Understanding Mud Fever

With the wetter weather comes an increased incidence of mud fever and it seems that many owners spend their lives battling against it. The bacterium that causes this condition lives in soil as spores and invades the softened, chapped or damaged skin around the coronary band, heels or lower limb of your horse.  This bacteria thrives in wet conditions, which is why mud fever is more common during the wetter, winter months.  Horses with white or hairless pasterns and lower limbs are particularly vulnerable as the pink skin is more prone to chapping.  Horses with heavy feathering also suffer as the hair becomes clogged up with mud and remains wet, softening the skin underneath.


Equine pastern dermatitis, is the veterinary description for what we call mud fever, mud rash or cracked heels.  It is a very common skin condition of horses that are kept in muddy or wet conditions.  It has been stated that the bacterium that is the cause of rain scald, plays a role in mud fever, but this subject is now in some dispute.  However, we do know that once the skin's natural defences are compromised, this allows the opportunist bacteria to infect the deeper tissues of the horse.  Some of the causes and triggers of mud fever include:  moisture (due to weather); sweat and friction; bacterial and fungal infections; mites, contact dermatitis (alkaline soils).

It is very important, however, to realize that mud fever is not a single disease but instead is a complex syndrome involving many potential factors and causes.



Signs of mud fever are seen at the back of the heels and pasterns, although this can extend to the fetlock and up the lower limb.  Signs can vary from a few small dry scabs through to multiple painful discharging lesions with swollen weeping areas.  Often, there are matted areas of hair and scabs, which when picked off leave ulcerated, moist lesions.  The inflammation caused by mud fever can on occasion result in lameness.


Given that most of the cases are the result of wet muddy field conditions, keeping the skin clean and dry is the most important element in the treatment of mud fever.  Removing the horse from this environment will often help.  However, generally the current treatment regimes generally revolve the following steps.

- Clip the affected area - this makes it much easier for any topical treatment to come into contact with the lesions.

- Bathing with disinfectant/antiseptic wash or shampoo often with antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.  Soak area for 10 minutes.  Scrub scabs with nail brush.

- Rinse thoroughly.

- Dry leg completely using towels or disposal paper towels.

- Remove scabs.  It has been considered that the bacteria that causes mud fever live underneath the scabs and so effective treatment relies on removing the scabs to allow contact with topical treatment.

- Application of ointments.  There is a variety of ointments on the market today for mud fever.  It has been said that if a condition has a large number of different treatments, this often means none of them are totally successful or that there are other reasons for the continuation of the condition. 

- Repeat - this whole process may need to be repeated several times before a positive response is noticed.


The key to preventing mud fever is by ensuring your horse's environment is as clean and as dry as possible.  There are a large number of topical barrier creams on the market to try and help prevent mud fever as well as a number of nutritional supp0lements for promoting a healthy skin. 

In addition to topical ointments, there are a few products available designed to keep your horse's leg dry.  Most of these products are available online and come from England.

Equi-Chaps by Equilibrium designed to keep your horse's legs dry and mud free

Equi-Chaps by Equilibrium designed to keep your horse's legs dry and mud free

No matter the method you choose, be vigilant.  The sooner you spot the first signs of mud fever, the quicker you can take action to prevent a length and possibly a costly recovery.

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