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 until the infection takes control.
The first mistake many horse owners make is assuming that Mud Fever is a singular disease that only shows in one form. In reality, this nasty disease can come in multiple forms and has a wide array of side effects.
What is Mud Fever?
Properly called pastern dermatitis or sometimes referred to as cracked heels or greasy heels, Mud Fever is caused by an infectious agent called dermatophilus congolensis, which thrives in muddy wet conditions and can cause issues ranging from mild skin irritation to very painful infected sores, and can in some cases cause significant swelling with severe lameness.
Sometimes the itchiness causes horses to scratch away the skin barrier in affected areas, leaving open wounds that are susceptible to other harmful bacteria and diseases.
Infection can stay dormant in the skin, becoming active when the skin is compromised, usually by prolonged wetting.
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.
Causes of mud fever
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.
There are a few more known causes, listed below:
Prolonged damp, wet and then mild conditions
Standing deep in mud, water or 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 can cause the disease.
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.
How can you stop Mud Fever from becoming an issue?
Ensuring you effectively dry your horses limbs with clean towels after exercise or bathing is the most simple yet effective way to control Mud Fever.
Overwashing of the limbs can actually be detrimental to your horses health as it offsets the moisture balance of the skin, making the skin more hospitable for dermatophilus congolensis.
Keep a close eye on your horses skin condition as the sooner you spot signs of Mud Fever, the easier it will be to treat.
If you have any particularly muddy or wet patches in your paddock, be sure to fence them off to stop your horse standing in them and potentially exposing themselves to the disease.
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.
How can you cure 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 Barrier Anti-Bacterial Skin Spray to treat wounds and stop them from getting infected.
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.