Q: Why might my horse be rubbing his tail?
A: There are multiple causes of tail rubbing, but the trick is to find out quickly what the cause is in your particular case so you break the itch/rub cycle before it becomes too established. Some causes of tail rubbing include:
- Sweet itch. Sweet itch is caused by an allergy to the saliva in the bites of midges. Horses affected by this condition will typically rub their manes and their tails. Your vet will need to assist you in this instance.
- Pin worms. These worms live in the lumen of the intestine of the horse, and the female worms migrate via the rectum to lay eggs under the tail. This causes itching, and as a consequence, scratching. These worms are not detected on a faecal egg count, so you will need to ask your vet about this possibility.
- Shampoo residues. If shampoo or other hair products are not washed out correctly they can dry the skin and cause itching. Beware of using tail conditioners too close to the dock, as some of these can also be drying and cause the dreaded rubbing!
- A dirty sheath or udder. Dirt collected in the sheath or udder can cause your horse to rub his tail.
- Tick bites. When a tick has finished eating and dropped off the skin it often leaves a very itchy patch. The itch will resolve, but your horse will need monitoring for signs of bilary.
- Food or environmental allergies. Often an allergy causes overall itchiness and sometimes even hives. If you have ruled out all other causes, it may be worth talking to your vet about allergies.
Apart from the use of products in the tail, most causes of tail rubbing are going to require a discussion with your vet. The quicker you can identify the cause of the problem, the quicker you will be able to break the rubbing cycle.