The Signs, Symptoms and Treatment of Mud Fever

Oh the dreaded mud fever! Dark nights, winter rugging and damp turnout paddocks usually signal that mud fever season is upon us. :(

Mud Fever (also known as greasy heel, cracked heels or pastern dermatitis) is a form of dermatitis that effects the lower legs particularly the heel, fetlock and pastern. It affects horses and ponies of all breeds, age and gender although those with white lower limbs seem to be slightly more prone then those with dark pigmented skin. It often affects the hind legs more so then the front legs. In extreme cases it can affect the upper leg, the belly and the neck (then known as rain scald).


Normally the skin forms a protective barrier preventing micro-organisms from entering the body but as the skin becomes damp it loses its protective properties and allows bacteria (such as Dermatophilus congolensis and Staphylococcus spp) and fungi to penetrate the skin. Mud fever is and should be considered contagious so brushes, boots and bandages can transfer the infection from one indiviual to another.


Mud fever typically affects the lower legs so be sure to look out for the following signs and symptoms :
Sore, crusty and scabby lesions
Matted Hair
Swelling and inflammation
Between the scab and skin there may be thick white, yellow or green discharge
Raw, inflamed skin under the lesions
As it causes swelling and open sores on the legs, secondary infections can and often occur


Prevention is far easier then treating mud fever but if your horse is affected then treatment should be aggressive and effective to prevent re-occurance. If left untreated the infection can spread and become very serious and, in extreme cases, life threatening.

Those affected should be kept inside or have limited turn out so as to avoid mud and rain. They should be given somewhere clean and dry to stand so as to allow the air to circulate around their lower legs. Rubber matting lined stables are brilliant for this.

If there is swelling and inflammation then antibiotics may be needed. If the legs are very painful then painkillers would be helpful in calming and comforting the horse.
Clip away any excess feathering but try not to clip the hair too short. The theory behind this is that you don't want feathers holding on to and becoming a breeding ground for the bacteria or fungi (they also take far longer to dry out!). Whilst if clipped too short it exposes a larger skin surface area to the bacteria to invade.

Legs should be washed using warm water and a suitable antiseptic wash. The warm water opens the pores for a deeper clean. Mud and other debris should be removed from the hair. The solution should be left for a few minutes before being rinsed off using more warm water.

The legs should then be thoroughly dried using a clean towel and bandages should not be applied. They cause the skin to remain warm and damp and thus creating an ideal breeding ground for the bacteria.

Bedding in the stables should be kept meticulously clean and dry as to avoid a secondary infection entering through the cracks or lesions on the skin.

There are so many tried and tested products and home remedies that can be of help. Special prevention and treatment creams are available and can be rubbed into the legs and left to be absorbed overnight. I prefer to not use these initially as they can sting or irritate broken skin ... I usually wait a few days once the skin starts to scab over and heal before using them.

There are different opinions on removing scabs. I prefer to leave them to allow them to fall off naturally as removing them too early (ie. before they are black) opens up lesions which can be reinfected.

What tips or tricks do you have when dealing with mud fever?


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