Preventing, identifying & treating Mud Fever in horses

November 2, 2021

Veterinary Surgeon Holly Gimmler, discusses the symptoms of Mud Fever (Pastern Dermatitis), how to treat it and importantly how to prevent it.

Mud Fever also referred to as Pastern Dermatitis, is a common non-contagious skin condition which typically affects the lower limbs of horses following exposure to wet, muddy conditions. Horses can suffer in summer but as the name suggests, it is more common during the winter months.  Mud Fever occurs where a breach in the skin allows bacteria to enter, causing a painful flare up. Cuts or mite damage to the skin may also exacerbate the onset of the condition allowing the bacterial infection to establish. Mud Fever can be extremely frustrating to treat and action is required quickly to get things under control.

If you are a horse owner then learning how to prevent or identify and treat Mud Fever early, will save you time and stress. It will also save affected horses considerable discomfort.

Identifying the symptoms of Mud Fever

Mud fever is commonly seen at the back of the pastern, between the hoof and fetlock, but some scabs may spread higher up the legs. Unpigmented skin on white legs is more susceptible. Typically, affected areas appear as crusty scabs, areas of matted hair or loss of hair, with raw skin underneath. In severe stages there may be a cream-yellow discharge oozing from the area. This can develop into heat and swelling in the lower limb which may be painful.

Mud fever can also occur on other areas of the body where it is called “Rain Scald”.

Treatment of Mud Fever

What can you do if you think your horse has Mud Fever? Well, there are a number of actions you can take before deciding if you need to call our equine vets. Firstly, bring your horse out of wet, muddy or dirty conditions. Clean the affected area daily and keep it dry. If your horse has feathers, these can be clipped to reduce wet contact time on the skin.

If your horse is suffering from more severe lesions, please contact our equine vets for further advice. They may prescribe:

  • A gentle shampoo
  • A steroid based cream which is applied to the skin
  • If mites or fungal infection are implicated, we can treat either or both
  • Pain relief and anti-inflammatories
  • In complicated cases, your vet may take a swab for culture and sensitivity in order to select the appropriate course of antibiotics

How to prevent Mud Fever

  • Limit the amount of time spent standing in wet conditions or mud. This may involve rotating pasture or stabling your horse to avoid muddy exposure
  • Reduce the risk of pastern injury where possible e.g., overreach boots
  • Barrier creams can be helpful
  • Always dry your horse’s legs

Most of all, please do inspect your horse’s legs daily to identify problems. This is by far the best way to save you all a lot of time, stress and discomfort.

For more information or if you have any concerns regarding the management of pastern dermatitis, please call one of our equine vet team.

About the author

Holly Gimmler BVSc MRCVS has been at Towcester Equine Vets since July 2021 after graduating from the University of Liverpool. She enjoys all aspects of equine veterinary work and is looking forward to meeting more of our clients out and about on calls.

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