Larry has mud fever, weeping crusty scabs on the back of his pasterns.
Not surprising as the relentless October rain makes for poached gateways, muddy paddocks, muddy tracks, and water filled potholes – the perfect conditions for mud fever, so what is it exactly? What causes it? And how do you beat it?
What is mud fever?
Clinical signs of mud fever are sores on the lower legs, especially round the back of the pastern. It can range in severity from a few small scabs to a lame horse with swollen, scabby, bleeding legs needing antibiotics and painkillers.
Signs include matted areas of hair and crusty scabs; reddened area of skin; small circular ulcerated moist lesions some with scabs; some discharge – can be orange goo to thick, yellow pus; scabs may remove hair in clumps; deep cracks in the skin – these are often horizontal; hair loss leaving raw looking areas which may bleed; horses with mud fever can have swollen legs; mud fever can lead to lameness.
What causes mud fever?
A bacteria called Dermatophilus congolensis, which is found on the skin of grazing animals, is the culprit. Usually, it is not a problem but if the skin is compromised it can cause problems by invading vulnerable skin and causing an infection. Skin is damaged by getting wet or scratched by thistles or sand. Pink skin under white legs seems more prone to mud fever.
How do you combat mud fever?
Keeping the skin of the legs clean and dry is key, which may mean the horse needs to be stabled for some time.
There are many conflicting views on the treatment of mud fever. Some vets are keen on using hibiscrub, picking off scabs etc. My experience of hibiscrub used on people and in hospitals is that it is harsh and irritates the skin, so if you opt for hibiscrub, use it sparingly and dilute it a lot. I would also err on the side of caution re picking off scabs – in a hospital environment, you would never pick off a scab in the treatment of people unless the wound was necrotic. Generally a scab forms and healing goes on under the scab. Picking off scabs causes bleeding and increases the risk of bacteria entering the skin. Yes, the cream you are applying needs to get to the infection, but you need to be very careful about how you go about this.
If you are applying a cream to treat the mud fever from your vet eg Yellow mud fever cream, the area should be clean and dry. If it is not clean, wash with a mild disinfectant such as diluted dettol, extremely dilute chlorhexidine (hibiscrub) – extremely dilute as this is nasty skin drying stuff and can aggravate skin and make skin worse. Vets sometimes recommend pov-iodine wash or a medicated shampoo eg Allermyl. Don’t get the legs too wet, too often and if they are wet, dry them carefully. Pat them dry with a soft towel.
Dry the limb thoroughly before any creams are applied. You must dry the legs very gently so that no further trauma to the skin occurs.
There are a lot of creams on the market and your vet may also prescribe a cream with antibiotics and corticosteroids. For very bad cases antibiotics and pain killers may be necessary.
Any brushes that have been in contact with the infected skin will need to be disinfected.
Interestingly, some people advocate the topical treatment of the affected area with Manuka honey. I have heard of the healing properties of Manuka honey but have never tried it myself. (It’s not just any old honey, it is only ‘Manuka’ honey that has healing properties.)
How to prevent mud fever
Try to ensure your horses aren’t standing in muddy, waterlogged fields. Use electric fencing to fence off muddy areas.
Rotate paddocks to avoid poaching.
Avoid riding in abrasive surfaces eg sand if your horses is prone to mud fever.
Make sure the bedding in the stable is clean and dry.
Don’t overwash legs or groom legs too vigorously.
Consider barrier creams on clean, dry legs prior to turn out eg tea tree oil, aloe vera, honey with vitamin E, dermisol cream, filtabac, udder cream or petroleum jelly.
Some people like breathable, waterproof leg wraps eg Equiwraps.
Keep your eyes open as the sooner you spot mud fever, the sooner you can stop it turning into a costly recovery.
Larry seems to like Yellow Mud Fever Cream! There is a God!