Mud Fever – What It Is & How To Treat It

Mud Fever – Causes, Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment

During these colder months are horses are more receptive to getting mud fever/mud rash. This is because mud fever is most common when the ground is wet, damp and very, very boggy!

Firstly… “what actually is Mud Fever?”

Mud Fever (officially called Pastern Dermatitis) is an uncomfortable and irritating condition that effects horses. It involves painful scabs forming around infected areas. It most commonly occurs on the lower legs, particularly below the fetlock, but can actually occur in other places around the body.


What Causes Mud Fever?

Mud Fever

Mud fever can occur from muddy fields or when riding in poor conditions – especially during winter.

Horses actually have lots of bacteria that live on their skin all the time without causing any trouble. The problem occurs when the skin becomes damaged and bacteria, fungi and other parasites are able to enter the body. When this happens the skin becomes infected. When a horse’s skin gets wet it softens and unfortunately becomes more susceptible to damage. This is why Mud Fever is most common in horses that are regularly exposed to wet conditions.

Muddy fields are the biggest culprit! Mud is not only wet and therefore softens the skin, but also often contains grit or stones that can damage the skin. Obviously mud is more common in the wetter winter months and as a result this is when Mud Fever is most common. It is very tempting to wash your horse’s legs when they get dirty but remember that wet skin means soft skin! If your horse is prone to Mud Fever try to only wash horse’s legs when really necessary. This can mean leaving mud to dry completely and then brushing off. If you do need to wash your horse’s legs, be sure to dry them with a soft, clean towel.

Sorry to any hairy horse lovers! Horses with lots of feather are often most prone to Mud Fever. Although you’d think that the hair would protect the skin, it can actually hold moisture near it. This is because the more hair there is, the longer it takes to dry. It is also harder to spot early signs of mud fever if the skin is hidden by hair.


What Are The Symptoms Of Mud Fever?

Be sure to keep an eye out for any of the symptoms listed below:

  • Crusty scabs forming on the surface of the skin.

    What Are The Symptoms Of Mud Fever?

  • Matted areas of hair around the affected area
  • When the scabs fall off/are removed you’ll notice small, moist lesions on the tissue below.
  • If the scabs are detached you may notice a thick, creamy discharge between the skin and the scabs. This can be white, yellow or even have a hint of green.
  • You may see deep fissures or ridges in the skin that can split open. This is where the name ‘cracked heels’ comes from.
  • Hair loss around the infected area revealing raw, inflamed skin.
  • Heat and swelling can be common and the lower legs can become very sore. It can be especially painful if the infected area covers the fetlock as they need to flex the joint to move.
  • The pain can potentially lead to lameness or an unwillingness to move.
  • In some extreme cases this can lead to a loss of appetite and lethargy.

How Can I Treat Mud Fever?

How Can I Treat Mud Fever?Try to remove your horse from situations that can make the condition worse. This may mean restricting their turnout, only letting them loose in an arena or even keeping them stabled. If your horse has a lot of hair then you may need to trim this off. This lets you see the area better and ensures you’re getting any treatment directly on the skin and not on the hair. It is best to ask your vet for advice, it may be that the scabs need to be removed which some horses will need to be sedated for. Alternatively, it can be possible to poultice scabs to soften them to make them easier to peel.

The best prevention for mud fever is to ensure your horses legs don’t stay wet or damp for a long period of time.
Give your horse’s legs a good clean, you may need need to use Triscrub or other antibacterial washes. Try to remove any dirt or mud from the infected areas. Remember to softly towel dry the area so it is not left wet. From this point be sure to keep the legs as clean as possible by keeping their bed clean and dry. You could try bandaging the infected area, however bear in mind that bandages can actually hold in moisture. You may also want to consider the bedding you use, ensure it is soft and not scratchy.

Once your horse has clean and dry legs you can look into treatment creams and lotions. Your vet may recommend antibiotics or anti-inflammatories depending on how your individual horse responds to the infection.


How Can I Prevent Mud Fever? 

Your main aim should be to try and avoid your horse’s legs being wet regularly or for long periods. As mentioned previously, only wash your horse’s legs when really necessary. It is advised not to hose off your horse’s legs when they get dirty. Instead, leave them to dry (your shavings or straw will help dry their legs) and brush off the next day, or once dry.

Arma Mud Socks

Another option to prevent mud fever, is by using mud-guard boots when riding or turned out in muddy conditions. A great option are the Arma Mud Socks. Designed to offer protection from mud fever and injuries, the Mud Sock Boots provide full lower leg coverage with  flexible and shock absorbing material to provide maximum comfort and range of movement. 

You may also want to get tactical with your turnout. If certain areas of your horse’s paddock get wet and muddy try fencing them off. It is always a good idea to rotate paddocks throughout the year if space allows. This can help prevent turnout becoming churned up and muddy. As much as it can seem a nuisance, when yard owners bring in restricted turnout it is for the benefit of the ground.

You can also try to form barriers between your horse’s skin and the moisture and mud. Try applying barrier creams or oils such as pig oil which are hydrophobic. For a physical barrier why not opt for turnout boots. Always make sure that the legs are clean and dry before applying any creams or putting on boots because if not you could be trapping the moisture and dirt close to the skin.

As previously mentioned, you may feel that there is no escaping the mud in your horse’s paddock and so you have no other option but to keep them stabled. If this is the case consider giving them some toys and treats to play with so they don’t get bored.


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. To shop our range of Mud Fever products such as antibacterial washes and barrier creams simply click the button below or visit one of our stores.


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