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Loss of skin pigment around eyes

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  • Loss of skin pigment around eyes

    My mare is losing the pigment on the skin around her eyes and in a couple of places on her muzzle.

    Anyone else experience this?

    I googled it and everything I found says it is a copper deficiency. Is this what others have heard?

    Is copper something you can 'fix' by just adding a supplement with out worries of providing too much or is it something that requires blood work to determine amounts lacking and needed?

  • #2
    I'll be interested to hear others responses too. I have a gelding that has lost pigment around his lower eyelid (looks like white eyeliner) for the last three years. It comes and goes with winter. By early summer pigment is completely restored, and it doesn't start going white again until late December.

    He also gets especially crusty eyes during this time and rubs his face a lot. I've always chalked this up to some kind of rubbing though the skin isn't raw or irritated. Its amazing how horses can be very precise and rub the lower lid on the corner of a fence, etc,. Drives me nuts but I can't stop him when I'm not there.

    Last two years he lost pigment equally on both eyes, this year its only one. Very strange.

    I too have heard its a copper deficiency, though I'm fairly certain there is no copper deficiency in my boy's diet and zinc isn't too far out of whack either.
    Being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress.


    • #3
      The ratio of copper and zinc in relation to iron may be out of whack. Excess iron intake in relation to the others can reduce uptake of the other 2, or so I have read. I have had some experience with this issue, will try to write more later, but must get on the way to work right now.
      RIP Sasha, best dog ever, pictured shortly before she died, Death either by euthanasia or natural causes is only the end of the animal inhabiting its body; I believe the spirit lives on.


      • #4
        If you can do it without getting it in the eye itself, try using Dermacloth on the area. Sometimes there seems to be something fungal going on.
        McDowell Racing Stables

        Home Away From Home


        • #5
          My horse had the same issue years ago. My vet told me it was vitillago (??) and that it is not well understood. Someone suggested the copper thing to me, but nothing really helped until the pigment appeared to just come back on it's own. It was definitely worse in the winter and it was at it's very worst when I boarded at a place that did not turn the horses outside when it got below 20F. Which was much of the winter in our particular location.


          • Original Poster

            Originally posted by sdlbredfan View Post
            The ratio of copper and zinc in relation to iron may be out of whack. Excess iron intake in relation to the others can reduce uptake of the other 2, or so I have read. I have had some experience with this issue, will try to write more later, but must get on the way to work right now.
            Thank you, look forward to reading what else you have to say.

            Originally posted by Laurierace View Post
            If you can do it without getting it in the eye itself, try using Dermacloth on the area. Sometimes there seems to be something fungal going on.
            I doubt I can get anything there with out getting it into the eyes. Talking about what most people would describe as eye liner.


            • #7
              Onchocerca die off under the skin may be the cause of the pigment change. Do some research here on Ivermectin use to kill Onchocerca. I bought a horse off a ranch who had never been dewormed with ivermection. A few weeks after his first dose he developed white pages around his eyes and nose. When he shed and grew a new coat they were gone. My vet told me that dir off of large quantities of Onchocerca could cause this and not to worry.


              gives an explanation and mentions the pigmentation loss.



              • #8
                I assume the horse is some other color besides gray? Because my gray horses lose pigmentation around their eyes, muzzle and even their neck as they age. They aren't deficient in anything, it's just fairly common with grays. If it's another color then yes, I've heard copper deficiency can be a cause, same as other posters mentioned.


                • Original Poster

                  Horse is a Haflinger so definitely not grey.


                  • #10
                    I found an old CoTH thread on the subject:

                    and Ohio State University mentions the copper issue:

                    On the past experience, with my mare that was iron overloaded, (which had been an incidental but alarming finding on routine bloodwork, later confirmed via KSU iron panel), she developed depigmentation around her eyes at the same time that her mineral levels were out of whack.

                    My current mare, who came to me quite chronically undernourished, also had depigmentation by one eye, that is gradually improving with her improved nutritional status.

                    What little I know about mineral ratios I have learned via reading the Equine Cushings and IR list in years past, and from reading two of Dr. Kellon's books on equine nutrition.
                    Last edited by sdlbredfan; Jan. 3, 2012, 10:31 PM. Reason: typo and add content
                    RIP Sasha, best dog ever, pictured shortly before she died, Death either by euthanasia or natural causes is only the end of the animal inhabiting its body; I believe the spirit lives on.


                    • #11
                      Well, the iron is new to me. My horse grew back pigmentation when he was stalled more, rather than out in the sun. He wore a fly mask then as well but he was also switched from Purina sr to Triple Crown sr and was eating better.
                      Thus, I am not sure which factor it was.
                      He is back to pasture board and Purina sr ( I am not a fan) and has lost his pigmentation again. He is grey.


                      • #12
                        I have the same issue with my Arab mare. One trainer told me to give her Clovit for 6 months and it would go away. The vet had no idea what to do about it or what it was. A judge asked me, in a full arab class, if she had pinto in her! I have had her on Platium Performance Wellness supplement for a year now. Got better with the Clovit for about 3 months, started it in March last year, then the pigment stopped coming back. We moved barns about a month ago and it is filling in again around the eyes. This horse is totally pampered and is stalled inside. I have no idea what to add to her diet or what to remove that will help. At this point, I'm just watching it.


                        • #13
                          This is called "idiopathic" for a reason: no one really knows! I posted my experience in a previous thread but will repeat for the new poster. Got a 5 yo dark brown gelding who had the loss of pigment around his eyes and muzzle and the white grows to meet down the side of his face. Breeder said ther was a copper deficency in the water so she suggested we supplemented when we got him home. did so, did EVERYTHING anyone suggested and the only thing that seems to improve it is summer time! As someone else noted, the white increases ov er the winter andmearly disappears during the summer. Horse is turned out daily all day in the winter, nightly during the summer and in a bright barn so i am discounting lack of UV rays or thelike. Wish I could post a photo because this horse is really cute and many have asked about the coloring, even one asking if he had been in a fire!
                          It is ofen called "Arabian fading or pinky syndrom" becasue not uncommon in the breed but more often with greys.


                          • #14
                            Just thought I'd mention an experience I've had w/ eye pigmentation and nutrition. I bought a young(2)palomino who had grown up eating cheapo sweet feed and so-so hay. After I got him to my place I changed his feeding to better quality feed and then later added Flaxseed. The very first change I noticed was in the pigment around his eyes and then later his muzzle. Within a few weeks of adding flax his pale eye pigment turned very dark brown and shiny, like new skin but brown/black. Because of the timing of the changes I attributed it to the ground flaxseed. I still feed flax and his pigment is still healthy and dark.
                            "There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery." - Charles Darwin


                            • #15
                              I've read that iron (like in your well water) can affect copper levels. Low copper = less pigmentation.

                              I have had success tossing a bunch of pennies into my water troughs (color has come back if I make sure the pennies stay in there).

                              I figured that this was the best way since the horse is going to get his dose of copper at the same time as he's getting the iron (in the water). Our iron levels are within the range that the NIH says is ok, but they are higher than average.

                              Some of my horses seem to be more sensitive to this than others. I consider them to be the canaries in the mine shaft, so to speak. :-)
                              co-author of
                              Duel for the Crown: Affirmed, Alydar, and Racing's Greatest Rivalry