Mud Fever affecting horses

Posted by Wormers-direct on 14th Jan 2020

Mud Fever affecting horses

Mud Fever is the enemy of horse owners in winter, with wet and cold conditions plus the constant wetting and drying of the horse’s skin, it’s not long with the infection takes control.

What is Mud Fever?

Properly called pastern dermatitis, Mud Fever is not a single disease but can be seen in differing forms and refers to a whole range of skin reactions to a number of different irritants.  Frequently called cracked heels or greasy heels, Mud Fever is caused by an infectious agent called dermatophilus congolensis, which thrives in muddy wet conditions and can range from a mild skin irritation to very painful infected sores, and can in some cases cause significant swelling with severe lameness.

Infection can stay dormant in the skin, becoming active when the skin is compromised, usually by prolonged wetting.

Symptoms or signs to look for in mud fever

The condition affects the lower limb, most commonly the back of the pastern.  It starts off as matted hair with dry scabby crusts, caused by the infection of inflamed skin.

If the skin is injured in anyway or damaged by a cut, wound, bite, harness sore or through prolonged wetting — the balance between host and organism is disturbed.  The organism enters the horse’s body through the broken skin and multiplies in the damp, warm epidermal layers, starting an active infection causing the mud fever.

Causes of mud fever

There are various factors as to what causes mud fever such as: 

Prolonged damp, wet and then mild conditions.
Standing deep in mud, water, soiled conditions.
Some opinions are that actually constantly washing the mud off limbs/legs before and/or after work or after turn out to remove dirt without fully drying them afterwards.
Even skin trauma, from rubbing overreach boots or not properly fitted bandages can cause chaffing, such as sand from schools and irritate the skin.
Generally unhealthy skin.
Poor immune system, if the horse is unwell and the body cannot fight infection.
Horses with white limbs (socks) are said to be more prone with the pink skin being more prone.

Heat, redness, swelling of pain to limbs.

Prevention or Cure?

Drying of the limbs thoroughly is vital to prevention and cure.  Clean towels, kitchen roll or dry material can be used to blot moisture.

Avoid over washing of the limbs as this can irritate the moisture balance of the skin.

Be vigilant as the sooner you spot the first signs of mud fever, the quicker you can take action and so prevent a lengthy and costly recovery.

Limiting or stopping access to muddy areas by fencing them off to stop horses from standing in wet and muddy conditions.

You can apply barrier on the limbs to prevent water or moisture getting to the skin but when choosing barriers, consider topical barrier creams (usually produced in an oily base) such as tea tree oil, sulphur, MSM, aloe vera, honey with vitamin E and calendula.

There are many effective external tropical barriers to look out for, such as Lincoln Muddy Buddy, Keratex Mud Shield Powder, or Protoccon.

You can buy supplements such as Naf Mud Guard or Global Herbs Mud X to help prevent mud fever


Once your horse has mud fever it can be a nightmare trying to control it and completely get rid of the disease but there are options to consider.

You can buy supplements to put in your horses feed such as Global Herbs Mud X that will help fight the infection internally.

Echinacea is a good natural herb to help strengthen the immune system.

Marigold (Calendula) is also a good natural herb with many blood cleansing properties.

Bandaging the affected limbs can be a good way of keeping it clean and dry, but only if the skin has been properly prepared beforehand and the correct bandaging technique is used.  Bandaging that is too tight or has moisture trapped underneath can encourage an infection to flare up again, so only bandage if you feel it can be done correctly.

Washing the legs with anti-bacterial washes such as Hibiscrub to remove the scabs/crusts of the mud fever and thoroughly drying before apply antiseptic creams.  The scabs may form again quickly so initially the legs must be washed and treated daily, as once a horse has suffered with mud fever it is not unusual for them to have repeated attacks so prevention is better than the cure.

Once the infection has been eradicated it is imperative to keep on protecting the area until the new skin and hair has formed so that re infection does not occur.

In extreme cases of mud fever where the bacteria penetrate deep into the skin, the leg may become swollen and a course of antibiotics may be required from the vet.

If in doubt about your horse’s health then consult your vet.

Below is a list of the products that are available to help with Mud Fever on our website


Vetericyn Liquid Spray

Derma Gel

Cotton Wool

Gold Label Leg Guard

Internal Supplements

Marigold Flowers Calendula


Global Herbs Mud X

Kelly Rothery E-SQP