment plan. Our service will plan follow-up phone consultations with you or your referring veterinarian to ensure any chronic conditions are management well over time. 

Dermatology: Medical Conditions

Immune-mediated Skin Disease

In this class of conditions, the skin is damaged to varying degrees by the immune system. The damage can be mild or the horse’s skin can become ulcerated over the majority of its body. Most commonly, the skin is accidently attacked while the immune system is trying to fight off something it deems as foreign. Drug reactions fit into this category and are common in the horse.

The other group of immune-mediated conditions are the autoimmune skin diseases where the body tried to reject the normal skin. Pemphigus foliaceus is the most common autoimmune skin disease of the horse. All of these conditions are serious, lifelong and require vigorous treatment.

Skin Infections

Staph infection

Staphylococcus bacteria is the most common cause of skin infection that we see. The bacteria can be transmitted easily from animal to animal and rarely from animal to human, and is found on all breeds of animals.

The most typical symptoms are a tender or itchy rash. The infection is diagnosed using skin tests and microbiology and treated with topical and/or oral antibiotics. Some strains are antibiotic resistant and require stronger medicines for treatment.

Dermatophilosis (Rain Rot)

This disease is an infection caused by D. congolensis, a gram positive bacteria thought to originated from the soil. Moisture and high temperatures contribute to the spread of the disease, which is fairly common among horses and usually is fairly easy to treat. 
Horses are usually affected on the back, head, and neck and the legs. Initially, the horse will display a matted coat and bumps, which then progresses to scabs and lesions. The horse may also be itchy and display signs of discomfort.

In some diseases, the infection becomes chronic and mimics may other skin conditions of the horse. In these cases, skin biopsies are needed for the diagnosis and the treatment will involve a long course of oral and topical antibiotics.

Allergic Skin Disorders

Horses with allergies can get itchy skin, hives, or both. The most common allergen of the horse is the Culicoides gnat, a very small mosquito. There are many different species of gnats and each has its site of preference where it feeds on the horse. When the gnat pierces the skin to suck the horses blood it leaves some “saliva” in the skin that triggers an allergic reaction. In central New York, the most common feeding sites are the horses face, the mane and tail regions, or along the horse’s ventral abdomen. Control of the gnat and its associated skin disease can be very difficult.

Horses also can become allergic to environmental things like pollens, mold spores, and barn/food storage mites. The allergic reaction can cause hives which may or may not itch or itchy skin. These allergies can be treated with steroids or antihistamines but these drugs may be prohibited in competition horses. Allergy testing can be done to identify what the horse is allergic to.

Related Info

The American College of Veterinary Dermatology
The official specialty organization created to advance and promote excellence in veterinary dermatology, oversee postgraduate training in veterinary dermatology, sponsor research, and organize scientific and educational programs for both veterinary dermatologists and general practitioners.