With autumn and winter comes dark nights, wet weather and inevitably lots of mud in your horses fields! Unfortunately, muddy fields mean an increased risk of mud fever, a condition that can leave your horses legs sore, uncomfortable, and inflamed. But what is mud fever and how can it be treated?
Mud fever is properly known as pastern dermatitis and is caused by bacteria which grow and thrive in wet, muddy conditions. It’s an infection that occurs in a horse’s skin when the surface is compromised (usually from the legs constantly being exposed to mud), allowing the bacteria to enter the body. There are some very clear signs if your horse is suffering from mud fever. These include:
If your horse has never suffered with mud fever before and you’re unsure with what you’re dealing with, we’d always say it’s best to phone your vet just to be sure.
In most cases, prevention of mud fever is much better than attempting to treat it. You can aim to prevent mud fever by maintaining you fields and rotating grazing if you can, so your grass doesn’t get too churned up. We know this isn’t always possible though, so if you do have severely muddy areas in your field, you can try covering them with straw or leftover hay. This is particularly useful near the entrances of the field and water troughs where the horses are likely to congregate.
On top of field maintenance, you can also buy specific products which act as a barrier to the skin and prevent the bacteria from entering. There are lots of products out there on the market so it’s worth shopping around until you find the ideal one. For us, we absolutely swear by pig oil. Pig oil is a skin conditioning oil which is used on pigs – very much like baby oil for us! However, when used on the legs before turnout it acts as a waterproof barrier to protect them from mud. We also love it because it’s inexpensive compared to other products out there. To use it, simply brush it onto your horses legs, ensuring that you get as close to the skin as possible. Hopefully it will do the trick and prevent mud fever from forming!
If you do notice any mud on the legs or belly after being turned out, we’d always recommend waiting until the mud has dried and gently brush it off. Washing the legs off simply allows the perfect environment for the bacteria to thrive in!
If all of your preventative measure haven’t worked and your horse has ended up with mud fever, then try not to worry too much as treatment is fairly simple. If you have access to a stable, then a few days of box rest will help you to get on top of the infection because you’ll need to wash your horses legs and pick off any scabs that have formed. We know that sounds gross but hear us out.
Mud fever is a specific type of bacteria which cannot survive in the presence of oxygen, which is why the scabs on the legs occur. Scab removal allows the oxygen to get into the infected area and quickens the healing process, so it’s crucial for a quick recovery.
Firstly, you’ll want to bathe your horses legs with warm water using an antibacterial solution. Hibiscrub or Stinky Stuff usually works well in our experience. Always dilute the solution, never apply it neat to their legs. While washing your horses legs, if any scabs feel soft enough to remove you can try pick them up by washing them. Once you’ve washed the legs, make sure they are thoroughly dry before applying a thick layer of a barrier cream – we find that sudoccremis ideal! Once applied, you can wrap the area in cling film or stable boots to keep your bedding from entering any wounds.
In the morning, you can see if any of the scabs are loose enough to remove. Hopefully they will be as the barrier cream should soften them over night. If the mud fever is minor, you may be able to apply your pig oil and let them go out for the day but if the legs are sore and not looking great then we’d say to leave them in for the day and repeat the same process that night.
There are also turnout boots that can be used to prevent the mud from touching your horses legs. We offer the Woof Wear Mud Fever Turnout Boots and we can honestly say they are the best at keeping the legs dry. They feature a waterproof yet breathable fabric around the cannon bone and a close-fitting hoof capsule with a reinforced heel.
The earlier you spot mud fever, the easier and quicker it is to treat! So always make sure you keep a close eye on your horses legs after turnout and give them regular respite from the mud and wet conditions.
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