Hair Loss on a Horse’s Face or Body (Alopecia)

Getting to the root of patchy hair loss and bald spots.

Updated July 9, 2024 | By: Jamie Whittenburg, DVM
chestnut horse with hair loss on the face near the eyes
Areas of hair loss on a horse's face and body can be concerning and may be caused by a variety of issues.

When you arrive at the barn and go to greet your horse, your first instinct may be to embrace him, pet his face, and give him a treat. But it can be concerning when the face looking back at you has areas of hair missing or falling out excessively, leaving patches of his bare skin visible.

Bald spots can appear on many different areas of a horse’s body, but often owners are most concerned with patchy hair loss on the face (around the eyes, cheeks, and muzzle). For those living in warm climates, this issue tends to be more common. The first step for owners is to determine if the hair falling out is truly alopecia or normal, expected shedding.

Normal and Abnormal Hair Loss in Horses

It is normal for horses to undergo shedding cycles, which are primarily influenced by changes in daylight throughout the year. So, it is natural for a horse to grow a thick, long coat as temperatures get colder and shed out to have a thin, short coat as the days get warmer. Additional seasonal factors, such as fluctuations in hormone levels, can also impact hair growth and shedding patterns.

When a horse has bald spots, patchy shedding, or generalized hair loss outside of these normal cycles, it may be referred to as alopecia. It's essential for horse owners to be able to differentiate between alopecia and normal shedding patterns so potential underlying issues can be addressed.

Factors That Contribute to Hair Loss

Several factors can contribute to alopecia in horses, with environmental and health-related issues playing significant roles. A high-quality diet, regular grooming, well-fitted tack, and veterinary care are essential components for maintaining healthy skin and hair. Here are some of the most common causes of hair loss in horses and how to help a horse affected by each.

Excessive Sweat

sweaty ears of a show horse with a braided forelock

During hot and humid weather, horses will sweat more. That sweat gets absorbed by the skin and keeps the hair follicles damp for extended periods. This moisture can soften the follicles and cause the hair to shed. Also, sweat contains proteins and salts. When it dries, it can irritate the skin and potentially contribute to hair loss.

Further, many horses are not fans of having their face, eyes, and around the poll area rinsed off with water. Sweat and heat can also get trapped under the mane, which acts like an insulator. So, these areas can lose more hair due to accumulated dirt and sweat irritating the skin.

Regular, careful, and thorough grooming practices and fans to improve ventilation and cool off temperatures can help prevent hair loss from excessive sweat. You can also try a running braid for your horse’s mane or individual braids if it’s on the shorter side.

Fungal Infections

Fungal infections are a common cause of patchy hair loss, particularly in regions with warm, humid climates, such as in the southern United States. These infections, commonly called ringworm but known by veterinarians as dermatophytosis, thrive in environments favorable to fungal growth, like on moist, sweaty skin and in poorly ventilated stables.

Spotting Fungal Skin Infections

Fungus tends to cause hair to fall out, and owners may notice this around their horse's eyes and cheekbones, as well as other parts of the body like the neck, shoulders, flank, and legs. Excessive rubbing or trauma to these areas (from itching, for example) can exacerbate the condition. Characteristic signs of a fungal infection include circular areas of hair loss, often with crusty or scaly skin and mild itching.

Causes and Risk Factors

Horses may come into contact with fungal spores through:

Advanced age, poor skin condition, inadequate nutrition, and decreased immune system function are factors that can influence whether your horse is more likely to develop an infection. Prompt diagnosis and treatment from your veterinarian are essential to prevent the spread of infection and alleviate discomfort for your horse.

Treatment and Prevention of Further Hair Loss

Treatment may involve topical antifungal products, medicated shampoos, and environmental management strategies to remove fungal spores and reduce the risk of recurrence. Proactive measures, such as maintaining proper stable hygiene, not sharing equipment, regular grooming practices, and high-quality nutrition can help minimize the risk of fungal infections and promote overall skin health in horses.

Since fungal infections can, in some cases, also be transmitted to humans, it is important to practice good hygiene and utilize personal protective equipment, such as gloves and outerwear.


Pinworms (Oxyuris equi) are intestinal parasites that often lead to itching and hair loss. Parasite eggs may be ingested from a horse’s environment. The eggs then mature in the horse's intestines. Adults emerge out of the anus and lay eggs around the horse's perineum. This results in intense itching which will cause the horse to rub its tail and hind end on objects such as fencing and stall walls.

Prevent Hair Loss Caused by Parasites

Intestinal parasites can compromise overall health, leading to symptoms such as weight loss, a dull coat, and hairless spots. Proper parasite control measures, including fecal egg count testing, are crucial to preventing infestations and minimizing the impact on your horse's well-being.

Rain Rot

Chestnut horse's cheek covered in mud
A muddy environment could put a horse's skin at risk for developing rain rot.

Also called rain scald, this condition is caused by Dermatophilus congolensis, a bacterium that causes a skin infection and alopecia in horses. This bacterium is commonly found in wet and humid areas and results in patchy hair loss with areas of crusting on the skin.

A veterinarian may diagnose rain rot based on the climate your horse lives in and the appearance of the skin. This infection is potentially contagious between horses and proper care and husbandry is vital to prevent its spread.

Treating and Preventing Rain Rot

Affected horses should be treated by a veterinarian, and the environment must be controlled to reduce moisture that the horse’s skin is exposed to. Keeping horses indoors during rain storms, dehumidifying barns, ensuring wraps and saddle pads are completely dried before use, and thorough grooming to dry horses after exercise can all aid in the prevention of rain rot. All brushes, tack, and equipment must be thoroughly disinfected before being used on other horses.

Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID or Cushing’s Disease)

PPID is a common endocrine disorder that can cause abnormal hair growth and shedding patterns. The disease results from a malfunction of the pituitary gland in the brain which is responsible for regulating a horse’s hormones. Horses suffering from PPID may have increased hair coat length and delayed shedding of the winter coat, among other signs.

Proper diagnosis and management, including medication and dietary adjustments, are essential for mitigating the effects of PPID on a horse's coat and overall health.

Seasonal Alopecia in Horses

Seasonal alopecia, characterized by irregular, patchy hair loss during specific times of the year, is a common occurrence, particularly in warm climates. Seasonal alopecia in horses may be caused by an imbalance in the pineal gland. If you notice hairless patches on your horse that seem to come and go with the seasons, contact your veterinarian for a diagnosis.

Allergic Reactions

Bay horse with a tail rub from itching

Skin allergies, whether caused by the environment, insect hypersensitivity, or other irritants, can lead to hives and intense itching (pruritus) of the skin. You may be using a new fly spray this season or trying out a different type of bedding in their stall and notice bumps, dryness, or balding spots on specific areas of their skin. These may be signs of your horse having an allergic reaction to areas of direct contact with an irritant (called contact dermatitis). Contact your veterinarian for a full exam and diagnosis so you can identify the trigger factors and come up with a plan to get your horse feeling like themselves again.

Poor Nutrition

Hair loss or a dull coat could indicate underlying health issues, such those stated earlier in this article, so it is vital to first work with a veterinarian. If your veterinarian gives your horse a clean bill of health, it may be worthwhile evaluating the diet for any essential nutrients that could be lacking or missing altogether. Deficiencies, such as a lack of basic vitamins and minerals, could contribute to dull, dry, or flaky skin and hair.

Revaluate and Revamp Your Horse’s Diet

Work with your veterinarian and/or equine nutritionist to evaluate the diet, with a focus on the quality of forage (hay, hay alternative, or pasture), and fortified grain as needed. It may be helpful to incorporate supplements into your horse’s diet to support overall health as well as skin and coat. Some commonly helpful supplements for skin and coat include ingredients like:

Poorly Fitted Tack and Equipment

Using tack or equipment that is poorly fitted to your horse’s body – whether it’s too loose, too tight or the wrong size all together – can lead to skin rubs and hair loss in specific areas. For example, ill-fitting girths and saddles could irritate the skin behind the shoulder, under the belly, and along the topline. Another commonly seen area of hair loss is the chest and shoulders of horses wearing blankets that are improperly fitted and cause excessive friction.

Use Appropriately Sized Tack and Seek Professional Guidance

To resolve this, pay close attention to your horse’s skin and coat health when trying new tack or equipment. If your horse is prone to blanket rubs, you could outfit them in a cozy, yet stretchy blanket rub guard. Also, it’s worthwhile to have a professional saddle fitter take a look at your horse’s unique conformation and ensure your equipment is well tailored to their body.

Supporting Healthy Skin and Hair

Hair loss can be a source of concern for horse owners, especially on areas like the face and neck, but understanding its causes and implementing the appropriate management strategies can help effectively address the issue. By maintaining a healthy, clean environment, providing proper nutrition, and addressing underlying health conditions, you can promote optimal skin and coat health for your horse.

SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian regarding specific questions about your horse's health. This information is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease, and is purely educational.