Monday, 26 January 2015

All About .... Mud Fever

At this time of year with the wet weather causing muddy conditions in the fields Mud Fever and Cracked Heels often cause us big problems.  Horses with thin skin and/or white legs seem to be more susceptible.  Chesney has 4 white feet and has suffered in the past on one or two of his legs. These are really both the same skin condition which is generally caused by wet and muddy conditions and is also known as Pastern Dermatitis.

Generally found in the heels and lower legs, although it can be seen on the belly too.  When found on a horse's back it is called Rain Scald.  This is an inflammation of the skin which initially looks red and sore.  As it worsens the skin can swell and serum oozes through the skin causing cracking - this can then lead to secondary infection.

The horse or pony may be lame and the hair will usually look matted and tufted.  The tufts are where the scabs have formed and if you lift the tufts you will find pus on the bottom of the scabs.


Mud Fever is caused by a bacterium called Dermatophilus congolensis which lives in soil and can survive from year to year.  It enters the skin when it has been saturated by rain and/or mud or damaged in some way ie: a cut or wound.  The bacteria then multiplies.  The bacteria seems to thrive in some soil types more than others and/or the soil types make horses more susceptible.  Certainly Chesney (so far) has not had a problem since moving but he did suffer where he was previously.

Horses with clipped legs are more prone as are those with thin skin.  Horses with thick feathers on their legs are also prone as their legs take a long time to dry - this is true of Chesney.  Now I tend to trim his feathers with scissors so that they are not too thick and dry more quickly.  

Excessive washing of muddy legs (and other parts) can increase the problem if they are not dried properly.  Standing in muddy conditions can also cause problems as can excessive sweating!


To treat Mud Fever you should remove any excess feathers if necessary then wash clean and dry the area as best you can.  Then remove all the scabs to ensure the area is completely clean.  This may be painful and some scabs may need softening first, although if you have washed the area this should help.  Wash the area again, thoroughly, using either a diluted iodine solution, a surgical scrub or mediated shampoo. Rinse well!

Use clean towels (or a hair dryer on a cool setting) to thoroughly dry the area - it must be dry - before applying an antibiotic barrier cream.  I find that stabling overnight on a clean dry bed means that the next morning the legs and heels are totally dry. Applying a greasy waterproof cream on wet legs will just trap the moisture on the legs - defeating the object!

Continue to remove the scabs as they may reform quickly and repeat the above process every day until the skin has reformed.  Then continue with the barrier cream to prevent re-occurence.  I use Hydrophane's Protocon Ointment which I find adequate for prevention or for less serious outbreaks.  There are other creams available.  For more serious outbreaks where the area is large and the damage significant a product from the vet is probably required!

Antibiotics may be needed in some incidences so if the affected leg becomes swollen the vet should be called!


To prevent Mud Fever you should avoid brushing the belly and legs of a muddy horse and NOT wash their legs everyday!  Allow mud to dry and then brush it off.  Do not put boots or bandages onto wet or muddy legs.  Although there are specialist bandages available now for this purpose.

Removing excess feather will help ensure the legs dry more quickly but clipping will remove all protection, just use scissors to trim excess feather away.  Using barrier creams on DRY legs will help too.  If possible keep your horse out of muddy areas.  Perhaps use electric fence to divide off badly poached areas of the field or put down hardcore in gateways and around water troughs.

Inspect legs daily as early treatment will reduce the seriousness. I find that it is easiest to check legs in the morning, but I am lucky because I am able to stable my horses overnight.  This means that their legs are dry in the morning and I can have a good check.

Mud Fever can be a nasty problem and a difficult one to tackle if you are unable to stable your horse.  Prevention is ALWAYS better than cure.  Keep checking but try not to wash legs too often and if you do dry them well.

Do you have any good tips for tackling or preventing Mud Fever?

Look out on Wednesday this week for my 'One Weekend in January' vlog.    
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