At this time of year mud fever becomes a problem for many equine owners, the term ‘mud fever’ refers to a range of skin problems caused by mud. The condition is formally known as pastern dermatitis and is triggered by a variety of bacteria that love muddy, wet conditions. The infection can live undetected on the horse’s skin and become active when the surface of the skin is damaged. Prolonged damp or wet conditions can weaken the barrier between hair and skin, therefore this is more prominent in the winter.
The signs are distinct and normally appear above the hooves to start with, matted areas of hair, crusty scabs and small grazes. This can easily get infected causing the area leak puss and fluid. The horse may be sensitive around the area with heat and swelling, which may cause discomfort or lameness. If left untreated the horse may start itching the area which will cause it to go bald, inflamed and raw-looking areas.
Once you know the signs you can spot mud fever easily, if your horse is prone to the disease, you can prevent it by keeping the legs dry as possible early in the season.
If your horse is stabled throughout winter, you may not experience mud fever as the horse’s legs stay clean and dry. If you must put your horses in the field, preventing your fields from becoming mud baths is always a challenge in winter however this may be vital for mud fever prone horses and ponies. Where it gets boggy especially in gateways and entrances, you can buy field matts, lay old hay/straw or if possible, change entrances throughout winter to avoid horses standing in thick mud. When bringing in your horse, to ride or groom check this area daily as this can flare up quickly.
Treating Mud Fever?
You may do everything by the book but still dreaded mud fever hits! So, what can you do? It is firstly best to wash the affected area, if your horse has been out in the mud for long periods of time or has thick feathers, it will require large amounts of water. After, wash with a warm cleaning solution such as Hibiscrub (follow recommended instructions). Do not scrub or pick at the skin as this may irritate the area, any dead skin and hair will gently come off with the warm water.
Dry the area, lightly dab the leg with soft towels and wait till the leg is dry. This may take some time if it is cold outside. Once dry apply a barrier cream, these can be found in a variety of equine shops normally with antibacterial properties. To be extra safe you can do a patch test with the cream before applying it to the already sensitive area.
Keep it clean! If you can keep your horse out of the mud on a dry surface you may consider bandaging your horse, this will stop the area getting dirty, loosen any scabs and allow time for the area to heal. Remove bandages after 12 hours, scabs will be easy to remove when wiped clean. If you can keep the horse off from the mud for another few days this will help the process.
If you must turn out your horse apply another thick layer of barrier cream and turn out. There are many options on the market such as mud fever boots and mud socks which protect the area, these act as a great barrier especially if the muddy field is the only option.
Repeat steps several times and stay resilient! Mud fever is not treated overnight and sometimes can take months to fully heal depending on conditions. Treat until you have managed to remove all
scabs, at this stage if you have a hard standing it is best to let the area rest in a dry and the exposed area to heal. If not, continue with the barrier cream this will stop the infection becoming worse and encourage the hair to grow back.
Ensure throughout the process you wash and disinfect the area, removing all barrier cream residue and scabs before re-applying.
If symptoms get worse or the area is not healing, CALL YOUR VET!