Hairlessness is rare in horses. While selective breeding produced several hairless breeds in other domestic animals, no truly hairless horse breeds exist.

There are anecdotal accounts of hairless horses throughout history. Some horse breeds are mistaken for hairless horses due to their fine coats. Most truly hairless horses born today have Naked Foal Syndrome (NFS), a fatal genetic disorder.

Several health conditions can cause hair loss in normal horses. Healthy hair protects your horse’s skin and insulates his body, so keeping his coat in good condition is essential for overall health.

This article will discuss hairless horses, naked foal syndrome, and hair loss in horses. Keep reading to learn the difference between a hairless horse and a normal horse with a hair loss condition.

Hairless Horse History

Mentions of hairless horses appear sporadically in historical records from the 19th century.

In 1838, The Baltimore Sun published a story about a hairless horse born in New York. Other 19th-century publications from South Africa and Australia describe horses with smooth skin and no hair follicles.

Scientists don’t know what caused hairlessness in these mature horses from historical times.

Do Hairless Horses Exist?

Hairless horses do exist. Historical accounts of mature bald horses lack scientific verification, but researchers have identified genetic disorders that cause hairlessness in equines.

Unfortunately, most hairless horses die before they reach maturity. [1]

Hairlessness in Domesticated Animals

Humans have selectively bred several furry domesticated animals for hairlessness to serve as companion animals for owners with allergies. Unlike horses, these animals survive to maturity and pass the hairless trait to their offspring.

Domesticated animals with hairless breeds include:

  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Rats
  • Mice
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Hamsters

Hairlessness in mice arises from mutations in the mammalian hairless (hr) gene, which plays a critical role in hair growth. Scientists selectively bred hairless lab animals for dermatology research. [2]

Research suggests a small number of genes control fur characteristics in dogs. Studies found all hairless dog breeds shared the same FOXI3 mutation, which affects the development of hair and teeth. Hairless dogs commonly have teeth defects. [3]

Hairlessness is undesirable in horses because of the adverse welfare effects. Hairless horses are susceptible to sunburn, skin inflammation, and poor temperature regulation. As a result, humans never selectively bred hairless horse breeds.

Fine-Coat Horse Breeds

Some horse breeds have fine coats and sparse hair but are not truly hairless.

Akhal Teke horses have coat hairs with more narrow, opaque cores than other breeds. These traits give their coat a unique metallic sheen. [1]

The breed evolved in a hot climate, so thin coats helped keep them cool. Humans also selectively bred them for their metallic coat sheen. While Akhal Tekes are not entirely hairless, their delicate skin and fine coats need extra protection in cold conditions.

This breed carries the gene associated with naked foal syndrome, the disorder responsible for most cases of hairless horses. [1]

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Naked Foal Syndrome

Naked foal syndrome (NFS) is a genetic disorder only found in the Akhal Teke breed.

Researchers documented the first case of naked foal syndrome in Akhal Tekes in 1938, but only recently identified the genetic variants that cause the disease.

Clinical Signs

Horses with naked foal syndrome have almost no hair on their body, mane, or tail. Affected foals are born hairless and remain that way. Horses often have no eyelashes and abnormal whiskers.

Microscopic studies on skin from affected foals found hair shafts, if present, were abnormally thin and lacked structure. [1] Their skin is typically dry and itchy. The lack of protection from a standard hair coat can also increase the risk of skin lesions.

Other clinical signs associated with naked foal syndrome include abnormal teeth development, digestive disorders, chronic diarrhea, and laminitis-like problems.

One study reported heart, brain, and immune defects in a deceased foal with naked foal syndrome. [1]

Genetics

DNA studies linked naked foal syndrome in Akhal Tekes to a nonsense variant in the ST14 gene. Genetic variants in this gene are also associated with congenital skin diseases in humans. [1]

A nonsense variant produces an incomplete or non-functional protein. In this case, it leads to improper skin and hair follicle formation. [1]

Naked foal syndrome is an autosomal recessive disorder. Foals need to inherit two copies of the mutation to inherit the disease. Carriers of a single copy of the mutation do not display clinical signs.

DNA testing can help Akhal Teke breeders avoid mating two carriers and reduce the risk of producing an affected foal.

Prognosis

Naked foal syndrome is always fatal. Most foals die within the first weeks of life, but some horses survive for up to three years. Young foals typically die from digestive problems. Some owners humanely euthanize affected horses to prevent prolonged suffering.

Hair Loss in Horses

Some health conditions can cause hair loss in horses that resembles hairlessness.

Hair loss is also called alopecia. While congenital and permanent hair loss can occur in horses, most alopecia is temporary. Identifying the cause of your horse’s hair loss can help you make management decisions that will help him regain his healthy, regular coat.

Congenital Alopecia

Horses with congenital alopecia have permanent hair loss from birth. This is rare in horses, and research into possible genetic causes is ongoing.

One study describes a case of congenital alopecia that resembled hairlessness in a Percheron draft horse. Teeth and hoof development were normal, and the affected horse survived adulthood. [4]

Infection and Infestation

Bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections affecting the skin can also cause hair loss in horses.

Mange is a rare skin condition in horses associated with mite infestation. Sarcoptic mange can lead to severe hair loss that resembles hairlessness in some animals. [5]

Ringworm is a fungal infection characterized by circular hair loss patterns. Horses can pass this infection on to humans. [6]

Hair loss is also associated with severe skin infections, such as cellulitis. Infection of the hair follicles themselves is called folliculitis. [6]

Allergies

Allergies in horses can also cause skin irritations and hair loss.

Insect bite hypersensitivity, or sweet itch, is a common allergic equine skin disease. Bites from midges and gnats can cause allergic reactions in susceptible horses. These reactions cause itching, lesions, hives, scaling, crusting, discomfort, and hair loss. [7]

Food allergies can lead to hair loss. However, allergic reactions to food are rare in horses.

Health Problems

Other health problems in horses that can contribute to hair loss include: [6]

  • Autoimmune disease
  • Cancer
  • Fever
  • Stress
  • Hormonal Imbalances
  • Poisoning
  • Metabolic disease

Trauma

Severe trauma to the skin from injury or burns can result in permanent hair loss.

Friction caused by poorly fitting equipment and blankets can lead to isolated patches of hair loss on the skin. Repetitive trauma to hair shafts from excessive grooming, UV exposure, pesticides, and hair products can also cause hair loss.

Management

Horses with permanent hair loss need careful management to protect their skin from UV exposure, insects, and environmental conditions.

In the winter, these horses need blankets to stay warm since they don’t have natural insulation from thick coats. In the summer, fly sheets and other forms of fly protection keep insects off exposed areas of skin. Look for fly sheets and products with UV protection to prevent sunburns.

Good management can also help prevent hair loss in horses with normal coats. Regular grooming removes debris that can irritate skin and stimulates the prod