The winter months are hard work for horse owners.
When the rain arrives, dry summer fields rapidly become mud-baths, and with the mud come the first cases of mud-fever.
Forewarned is forearmed, and this article explains how to prevent mud-fever developing and how to deal with it, should your horse succumb.
What is mud-fever?
Mud-fever is a condition that affects the lower limbs of a horse.
Mud-fever is caused by the bacteria, Dermatophilus congolensis.
The organism lives in the soil and thrives in warm wet conditions. Generally, the bacteria cannot infect healthy skin, however, in the wetter winter months, the horse’s skin may soften and chap, allowing the bacteria to enter and set up an infection.
Any wound or cut may allow the bacteria to invade, and so muddy conditions are not always necessary for mud-fever to occur.
Some horses that are prone to skin infections may develop mud-fever when worked in a sand-based school, or ridden off-road in fields or along dusty bridleways.
Signs and symptoms
Mud-fever affects the horse’s lower limbs, typically the backs of the pasterns, although the condition can spread up the cannon bones and down as far as the coronet band.
The condition particularly affects horses with white socks and pink skin, and those with heavy feathering.
- Matted hair and dry crusty scabbing on the skin
- Inflamed weeping of the skin
- Minor irritations
- Infected sores
- In severe cases, there may be significant swelling of the limb and lameness
Unfortunately, once established, mud-fever is notoriously difficult to get rid of until the ground dries up and the mud disappears. However, the condition can be managed.
- Clip the hair, and then clean the legs thoroughly using an antibacterial shampoo. Ideally, the lather should be left on for a few minutes before being washed away, using clean warm water.
- Remove any scabs and crusts while they’re soft and malleable.
- Once the legs are dried, the application of an antibiotic cream should be used as directed.
- You’ll need to treat any infected areas on a daily basis as scabs will quickly reform.
- In more severe cases, the horse should be seen and treated by a vet who will prescribe a course of antibiotics.
Prevention is always better than cure.
To help prevent mud-fever there are a few simple steps to follow:
- Daily inspection of the horse’s legs to spot any early signs of mud-fever
- Use nutritional supplements in the feed to support healthy skin
- Dry legs thoroughly after washing to prevent chapping
- Ensure the bedding is clean and dry and doesn’t irritate the legs
- If possible, allow mud to dry on the legs before brushing off
- Prevent the horse’s skin coming into contact with the bacteria by using a barrier cream prior to turnout or exercise
Mud-fever is preventable and relatively easily treatable if you remain vigilant and deal with it as soon as any signs become apparent.
If possible, rotate your fields and avoid turning horses out on very wet areas.