Here we talk about mud fever in horses, including understanding the condition, symptoms, causes, prevention, treatment and a Q&A with Cavalor expert Elynn Thys.
Mud fever in horses, an introduction
Mud fever is, without a doubt, one of the most recognisable skin problems in horses. Mud fever is a collective name for different forms of skin irritation on a horse’s legs. In serious cases, the whole lower leg can swell up and if left untreated the swelling might not go away. In severe cases, this results in lameness.
An ailment that can arise at any time of year, typically mud fever, is seen during the winter months, with some horses suffering for prolonged periods of time. It is caused by a bacteria called Dermatophilus congolensis found in soil.
Mud fever can strike any horse, no matter the age or breed. Horses and ponies without feathers can be more predisposed to the issue as they have less hair to protect their legs, yet cobs can also suffer if feathers go unchecked and a build-up of mud and dirt occurs. So no matter what, a regular check over the horse’s legs is essential in helping prevent the problem, or to pick up on early signs.
Causes of mud fever in horses
Mud fever can have different causes which can include:
- Bacteria Dermatophilus congolensis
- Excessive mud
- Mud build-up
- Fungal infection
- Injury/open wound
- Frequent washing in very cold temperatures: Frequent washing can encourage the skin to become sensitive to bacterial infections.
Legs standing in a wet muddy field are most susceptible to mud fever due to the intense wettening of the skin over prolonged periods of time. If the mud is not then removed this can also lead to a build-up and cracking of the skin.
Because the pastern is in constant motion when the horse moves around, it can take a long time for the skin to heal following infection. So prevention is better than cure.
Symptoms of mud fever
The most well-known symptoms, which can incur on the pastern and lower part of the leg, are:
- Resting the affected leg
- Sore to the touch
Bacteria and fungi can grow very quickly in the pastern area and thrive here because it is warm and damp most of the time. This, in turn, causes infection so it is important to be vigilant by checking your horse’s legs daily.
Prevention of mud fever in horses
To help prevent mud fever, try not to leave your horse in excessively wet and dirty areas for prolonged periods, although it is important to turnout regularly.
Leave the horse’s legs to dry naturally. A clean, thick bed will help absorb moisture and dirt overnight. The following morning, remove dry mud with a light brush or use your fingers as this helps with detecting scabs.
Warm and moist conditions are ideal for bacteria to flourish, it is important to try and minimise this type of environment on your horse’s legs.
Clipping hairy legs can be very successful in the prevention as it is hard to see lesions underneath the hair. Long hair can create a warm and moist environment very easily. Hosing, when absolutely necessary, can also be an effective deterrent, however, when the weather becomes cold, this should be avoided.
Some owners choose to apply a waterproof layer of mud fever prevention gel/cream or pig oil to prevent mud from sticking to the hair. Careful maintenance of this should be considered, and regular cleaning should be completed to prevent product build-up.
Turnout boots are also a popular choice. However, these can slip and rub should they not be kept clean. The area can become warm and moist if not adequately cleaned and ventilated, resulting in conditions in which bacteria thrive.
How to treat mud fever
Prevention is better than cure, however, here we look at how to treat mud fever by using a daily treatment routine. A treatment programme can be very effective when managed correctly.
When prevention is too late it is important that bacterial infections are treated as soon as possible. At the first sight of mud fever, you may choose to bathe your horse’s legs with a hygienic/antibacterial shampoo/treatment using tepid water, to eliminate the bacteria.
Squeezing a sponge over the scabs/sores can be beneficial, allowing the water to run downwards. As time progresses, some of the crusts will come off easily however, do not force them off, as this will damage the skin even more and may enable bacteria to re-enter.
Make sure the leg is dry before you apply a mud fever cream that helps to treat the condition. Patting the legs down with a clean, and dry towel may help however, if scabs are severe, you should leave the legs to dry before application of any cream. Minimise the area you wet and be careful as it will be very sensitive.
Apply the mud fever cream at least once a day, this acts as an antibacterial layer and promotes the healing of the skin. Make sure you keep repeating the process and applying the cream until the skin is healed and the hair has completely grown back. If you quit too soon, the problem will come back, sooner than you may think.
The horse should be kept away from muddy gateways, which may require box rest while the scabs heal. If restricted to box rest, make sure your horse has some form of in-hand walking each day.
Q&A with Cavalor Expert Elynn Thys
Can horses get mud fever in the summer?
Yes, mud fever is seen throughout the whole year. However, it is more commonly associated with wet, muddy conditions during the winter months. Bacterial infections can happen all the time, which is why hygiene is very important to maintain all year round.
Should you hose a horse’s legs to remove mud if your horse is prone to mud fever?
Wet, damaged skin provides an ideal moist environment for bacteria to grow. It is good to remove the mud but make sure that the horse’s leg is dry and then gently brush it off rather than hosing. If you have to wash the legs, ensure you dry them thoroughly.
Can I still turn my horse out if he is suffering from mud fever?
Yes. The most important thing is that you avoid constantly wet muddy conditions. Try to keep gateways and shelters mud free. You can, for example put down wood chip in high-traffic areas and bring horses to drier paddocks if possible. If you keep them in the stable overnight, it is a good opportunity to clean and dry the legs.
Can I still ride a horse with mud fever?
You can still ride a horse with mud fever but it is important to remember that the movement can have an influence on the cracks. Make sure to clean and dry the legs after riding and apply Cavalor® MudDoc to help the affected areas.
For more information please call the Cavalor consumer line and chat to one of our experts on +32 (0)9 220 25 25. For further information please contact Zebra Products.