We’ve all been there when our seemingly healthy horse comes in from the pasture or out of their stall one morning with blown up legs. You immediately take a gander and feel around with your hands searching for heat or a cut, only to find a colony of scabs. The entire leg may or may not look like a balloon, but your heart feels like it’s about to burst. Though this is a common nuisance for horse owners, mud fever can be a pain to deal with and can lead to chronic skin issues.
So what is mud fever? Mud fever is a common name for pastern dermatitis. It is an infection caused by a group of bacteria that flourish in wet and muddy conditions. Mud fever is a loose term for a whole slew of skin reactions affecting the lower extremities of your horse. Mud fever can also be referred to as “greasy heels” or “cracked heels”, as the heels are usually the origin of the infection.
The mud fever causing bacterial organisms do just fine living on healthy equine skin causing little to no harm on its own. However, once a cut, scrape, or wound is present, the door has been opened for the bacterial organisms to climb their way into the layers of the skin. Once the skin has been injured or breeched by being too wet, a bite, or injury, the bacteria then multiple in the damp and warm skin causing an infection.
Images of Mud Fever on the heels
Mud fever can quickly spread to other areas of the lower leg and become a more severe infection.
There are conditions that predispose horses to mud fever. Even certain soil types can make horses prone to mud fever. Some of other contributing factors are:
- White limbs or white patches (may be due to photosensitivity)
- Prolonged exposure to damp & muddy paddocks
- Soiled bedding
- Sweat that has not been properly removed
- Not thoroughly drying the limbs when excessive washing is a constant occurance
- Feathered legs- mostly because they tend to be washed more than those without feathers
- Injury resulting from rubs, bites, chaffing, excessive and rough grooming
- Weak immune system compromising the integrity of the skin which is more than likely secondary to another underlying condition
- Fungal infections
There are many tell tale signs of mud fever as well, as it can come in many forms:
- Scabs beneath matted areas of hair
- Once the hair and scab falls off, there are circular ulcerated lesions of moist and red skin
- Discharges in a thick, creamy consistency, are usually white, yellow, or green color and found between the skin and scab
- The scab will have a concave shape, with hair follicles protruding. Mud fever and rain rot/scald are the same thing just on different parts of the body.
- Hair loss
- Severe causes have been known to show the skin splitting in the back, thus the term cracked heels
- Heat and swelling are typically present and can generate up to the knee or hock
- In the most severe cases, lameness, loss of appetite, and depression are present
The best preventative for mud fever is to keep the legs as dry as possible for as long as possible when there are wet and muddy conditions. Once mud fever has set in there are a few topical treatments that can be applied to help heal your horses skin. Take a look below for a few of our favorites:
Keratex Mud Shield Powder
This product helps guard against mud and water while disinfecting the skin. What is great about this product and makes it standout is that it is a powder. So rather than continually keeping the skin damp with promotes bacterial growth, this is a dry application that can be used as after it the legs have been shampooed and dried, or as a preventative on the way out to pasture.
This is a great product line that includes a shampoo, spray, and ointment. Gently scrub the entire leg with the Fungasol shampoo and let it sit for about 7-10 minutes, so that it can kill all the bad bacteria. Then thoroughly dry the legs off, top with the Fungasol spray and apply the ointment where there are deep fissures.
Muck Itch Spray
This is a relatively newer product on the market and the feedback has been great! It specifically treats mud fever and provides a protective barrier to the skin. What is really cool with this product is the use of organic essential oils. This helps calm the skin and allow new hair growth to begin.
Micro-Tek Medicated Shampoo and Spray
This product has been around for a long time. There are very few barns that you wouldn’t be able to find this product in. Known for its healing capabilities, Micro-Tek Shampoo and Spray go hand in hand. Allow the shampoo to set for roughly 10 minutes, thoroughly dry the legs off, and then apply the spray as a protective barrier.
Shapley’s MTG Plus
Lastly, a cult favorite MTG is now available as MTG Plus. The same formula as the original, but with a new herbal fragrance instead of the dreadful bacon scent of the original. This is a tried and true product that helps soothe the skin, promote hair growth, and provides a barrier as well.
Preventing mud fever is your best defense to keep your horse suffering from this skin condition.
- Rotating paddocks
- Clean and dry bedding
- Stalling your horse during treatment to keep it from reoccurring
- Keep limps dry in inclement weather
- Keeping areas of the paddock dry where horses stand for long periods (hay feeders, gates)
- Disinfect equipment
- Detailed grooming so early signs are caught
- Avoid over washing or rough grooming
- Administer an immune support supplement if your horse is in poor condition
- Spray legs prior to turn out with a medicated spray to provide a barrier on the legs
Fingers crossed we are able to get out of this winter and spring without mud fever dampening our parade! All the aforementioned products are available at Big Dee’s Tack and Vet Supplies via phone at 800.321.2142 or our website www.bigdweb.com. Feel free to call us to find the best product for you and your horse!