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A prob­lem only mares can have

Q: I have a won­der­ful Paint/ Thor­ough­bred cross mare who’s healthy and full of life. But there is the is­sue of her dirty udder! Sa­van­nah de­vel­ops an oily, black crust pri­mar­ily be­tween her teats that builds up over a cou­ple of days. We gen­er­ally try to soften it up with a lit­tle Dawn soap when­ever we rinse her after a ride. For­tu­nately, she doesn’t seem to mind and al­lows us to rub the mess away. But we do have some ques­tions that I hope you can an­swer for us be­cause in a barn pop­u­lated pri­mar­ily with geld­ings, no one seems to know for sure: What causes this ac­cu­mu­la­tion? How much buildup is nor­mal? Should we be wash­ing it away on a reg­u­lar ba­sis or is it best to just leave it? Jack Kern Win­ter Park, Florida

A: You are right, mares do have their own unique hy­giene is­sues, and this is among the most com­mon: The skin around a mare’s mam­mary glands pro­duces a se­ba­ceous ex­u­date sim­i­lar to the smegma seen on geld­ings. This sub­stance pro­tects the del­i­cate skin of the teats from the rig­ors of nurs­ing foals as well as from chaf­ing as the two sides of the udder rub to­gether when the mare walks. But, as you al­ready know, waxy or sticky buildup can ac­cu­mu­late in this space.

Healthy skin in this area is hard to de­scribe, but in gen­eral it will feel like it has a slightly waxy coat­ing. Nor­mal skin will not be dry, flaky, red­dened or ir­ri­tated. Some mares may have thick, smelly chunks of greasy de­bris in this area, but it usu­ally takes months or even years for the ex­u­dates to build up to this level.

The skin around a mare’s mam­mary glands pro­duces a se­ba­ceous ex­u­date sim­i­lar to the smegma seen on geld­ings.

It does sound like Sa­van­nah is an over­achiever in this re­gard---it is not typ­i­cal for this buildup to ac­cu­mu­late as quickly as you de­scribe. In­di­vid­u­als vary, how­ever, so it may be nor­mal for her. An­other pos­si­bil­ity is that overzeal­ous wash­ing is stim­u­lat­ing the over­pro­duc­tion of the ex­u­dates. This coat­ing is im­por­tant to pro­tect the skin, and the body will step up pro­duc­tion if

it senses that there isn’t enough.

None­the­less, you don’t want to leave a thick or chunky layer of ex­u­date be­tween any mare’s teats be­cause the ma­te­rial can har­bor bac­te­ria and cap­ture dirt, which makes the ac­cu­mu­la­tion abra­sive and can lead to more se­vere skin ir­ri­ta­tions.

When­ever the buildup on the udder be­comes heavy, a gen­tle wash­ing and dry­ing is in or­der. Dawn dish soap will work fine for most---use only a tiny dab on a wet sponge to pre­vent the skin from be­com­ing too dry. A gen­tler op­tion would be a com­mer­cial sheath-clean­ing so­lu­tion sold for geld­ings. What­ever you use, be sure to rinse well and pat dry gen­tly with a clean towel or pa­per tow­els. Most mares need this kind of care just two to four times per year. A small num­ber of mares need no such cleans­ing, and a few need it more of­ten.

For Sa­van­nah, or any mare, I would sug­gest that if her udder needs to be cleaned more than once a month, it is time to check in with your vet­eri­nar­ian. If the skin is in­tact and pain-free, then a spe­cial trip isn’t needed---just raise the ques­tion the next time your vet­eri­nar­ian comes out for some­thing else. But if there is any red­ness, swelling or pain, then make an ap­point­ment specif­i­cally for this is­sue. Your vet­eri­nar­ian may pre­scribe a med­i­cated sham­poo, sug­gest a change in the fre­quency of washes or give you a topi­cal med­i­ca­tion to ap­ply after the washes. Melinda Freck­le­ton, DVM Gainesvill­e, Vir­ginia

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