Top Tips for Preventing Mud Fever

Top Tips for Preventing Mud Fever

By Dr Jim Rawlinson, BVMS MBA MRCVS

Winter is here and with it comes the mud. Unavoidable for most of us equestrians, it can be annoying at best and cause serious disease at worst. Mud fever is common and can be hard to manage, but follow these top tips to be on the front foot for preventing this painful infection.


What is mud fever?

Mud fever is a non-contagious skin condition, caused by an infection of the bacteria Dermatophilus Congolensis. Healthy skin acts as a barrier to the bacteria, preventing it from entering the horse’s system. In persistent wet and muddy conditions the skin becomes softened and the mud causes minor abrasions, allowing the bacteria to enter and cause infection. Once initiated, mud fever causes irritation to the skin, most commonly in the pastern and heel area, resulting in scabs, swelling and in severe cases lameness. Although some horses can suffer year round, it is most often seen in winter months when horses have been exposed to wet muddy conditions for prolonged periods.

Risk Factors

  • Over washing, and chilling of legs
  • Horses who are standing in muddy or wet conditions for prolonged periods
  • White legs, with pink skin
  • ‘Thin skinned’ breeds such as Arabs or Thoroughbreds
  • Legs which are repeatedly washed, and not dried
  • Legs with injuries such as over-reach wounds
  • Concurrent disease, such as Cushing’s Disease (PPID), which lowers the immune system

How to prevent Mud Fever

There are several things you can do to reduce the chance of your horse struggling with mud fever this winter.

First of all, think about the environment your horse is in. It sounds obvious, but if you can limit the amount of mud your horse comes into contact with, you reduce the chance of contracting mud fever.

  1. Avoid overcrowding of fields – more horses results in more feet to churn up the mud. More horses also increase the chance of multiple horses moving at speed. Keep herd sizes small to reduce muddy patches.
  2. Mud proof your gateways and popular areas such as troughs – think about laying hardcore in gate areas or around water troughs to prevent muddy patches developing.
  3. Regularly poo pick your fields to keep their environment as clean as possible.
  4. Avoid feeding hay on the ground – any hay not eaten will degrade and contribute to more mud.
  5. Provide a dry area for your horse to stand each day – removing your horse from the mud and allowing their legs to dry will help reduce the chance of mud fever taking hold.

Alongside tweaking their environment, you can also look after your horse’s legs by –

  1. Avoid wet cold legs. The temptation is to wash off muddy legs when you bring your horse in, but often that involves cold water and insufficient drying. Instead of reaching for the hose, either leave him stabled and allow the mud to dry, or even bandage the legs (if you feel confident doing so). In the morning, brush off the dry mud. Allowing the legs to dry, and preventing them from becoming too cold helps to reduce the chance of bacterial infection.
  2. Maintain dry legs. If you do wash legs, use warm water and ensure they are thoroughly dried.
  3. Use barrier creams. Once legs are dry, and the mud has been brushed off, apply a barrier cream to protect the sensitive skin.
  4. Avoid over clipping legs. Feathers naturally help to keep mud away from the skin, as they act as a physical barrier. If possible, leave some feather cover on your horse’s limbs, to protect the underlying skin. If you are going to be washing your horse legs, consider trimming the length of the feathers to aid drying, but don’t remove completely.
  5. Turnout boots. Turnout boots can help keep mud away from skin, but do ensure they are clean and correctly fitted. An ill-fitting boot can rub and create sores on legs.
  6. Check legs daily. Infections are easier to deal with if caught early, so get in the habit of checking your horses legs each day.
  7. Treat underlying conditions. Mites, fungal infections, old wounds or conditions such as Cushing’s Disease can all contribute to ongoing mud fever.


Take Home Message:

Keep your horse’s legs as dry and warm as possible to avoid mud fever this winter. If you do wash the legs, use warm water and ensure the limbs are thoroughly dried.

Check out the Nettex Equine mud control range today.











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