Horse Mud

Mud Fever and How to Cope

During the wet and muddy winter months, horses are more likely to get mud fever/mud rash. This is because mud fever is most common when the ground is boggy and wet.

What is Mud Fever?

Mud Fever – officially called Pastern Dermatitis – is a sore and irritating condition that effects horses. It manifests itself in painful scabs forming around infected areas and it is most commonly found on the lower legs, but can sometimes be found on other places around the body.

Does my horse have mud fever? Here are the symptoms….

It is important to keep watch for any of these symptoms:

.      Crusty scabs forming on the surface of the skin.

  • Matted areas of hair around the affected area
  • When the scabs are removed, you’ll notice small, moist lesions on the tissue below
  • If the scabs are detached it is common to see a thick, creamy discharge between the skin and the scabs. This tends to be white or yellow in colour
  • Deep ridges may be seen in the skin, and these can split open
  • Hair loss around the infected area revealing raw, inflamed skin
  • Both swelling and heat 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, you may find that your horse does not want to work as freely or exuberantly as usual
  • In some extreme cases this can lead to a loss of appetite and lethargy


What causes this?

Mud fever usually begins from muddy fields or riding in poor conditions which is why it is most prevalent in the winter.

Horses have a lot of bacteria that live on their skin all the time without causing any issues but the problem occurs when the skin becomes damaged and bacteria, fungi and other parasites are able to enter through these damaged areas. When this happens, the skin becomes infected. When a horse’s skin gets wet it unfortunately becomes much more vulnerable to contamination and thus, 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 stones, grit or general dirt that can damage the skin and lead to infection. It is very tempting to wash your horse’s legs when they get dirty but remember that this softens the skin and opens it up to damage. 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 feel that you need to wash your horse’s legs, be sure to dry them with a soft, clean towel.

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 maintain the moisture that would otherwise dry off much quicker. It also makes it much harder to visibly see early signs of mud fever as the hair hides the skin.

What is the best way to treat Mud Fever?

Whatever stage you pick up on the mud fever it is best to restrict their time in the conditions that may have caused it. This could mean keeping them stabled with a clean, dry bed to limit any bacteria reaching the legs and scabs. If your horse has a lot of hair then trimming this off may be the best option, just whilst you eliminate the problem and let any already-formed scabs heal. It also allows you see the area better and ensures that any treatment is getting directly on the skin and not just on the hair. It is often 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 particularly if it has gotten so bad that they do not want the areas to be touched. It’s an option to poultice scabs, as this will soften them and make them easier to pick off. As usual, the best plan is prevention – try 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, preferably using an antibacterial wash. Do your best to remove any dirt or mud from the infected areas. Remember to towel dry the area as much as possible 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 or you could try bandaging the infected area. Please bear in mind that bandages can actually hold in moisture so be sure to bandage only dry legs.

Once your horse has clean and dry legs you can look into treatment creams which are often readily available from country stores, there is usually a section relating directly to issues bought on by mud and wet conditions, but if not, the store workers may be able to advise. Your vet may recommend antibiotics or anti-inflammatories depending on how your horse has responded to the infection and what stages it is in.

Preventing This from Happening

As with anything, it is always best to try and prevent a condition before it’s at the stage where it needs to be treated. Try to avoid your horse’s legs being wet regularly or for long periods. Only wash your horse’s legs when really necessary and when you know you can dry them thoroughly. Keep a clean and dry bed when in the stable and when riding, avoid boggy or muddy areas

There are products such as boots and sock designed specifically for wet conditions and to avoid infections like mud fever. These are available on most online stores or you can find them by searching on the internet.

It would also be a good idea to manage turnout if your fields are considerably wet and muddy. Try limiting time out if you can or fencing off the worst areas. If there is the space, rotating turnout also helps as it can help prevent the ground becoming too churned up and muddy.

There are barrier products (lotions, creams and oils) that can be used to try to stop the mud and bacteria getting right to your horses’ skin. It’s important to make sure that the legs are clean and dry before applying anything like this, or putting on boots, because if not you could be trapping the moisture and dirt in to the skin instead of precenting it.

It may be a very tough decision if you have to keep your horse stabled, but it is sometimes the best option even if just for a short time. If you have to do this and are concerned about keeping your horse happy and stimulated, there are many safe stable toys and treats like treat balls and salt licks that may alleviate boredom. Hand walking is always a good way to stimulate boredom and your horse will appreciate quality time with you.


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