This page includes information on some common ailments experienced
by equines. Please remember that you should always consult if if
you have any concerns over your horse or pony's health. If you
would like a subject to appear here, why not email us with your
1. MUD FEVER IN HORSES
This is an infection of the skin of the pastern caused by a
bacteria, a fungus, or both. In order for this infection to occur
there has to be some injury to the skin. This can be caused by
persistent wetness, overreach wound, rope or tether burns, mites
in the grass (usually this is in dry summer weather), physical
irritation from stubble etc. This is a most troublesome condition
during periods of prolonged wet weather.
These can range from acute lameness associated with swelling of
the limb, the presence of crusty scabs or a wet serum discharging
Treatment is aimed at curing the infection and prevention of
further injury/infection. Treatment of the infection if by removal
of the scab, which can be accomplished with various cleansing
agents, particularly Clenderm, but liquid paraffin will also work
quite well. The whole area should then be washed with an
antiseptic, either Hibiscrub or Pevidine work well. The area must
then be thoroughly rinsed and dried. The key to this is drying the
resulting cleaned skin. In some cases antibiotics will be needed
either in feed or by injection. By law these cannot be prescribed
without a veterinary examination. Stronger medicated washes may
sometimes be prescribed following examination by the vet.
Prevention has to be aimed at keeping the skin dry. Do not apply
oily ointments to wet skin. They will merely seal in the infection
and seal in the wet. Steroids will make it look better but prolong
the infection, so should not be used. Once the infection has been
cured in the area, protection using heel ointment containing a
mixture of antibacterials can be used, but this must be used on
dry skin only. The use of Derma Gel in repeated small amounts over
the area will help protect, but in many cases it is necessary to
house the animal to keep the area dry. This is best on good clean
straw, or if necessary, paper or rubber mats. Shavings, sawdust
and peat should be avoided if possible. Avoid susceptible animals
remaining in wet conditions for prolonged periods.
When returning to the stable, if legs are wet, wash off any mud
and dry thoroughly. If the legs are dry but muddy, brush out the
mud. Aim at prevention by the application of heel ointment or
protective barrier creams applied only to dry skin.
TIPS ON DRYING:
Start with a towel, go on to kitchen towel, then use a hairdryer
to make sure the affected areas are thoroughly dry. Alternatively,
put three or four handfuls of bran in the back of a bandage, or
put it in a stocking, and wind this roud the leg as a bandage.
Remove it twenty minute later and it will have absorbed a lot of
Remember - prevention is far better than cure!
2. SWEET ITCH
Sweet itch is an allergic condition of horses characterised by
itching, particularly on the base of the mane and over the tail.
The consequent severe rubbing of the affected areas causes skin
damage and dramatic hair loss. It can be seen in any age of horses
and often develops at a relatively young age, becoming
progressively worse as the patient gets older. Once a horse has
developed the allergy, it is likely to be affected every year.
Sweet itch is caused by an allergy to the bites of various
insects. The primal cause in the UK is a small culicoides midge,
although various insects can cause similar problems in other parts
of the world. These insects feed primarily at dawn and dusk. They
are less active during the night and not at all active during the
middle of the day. They are also less active during windy days
than during still days, and breed in ares of moist, muddy ground
around ponds, marshes, ditches and so on.
Management of the condition is aimed mainly at avoiding exposure
to or control of the midges. These are rarely active when the
temperature is less than 10 degrees centegrade, limiting the
condition to late spring, summer and early autumn.
In most cases this means turning horses out after 10am and getting
them in before 4pm, thereby avoiding the most active feeding times
for insects. In severe cases fine mesh screens can be fitted to
stable doors and windows to avoid the insects getting into the
stables, although this is usually less of a problem as the midges
don't usually invade accommodation in significant numbers. If
practical, ditches and ponds can be drained, and this removes some
of the breeding grounds. The midges are also more active in wooded
areas, and so avoiding grazing horses near water courses or wooded
areas will help to reduce the problems seen.
Night stabling of affected animals should begin before the onset
of the insect season and continue until the insects start to die
off in the autumn. A single night's exposure to the insect
population can trigger an itching session that can last for two or
three weeks. Where this is not practical, rugs are available which
cover the poll, full length of the neck and are tied around the
abdomen and cover most of the tail, however this is not an ideal
Insect repellents may help to control the symptoms. There are a
number of permethrin based repellents on the market, which seem to
offer better control than others. However, no perfect insect
repellent exists, and reliance on insect repellents alone is
unlikely to give a satisfactory control of the condition. The
weekly application of 'Switch' may also help in controlling the
If your horse or pony has sweet itch, control of further damage is
by using the avoidance programme already discussed. Benzyl
Benzoate, a topical insecticide applied direct to the skin, also
has a mild insect repelling action. Bacterial infections folling
the damage may need to be treated with antibiotics.
Most people who have spent any significant amount of time with
horses will be familiar with the condition of laminitis. Whilst
laminitis is most commonly seen in small, overweight ponies that
have had too much spring grass, it is a serious condition
affecting horses of all breeds, ages and sizes, and can also be
caused by a number of other conditions such as septic shock,
retained placentas in mares, and Cushing’s Disease in older horses
Laminitis is caused either by the actions of various hormones, or
by substances called endotoxins circulating around the
bloodstream, which are produced either from the fermentation of
lush grass or from bacterial action elsewhere in the body. This
causes an alteration of the blood supply in the foot, leading to
damage of the sensitive laminae which attach the hoof wall to the
bony structures of the foot and particularly to the pedal bone. In
the early stages of the condition this damage is limited to
inflammation, however in severe cases the tissues can be starved
of blood and rapidly start to die. The longer the case is left,
the more likely the development of irreversible damage to the hoof
Laminitis can show as a variety of signs, from a horse that is
slightly uneven in shifting its weight on its forelegs,
progressing to horses that are increasingly uncomfortable and
reluctant to move, and in severe cases horses that lie down and
refuse to get up because the pain in their feet is so severe.
Veterinary advice should be sought immediately, because the longer
a case is left, the more severe the damage is likely to become.
Unfortunately a number of severe laminitis cases do have to be
humanely destroyed each year, simply because the damage to the
hoof is too great, and it is impossible to relieve the pain and
restore normal foot structure.
Treatment involves strict rest and the use of painkillers and
drugs to alter the flow of blood in the hoof, and removal of the
initial cause. X-rays are often taken of laminitic feet in order
to assess the degree of damage to the hoof and to assess what
further preventative and repair work needs to be undertaken. The
vet will usually liaise closely with the farrier in order to
reconstruct laminitic hooves and to support that damage that has
As with any condition, prevention is better than cure, so if you
know that your horse or pony has had laminitis in the past it is
worth taking preventative measures. Severe restrictions on grazing
for overweight ponies is necessary to prevent overload with
sugar-rich young grass, and very regular observation and
examination of horses or ponies’ feet for any signs of laminitis.
There are also a number of alternative feeds available for horses
that are particularly prone to laminitis.
If you have any questions about laminitis, or are worried that
your horse or pony may be at risk of developing the condition,
please don’t hesitate to contact Mike or Kirsty who will be happy
to advise you.
We have also provided a link to a very useful resource on
laminitis provided by Robert Eustace.
More information from the Laminitis