Mud Fever – What It Is & How To Treat It

Mud Fever In Horses – Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment

Mud Fever

Rain rain go away, come again another day! With sunny days a thing of the past and dark clouds looming on the horizon, we’ve got a very important question to ask… Are your fields getting waterlogged? Sadly, for most of us the answer is yes. More than just slippery, smelly and bare, boggy pastures pose a real risk to our horses welfare. Let’s be honest, as equestrians we’ve all uttered the words “a little mud never hurt anyone” but strictly speaking, this isn’t the case. Here we’re going to be taking a look at mud fever: what it is, why it occurs, how we can prevent it and in the worse case scenario, how we can treat it.

What is mud fever in horses?

First thing’s first, what is it? Mud fever has many names, including greasy heels, mud rash, mud rot and cracked heels but really, they’re all the same thing. Officially titled Equine Pastern Dermatitis, mud fever is an uncomfortable and irritating condition that can effect horses. Most common amongst those wintered outside, it occurs as a result of wet and muddy conditions. Put simply, when our horses are exposed to wet pastures for lengthy periods their skin becomes infected and inflamed. This results in painful scabs, lesions and swelling. Generally, these symptoms can be spotted in the most exposed areas, found between the fetlock joint and the heel. As owners, it’s important we spot the signs early, if left untreated it can spread further up the legs and can even result in a condition known as cellulitis. So, how do horses contract it?

What causes mud fever?

As the name suggests this nasty condition is caused by something that here in the UK is all too common… Mud! Horses have lots of bacteria that live on their skin all the time, without causing any trouble. Sadly though, problems can occur when the skin becomes damaged. As pastures get churned up they become rough, gritty and even stony. No match for such assaults, this causes microscopic lesions on the surface of our horses skin. Through these little holes bacteria, fungi and other parasites are able to enter their body. Just one of the many hidden nasties found in soil is the one responsible for mud fever, Dermatophilosis Congolensis.

What’s known as a skin commensal this is one of the afore mentioned bacteria that are always found on the skin. However, once inside the body it causes nasty infections. While it doesn’t help those who suffer, thankfully, mud fever is non-contagious. It can’t be passed from one horse to another.

Risk Factors

Feather

If you’re a hairy horse lover, you’re out of luck! While you might expect hair to provide protection, it can actually increase the risk of rubbing and chafing. Not to mention, it holds large amounts of water, staying soggy for longer. This means that those with lots of feather are more likely to suffer from mud fever.

Dirty Bedding

Whether you’ve got a mucky mare or a gross gelding, beware! Wet bedding can increase your horse’s risk of mud fever. Highly acidic, urine contains ammonia which can further damage the skins natural barrier.

Injuries

From over-reaching to abscesses, open wounds significantly increase the likelihood of your horse contracting mud fever. If you spot a lesion, apply wound cream to kill any bacteria and avoid turning out until it’s healed.

Don’t forget, this condition does not discriminate, it can be picked up by any horse at any time. So, it’s best to be vigilant!

Mud Fever Symptoms

During the winter, we’d recommend checking your horses legs daily for symptoms. Keep an eye out for the following:

  • Redness.
  • Crusty scabs on the skin.
  • Matted areas of hair.
  • Small, moist lesions.
  • Thick, creamy discharge.
  • Deep fissures or ridges in the skin.
  • Hair loss.
  • Heat.
  • Swelling and inflammation.
  • Lameness.
  • Loss of appetite and lethargy.

Mud Fever Treatment

A really common ailment, the first thing to remember is don’t panic! If you’ve spotted symptoms of mud fever, here’s what you can do:

Protection

Where possible, it’s best to cease pasture turnout. To help your horses legs heal, they’ll need to be kept clean and dry. If you’re unable to stable your horse, you can also try using turnout boots to provide protection from further damage and infection.

Trimming

While you may prefer to keep your horse looking natural, we’d recommend trimming their legs if they’ve contracted mud fever. This will enable you to treat the skin directly, while making it easier to monitor the healing process.

Washing

The first step to treating mud fever is to thoroughly wash the skin with warm water and a diluted antimicrobial cleaner. This will soften any scabs so they can be removed, while ridding the area of any harmful bacteria. If your horse finds this process painful, you may need to contact your vet to arrange sedation. It’s really important that once cleaned their legs are carefully dried.

Treatment

In most cases, mud fever is treated by applying a medicated cream. Various options are available, each containing antiseptic ingredients to aid healing. In severe cases, your vet may prescribe antibiotics.

Mud Fever Prevention

As always, prevention is far better than cure! While we can’t eradicate bacteria from the soil, or change the weather, there’s still plenty we can do to prevent mud fever! Take a look:

Turnout

Try to limit turnout in muddy fields. While we all like our horses to have a little freedom you should avoid their legs being left wet and muddy for long periods of time. Where possible, turning out in a dry surfaced arena is a great alternative to pastures.

Boots

Prefer unrestricted turnout? If you’re unable or not keen on keeping your horses in, turnout boots are a great preventative measure. Designed to offer protection from heel to knee (or hock), these form a physical barrier against mud and water. Always apply turnout boots to clean and dry legs to avoid chafing. These should not be left on indefinitely, requiring regular removal so they can be washed and dried.

Barrier Creams

Wile turnout boots are a fantastic option, they aren’t for everyone. Thankfully though, you can also form a barrier between your horse’s skin and the mud using creams or oils. These are made using hydrophobic ingredients, which naturally repel moisture. Always make sure that your horses legs are clean and dry before applying any creams. This is to prevent moisture and dirt becoming trapped against the skin.

Washing

When our horses come in covered in mud it can be really tempting to wash them off. Sadly though, this can do more damage than good! Hosing down the legs actually softens the skin further, increasing the risk of abrasions. Instead, allow the mud to dry off, before brushing it away the next day.

Pastures

There’s no denying, some fields stay drier than others. From slopes and soil composition to natural drainage and the local waterline, loads of factors play a part in this. Although these things are very much out of our control, there’s still things we can do, here’s a few ideas:

  • Add drainage channels around the perimeter.
  • Rotate fields to avoid churning up.
  • Ensure there’s plenty of space for the number of horses.
  • Use matting or concrete around gateways.
  • Plant safe trees for plenty of natural shelter.
  • Fence off areas prone to becoming boggy.
  • Poo pick regularly.

If you have any more questions or suspect that your horse has mud fever but you’re not sure then it is best to contact your horse’s vet.


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