We have had one of the wettest winters on record (2012 – 13) and Vets at Pool House Equine Clinic have been dealing with some very severe cases of ‘mud fever’. We hope that this page will help explain this painful condition which is fequently frustrating and diffficult to treat.
What is Mud Fever?
Mud fever is a bacterial skin infection. The mix of bacteria (often Dermatophilus or Staphylococcus) that cause mud fever thrive in damp, muddy conditions. The same bacteria are also responsible for the conditions known as ‘Cracked Heels’, ‘Greasy Heel’ and ‘Rain Scald’.
What are the signs of infection?
The infection usually involves the backs of the pasterns and fetlocks, but can occur anywhere on the lower limbs, the back, and quarters. The affected areas can be quite extensive and can cause swelling, pain and even lameness. The hairs over the area are matted and tufted (so called ‘paint brush’ lesions) if removed the skin below is red and inflamed and serum oozes from the surface. The picture above shows the typical appearance of cracked heels.
How can mud fever be treated?
Clip away the hair from around the area as thoroughly as possible (this may require sedation). Use an antibacterial shampoo to loosen the crusts, dilute betadine or hibiscrub is ideal (1:40 dilutions). Work the shampoo up to lather with warm water, leave on for 10 minutes and then rinse off and dry the area. Once clean an antibiotic ointment such as Pool House Equine Clinic Cracked Heel Ointment can be applied to the inflamed area. Severe cases will require antibiotic treatment by your Veterinary Surgeon.
Can mud fever be prevented?
Mud fever can rarely be completely prevented, however you can reduce both the chances of your horse getting mud fever and the severity of the disease. Dry the legs thoroughly after exercise in wet conditions. Avoid oily preparations on the legs as these can create a warm moist environment on the skin surface.
Are there other causes of Mud Fever?
Usually mud fever is a bacterial infection as explained above which often responds well to treatment, however, some can be time consuming and difficult to treat. In some of these cases there is an underlying condition which makes the horse more susceptible to mud fever. For example if only white limbs are affected the horse could have photosensitisation; sunlight causes irritation of the skin resulting in sunburn even with normal exposure. The case illustrated in the picture above failed to respond to conventional treatments and on investigation was found to have Equine Cushings Disease. Chorioptic mange can cause very similar lesions and is seen very frequently. Horses with Chorioptic mange are usually very itchy and frequently stamp their feet, this is a very common problem in horses with thick feathers like cobs and draught horses. A condition which has made a real up rise in the last years is leucocytoclastic vasculitis; the smallest of bloodvessels to the skin get inflamed causing sharply demarcated lesions which can look very similar to mud fever. Mud fever treatment does not have any effect on these cases; they require a course of corticosteroids to resolve.
Mud fever can be an unpleasant and painful problem for your horse. All but the most straightforward cases warrant examination and treatment by your Veterinary Surgeon.