We doubt there is anyone who isn’t sick of the mud and wet conditions by now – winter can be long and drawn out and the boggy terrain makes it even more troublesome, particularly for our equine’s skin. We look at how you can prevent and treat mud fever in horses…

What is mud fever?

Mud fever is one of the most common winter skin complaints and is caused by a bacterial infection. Bacteria is present in mud, and can lay dormant on the horse’s skin, however when the skin is softened and broken down by prolonged periods of muddy, wet conditions, mud and dirt can enter the body and bacteria can set up camp.

Mud fever in horses is most commonly found on the lower limbs and results from irritated, sore skin and potentially a spreading infection from germinating bacteria. You may find that horses with heavy feathers such as cobs are at greater risk as the hair traps the dirt against the skin, but in reality it can hit any equine at any time!

Mud fever can vary from mild skin irritations, to painful sores that can become infected and require antibiotics to heal. It can be caused by a graze or nick in the skin, or from the abrasive action of wind and rain causing the skin to become softer and more susceptible to cracks.

Prevention is better than cure

Mud fever can be really hard to heal once it has set in, which is why preventing it and managing the mud is the most beneficial way of dealing with it.

The simplest way to manage mud fever is to avoid mud, but let’s face it, that is not a realistic option for the majority of us, so we have put together some tips to help manage it before it gets out of hand…

  • Keep the legs as clean and dry as you possibly can. Pay particular attention to any areas where scabs or lesions have already occurred. Keeping them dry could be using a clean towel to dry them off after hosing, or using specific boots that wick moisture away from the skin. Make sure the boots are fully breathable as otherwise they could exacerbate the problem.
  • If an area becomes sore and you find you are struggling to keep it dry and clean then clipping very carefully around the area can help to prevent moisture from building up. Just be aware that your horse may be very sensitive on that area.
  • If you suspect infection then always contact your vet straight away for the best possible mud fever treatment. You may need to get antibiotics either as a cream or administered in feed. Don’t wait until it is hot, swollen and your horse is lame before contacting the vet – it can be very sore and uncomfortable for your equine so acting quickly will prevent unnecessary discomfort.
  • Consider investing in protective wraps for use in the field when your horse is turned out to minimise the amount of contact your horse has with mud.  We particularly like the Equilibrium Equi-Chaps as they mould to the shape of the leg and come nice and low down the leg.  (http://www.equilibriumproducts.com/product/equi-chaps-close-contact-turnout-chaps/)
  • Pasture management is key. Try and rotate your fields and consider laying hardcore in gateways to avoid making your horse stand in boggy, muddy areas for long periods of time. You could also consider using electric fencing to cordon off areas of particularly deep mud.
  • If feeding hay, place it in different positions around the field to discourage your horse from standing in just one area consistently.
  • There are many schools of thought when it comes to washing off legs. Some people find that washing and carefully drying legs can stave away mud fever, while others find that allowing mud to dry and brushing off is a better way to prevent excess moisture in the area. Either way it is important that you always dry your horse’s legs carefully.
  • Consider feeding a product that has specific support for the skin. Also ensuring that feed is balanced and nutrient rich will help support the immune system and allow your horse to fight off infection! Healthy skin starts from the inside out so bear this in mind when it comes to nutrition.
  • Some people find that applying a barrier cream, or oil, can help create a protective seal to prevent mud from sticking to your horse’s skin. You may need to use an anti-bacterial scrub to clean the legs of these ointments though to prevent suffocating the skin. Make sure the cream you choose has been specifically designed for horses
  • If your horse does get mud fever, then try and keep him away from mud as much as possible – you may need to also keep him away from other damp conditions such as wet bedding, deep wet surfaces and hacking through muddy paths.

Do you have any top tips on how to treat mud fever and care for your horse? Share your advice in the comments below or on our Facebook page.