How to avoid mud fever in horses

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Horses mud fever

With winter upon us and the British weather doing what it does best, it’s the time of year when mud fever prevention and awareness need to be firmly on your radar.

What is mud fever?

Mud fever (the layman’s term for pastern dermatitis) is a bacterial infection affecting the skin. Common symptoms include hair loss, scabs, cracking, and soreness in the affected area – often the hind legs and fetlock. It can also develop on the back or belly, though this is less common.

What to look out for with mud fever

Damp conditions – especially over the winter months – can make your horse more susceptible to mud fever. Many microorganisms and bacteria associated with the condition are commonly found on the skin surface with no detrimental effects: it is the softening and damaging of the skin which allows these to spread, penetrate, and cause infection. As skin softens when exposed to damp conditions, it is good practice to ensure that your horse’s legs are always sufficiently (but gently) towel-dried after being turned out.

Abrasive environments – such as sandy arenas, rough vegetation, or gritty soil types – are more likely to cause friction and irritation to the skin, leading to abrasions which make your horse more vulnerable to infection. If your arena or turnout field contains sand or abrasive soil, it may be worth investing in specialist mud boots as a preventative measure.

Excessive washing – though it may seem natural to assume that any mud should be cleaned off immediately after turning out, vigorous and frequent washing of the area can again damage the surface of your horse’s skin and prevent its natural oils from restoring their protective layer. This again weakens the outer barriers, and leaves the area more susceptible to infection. It can be best to instead leave mud to dry, and gently brush this off once hardened.

Signs of leg mites – although mites are not a direct cause of mud fever, their presence will increase irritation to the skin and susceptibility to infection. They are also likely to prolong the healing process as any rubbing or scratching of the area will cause further surface damage. Watching for symptoms such as stamping and scratching is always advisable, and if you suspect your horse has leg mites it is vital to treat these alongside the mud fever to ensure full recovery.

Feathered coats – breeds with thicker and longer coats such as Shires, Friesians and Cobs are more vulnerable for a number of reasons: the hair can both conceal the area and early symptoms of mud fever, and also contribute to the condition by retaining moisture, creating the damp conditions warned of above.

Common symptoms – key warning signs include matting hair in the area, crusty scabs forming on the skin surface, ‘cracked heels’ i.e. splitting of skin with ridges or deep fissures, swelling, and heat in the lower legs. In advanced cases, lethargy and loss of appetite are also signs of the infection. If your horse is showing these symptoms it is strongly recommended that you consult your vet urgently.

Mud fever in horses fetlock hoof treatment cure pastern dermatitis

How do I treat mud fever?

The most effective form of treatment can vary depending on the cause of the condition. Stabling your horse to break the wet/dry cycle and therefore rest the skin can be a cure in most cases, however if you are concerned about persistent or strong symptoms it is always advisable to seek veterinary advice – creams or antibiotics can be prescribed by a professional if necessary.

If the symptoms are less serious, products with antifungal properties such as Hibiscrub can help to treat affected areas a diluted solution should be used once to clean, then skin should be thoroughly rinsed and dried afterwards. Follow up with Hypocare spray regularly for soothing and protection.

Useful products to treat mud fever

If you're looking to treat or avoid mud fever in your horse, we have a selection of useful products that may come in handy:

Or shop the full collection here.

Want to read more on how to prepare for the winter months? We've also got a winter feeding guide, and a fully comprehensive winter preparation guide that should tick all your boxes.