Mud fever is is an infection of the skin of the pastern (the sloping part of a horse’s foot between the fetlock and the hoof) 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 sore area. If you have any concerns about this our equine vet Mike Jones BVetMed CertEP MRCVS would be able to help with an examination.
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 round the leg as a bandage. Remove it twenty minute later and it will have absorbed a lot of the moisture.
Remember – prevention is far better than cure!