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Spotting, Treating & Preventing Mud Fever



Pastern dermatitis or mud fever is a common issue and one which is far from simple to address. It is the skin’s reaction to a number of different irritants and is caused by an infectious agent called dermatophilus congolensis. The troublesome infection can remain dormant for some time and then activate when the skin is compromised. Then, the infection penetrates the skin and spreads, resulting in inflammation.




The skin plays host to a variety of bacteria and parasites but without them causing harm. However, when the skin is damaged by an injury or from prolonged wetting, the organisms can enter the horse’s body and an infection becomes active.

Contributing Factors


There are several factors which may contribute to the development of Mud Fever. These are as follows:

• Prolonged exposure to damp
• Standing in areas of deep mud or soiled bedding
• Constantly washing limbs without drying them properly
• Excessive sweating due to rugs or tack
• Heavy limb feathering can be problematic but probably because this is often washed more frequently
• Trauma to the skin
• Low immunity resulting from a pre-existing health condition
• White limbs or patches on the body as these can be prone to photosensitisation issues

Symptoms of Mud Fever


These are easy to recognise and are as follows:

• Matted areas of hair with scabbing
• Circular moist lesions below the scabs
• A thick discharge between the skin and the scabs which is creamy, yellow or green
• Any scabs which have been removed will typically feature concave undersides with hair roots protruding
• Deep fissures in the skin
• Hair loss and inflamed skin
• Lameness
• Lethargy, depression and loss of appetite are all possible in severe cases

How to Treat Mud Fever


It is essential to keep the skin clean and dry as far as is possible. This could mean that your horse must be withdrawn from the field and stabled during adverse conditions. The affected areas of mud fever must be addressed and treatment will involve removing the scabs. As this procedure can be very painful, your horse may have to be sedated. The infected area should then be washed with a mild disinfectant and rinsed. It is vital that the limb is dried thoroughly. Anti-inflammatory ointments, castor oil and lead acetate can then be applied.

It can help if you bandage the affected area but only if the skin has been correctly treated and that the proper bandaging technique is used. If the bandages are too tight or moisture is trapped beneath them, the infection will simply flare up once more.

This process may need to be repeated several times and it can take weeks for your horse to recover fully from the condition. Antibiotics may be required and such treatment should be discussed with your vet. Certain cases of mud fever leave scarring and weakening of the tissues which will result in a tendency to re-infection.

How to Prevent Mud Fever


• Always ensure that all bedding is clean and dry
• If an infection is present, then it might be necessary to stable your horse
• Take care not to over-wash your horse
• Make sure that limbs are thoroughly dry before you put on boots or apply bandages
• Disinfect the stable and all equipment regularly
• Consider the use of barrier creams or mud fever products but follow the instructions carefully - .
• When turning out, try using waterproof wraps
• Feed nutritional supplements which support healthy skin
• Do everything you can to prevent poaching in paddocks and block off muddy areas
• Furthermore, stay vigilant and act quickly if you spot the signs of mud fever

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