Managing Mud Fever

Managing Mud Fever

With all the wet weather we’ve had recently, Mud Fever is definitely something to be watching out for. If your field resembles more of a mud bath than a paddock read on...

What Causes Mud Fever?

Commonly known as ‘Mud Fever’ its proper name is Pastern Dermaittis and it is caused by the bacterium dermatophilus congolensis, which thrives in wet, muddy conditions. However horses left in heavily soiled bedding, or horses whose legs are frequently washed and not dried adequately can also develop symptoms. Horses with white hair are also more commonly affected and it is thought to be due to photosensitisation. The infection can stay dormant in skin, and only become active when the skin is compromised, which is often caused by prolonged wetting.  The horses warm, damp epidermal layers provide the perfect conditions for the bacterial spores to multiple.

Signs of Mud Fever

  • Matted areas of hair containing small crusted scabs
  • Presence of small, circular, moist lesions beneath scabs
  • Thick, creamy yellow/greenish discharge between the skin and overlying scab
  • Can lead to hair loss which leaves red and inflamed skin underneath (skin has a rash like appearance)
  • Heat, swelling and pain on pressure or flexion of limb
In more severe cases signs can include:
  • Possible lameness
  • Deep fissures in the skin
  • If severely affected, the horse may become lethargic and lose their appetite


Preventing Mud Fever in horses often sparks a massive debate. Some will swear by leaving muddy legs to dry and brushing off the mud once dried, whilst others prefer to wash legs down. There might be no right or wrong answer, however it is essential if washing legs down, they MUST be dried off completely, otherwise you may be doing more harm than good. Using disposable roll or clean towels is great for removing the excess water, and a hair dryer on a low heat is perfect for ensuring dry limbs, if your horse will allow it. There are also a number of turnout boots available which can help prevent legs being compromised by mud. These boots have been designed to be breathable, so can be left on a horse that is being turned out for the day. Ensure legs are ALWAYS clean and dry before applying any boots or bandages to legs.

Rotating paddocks where possible helps to reduce really muddy areas developing, if this is not possible use electric fencing to cordon off a particularly muddy patch. If turnout is very poached and muddy keeping the horse stabled, whilst not ideal, might be better especially if your horse is prone to Mud Fever. If stabling your horse ensure bedding is kept clean and dry. Disinfecting equipment periodically will help to kill off any spores and is a good routine to get into to prevent the spread of many other equine infections.

Application of a barrier cream to dry clean legs before turnout, can help prevent the bacteria coming into contact with the horse’s skin. Nutritional supplements which promote healthy skin such as those containing soya/cod liver oil, antioxidants or lavender, chamomile or yarrow, can be beneficial in preventing the onset of mud fever. Check your horse daily for any signs of the infection, as the sooner you notice it and start treatment, the better.


The most effective treatment of mud fever, is keeping the horses skin clean and dry. Which is easier said than done in all this wet weather. However once the signs of Mud Fever are present it is recommended that;

  • The scabs should be gently soaked and removed. Leaving a soaked poultice on the area overnight can help loosen the scabs. However in severe cases this may require veterinary intervention to sedate the horse as it can be very painful

  • Following removal of scabs the affected area should be washed using a disinfectant (such as iodine wash or surgical srub) or a topical antibacterial shampoo. Whatever is used, it should be left on for at least 5 minutes before rinsing to allow it to penetrate the skin

  • The limb should then be dried thoroughly. Use disposable paper towelling to dry the legs and dispose of them after use. Material towelling could harbour the bacteria so is not recommended when infection is present

  • Clipping the hair around the affected area helps allow topical treatments to fully penetrate the skin

  • There are many topical creams on the market that can be applied to help aid healing, and those containing zinc, lead acetate or castor oil are often recommended

  • Bandaging legs may help keep them clean

  • Keeping the horse stabled is recommended

  • Ensure the stable is regularly skipped out to ensure the horse is not left stood in wet, soiled bedding

If the leg appears swollen then consulting a vet is always recommended as the horse may need antibiotics.Prevention is definitely better than the cure, so taking steps to try and reduce the horse being stood in wet muddy conditions, or wet soiled bedding is essential. Furthermore be vigilant for any symptoms, so that treatment can be started as soon as possible.

Prevention is definitely better than the cure, so taking steps to try and reduce the horse being stood in wet muddy conditions, or wet soiled bedding is essential. Furthermore be vigilant for any symptoms, so that treatment can be started as soon as possible.

If you have any doubts about your horses symptoms or treatment seek the advice of your vet.

See our full range of Mud Fever Products available online or in store

22 January 2016