Mud fever in horses is often known as greasy heel, and it's a particularly common condition in horses that are left outside in wet weather. Mud fever affects the back of the pastern and causes inflammation and crusty scabbing.
It can be painful and needs to be treated as soon as possible, so that it doesn’t go on to cause further issues.
What causes mud fever?
Wet conditions can soften the skin on your horse’s feet and legs, leaving them vulnerable to damage, especially from friction caused by mud and sand. Skin can also become damaged from rough vegetation and spiky weeds, or even from incorrectly placed boots and bandages. Once the skin is damaged, bacteria can get in, leading to infection.
What are the signs of mud fever in horses?
Your horse may be suffering from mud fever if they have:
- Inflammation and thickening of the skin on the back of the pastern or heel.
- Hair loss and crusting.
- A wet, greasy look to their legs.
- A swollen lower limb (only in extreme cases)
- Pain and heat in the affected area, and lameness.
In rare cases, the bacteria that cause mud fever may also infect your horse’s skin over their quarters and along their back.
How to treat mud fever in horses?
If you suspect your horse has mud fever, it’s very important that you seek advice from your vet, as there are a number of potential treatments depending on your horse’s existing underlying conditions and other factors. It’s also important to check for other, more serious issues that can look like mud fever, including immune problems.
You will almost certainly need to stable your horse to remove them from the source of contamination and break the wet-dry cycle that damages the skin and leads to cracking. Depending on circumstances and your vet’s advice, you may also need to clip your horse’s legs, remove the scabs using an appropriate antibacterial treatment or give your horse a course of antibiotics.
Preventing mud fever
As with most illnesses, preventing mud fever occurring in the first place is always the best option. Here are a few things you can do to reduce the chances your horse will get mud fever.
- Don’t wash your horse’s legs too often during the winter months. The more often your horse’s skin is left wet, the more likely it is that mud fever will creep in. It’s usually better to leave the mud to dry naturally and brush it off.
- Waterproof your horse’s legs before turning them out using a barrier cream, or mud-guard boots. Make sure your horse’s legs are clean and dry before you do this, or it is likely to have the opposite effect.
- Rotate paddocks to reduce mud and block off the worst muddy areas if possible.
- Consider keeping your horse stabled during the wetter, colder months if mud-fever is a recurring problem.
Mud fever is something you should take seriously, as it can lead to a great deal of pain for your horse. With the right prevention and quick treatment, mud fever in horses can usually be dealt with successfully.