Mud Fever

  • Friday, February 10, 2017

Mud Fever

Mud Fever, what is it and why do horses get it?

Mud Fever; given its proper name it is called Pastern Dermatitis and refers to a wide variety of skin reactions caused from different irritants. It is an infectious agent called dermatophilus congolensis, which thrives in wet and muddy conditions. Often dormant in the skin the spores germinate until the skin is compromised by wet and muddy conditions which then causes an acute inflammatory reaction, which often looks incredibly sore and uncomfortable.

With the British Winters becoming milder and wetter mud fever is now a real concern for a number of horse owners; especially those whose turnout is compromised by the wet weather or those unable to frequently change pastures to prevent the fields becoming too churned up. Many of us especially those on livery yards have limited options other than resting the fields to prevent this happening. This often means horses do not get as much turnout, which during the winter months when you are already struggling to fit it riding as much due to being at the yard when its dark, it can make for a long winter for both you and your horse. We obviously do what we can as owners to manage these hurdles but sometimes stabling your horse for longer periods of time is unavoidable.

Mud Fever occurs due to the mild, wet and muddy conditions as previously mentioned but other causes are often due to the constant washing of limbs before or after work especially if you do not dry your horse’s legs properly. Those with heavily feathered limbs are often seen to suffer more too; due to the fact their legs are often washed more frequently than those with less hair, clipping your horses legs out is not always the answer either, as this can expose the skin even more so. Also those with white limbs are often more susceptible to Mud Fever due to the associated photosensitisation of non-pigmented skin.

Signs your horse may be suffering with Mud Fever;

Generally, the signs of Mud Fever are easy to recognise and quite obvious; you will notice scabby, broken skin on the back of your horse’s heels, often matted hair with scabs formed within it. Beneath the scab there will often be small ulcerated lesions, that discharge a thick substance, this can vary from white to yellow to green depending on how badly infected. Your horse may present as lame and/ or have heat and swelling in the legs involved. Eventually they will lose the hair at the areas infected leaving sore, inflamed skin on show. Mud Fever will often spread up the legs if left untreated. It can also occur on other parts of the body; another commonly affected area is the back, we call this Rain Scald. In severe cases you may find your horse will lose his appetite and become very lethargic occasionally showing signs of depression. When it comes to treatment you are best to try and get on top of it straight away and like most things prevention is easier than cure, so during the wetter months be vigilant to keep on top of potential causes of Mud Fever and be sure to spot the tell-tale signs sooner rather than later.


The main aim in treating this condition is to try and keep the skin as clean and dry as possible, if need be the answer is to remove the horse from the conditions causing it, so potentially horses with bad cases of Mud Fever could need to be stabled to ensure the legs do not come into contact with said conditions, this may have to be the case for some time until it has completely healed.

Some causes need more specific treatment to penetrate the causal organisms which are found underneath the scabs, this is often uncomfortable or painful for the horse so ensure you remain safe and seek help where required, it is often an idea to have the horse sedated to remove these scabs if they are particularly bad, some will come off easily whereas others may need soaking or poulticing to soften them before they can be removed. Once free from scabs the affected areas need to be washed using either a mild disinfectant, surgical scrub or medicated shampoo and rinsed really well. If possible, use luke warm water as cold water can aggravate the area. Once rinsed it is vital that the limbs are properly dried, any moisture left will allow the infection to remain on the skin and you will not see any improvement. Once you are sure the limbs are completely dry there are a huge range of lotions and potions you can apply to help the healing process but remember these must only be applied if the skin is completely clean and dry. (See our #productofthemonth below for a great range we recommend.) Bandaging the limbs can also be a good way to help keep it affected areas clean and dry being cautious not to bandage too tightly. This treatment process may have to be repeated several times before a full recovery can take place and in some severe cases this can take a number of weeks. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatories may be required in some cases so if you are concerned at any point seek veterinary attention.

As I previously mentioned prevention is often better than cure, so in order to stop Mud Fever occurring in the first place always ensure your horses bedding is clean and dry, avoid over-washing your horse’s limbs and if they are particularly muddy it is a better option to wait for the mud to dry and brush it off instead of washing it off. When using bandages or boots ensure the legs are clean and dry first, often rubbing of boots on dirty skin can cause the initial legions that the bacteria gets into. If possible, rotate your paddocks to avoid poaching or use electric fencing to block off any excessively muddy areas. Consider using topical barrier creams on clean and dry legs before turnout or exercise or invest in a waterproof leg wraps for turnout and lastly as mentioned it is often the only option to keep your horse stabled if the above cannot prevent or help control the situation and this can often be the only option once the infection is established. As horse owners we are loathed to have to do this so be vigilant and if you suspect your horse may be showing signs of mud fever act quickly as this may prevent what can be a time consuming and costly recovery as well as very unpleasant for your horse.


For Mud Fever we recommend Nettex’s Muddy Marvel, a range of products to help prevent and treat Mud Fever. We Stock the 7-day Mud Away Spray which helps prevent the build-up of mud on all areas of the horses making winter grooming much easier. Muddy Marvel Barrier Cream which provides a waterproof, breathable and antibacterial protection against wet and muddy conditions and Muddy Marvel de-scab a penetrating solution that helps to soften scabs bought on by wet and muddy conditions. All available at Horse Requisites prices starting from just £3.83 +VAT.

For more information on Mud Fever or ways to help prevent or treat it please speak to any of our staff they may be able to advise you on a suitable product to help you.


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