It’s that time of year again when your horse is coming in from the field wet and covered from head to toe in mud.  When you wash off their legs you begin to notice that in amongst all the long hair there are small scabs around the cannon or pastern region.  The scabs are hard, painful and difficult to remove.  And your horse is not being very cooperative and allowing you to remove them.  In some bad cases the legs have started to swell up and the horse is lame. Your horse may be suffering from bacterial dermatitis or more commonly referred to as; mud fever.

Why does this nasty skin infection happen?

Basically, it occurs because during the wet winter months the skin on long haired legs is constantly damp and not given a chance to dry properly.  When the skin is persistently wet or damp it becomes more porous and so will allow bacteria from the mud and soil to invade the skin and set up an infection.  These small infected sites protect themselves by forming scabs.

The most important thing to remember about Mud Fever is that the infection is UNDER the scabs!  Routinely I am called out to clients to help them treat this problem and in nearly all cases they report that they have been battling with “these scabs” for weeks.  And now, unfortunately,  it has progressed to a full blown infection of the lower leg.

Over the many years that I have been helping clients treat this difficult and frustrating condition I have picked up some helpful tips.

Here are my top tips for treating this condition;

You have to clip the hair off your horse’s legs

Long hair on the legs of horses during the winter months will hold onto moisture for longer and it is impossible to ensure that the entire area, including down to the skin, is dry after the leg has been washed off.  The hair on the leg must be clipped extremely short. The skin under short hair dries faster than the skin under long hair because it it easier for air to circulate and dry the area.  Short hair will also allow you to get to the scabs and the root of the infection.

You have to remove the scabs

As we have discussed the root of the infection is under the scabs.  Removing the scabs can be difficult especially when it is causing pain and discomfort to your horse.

An easy and relatively safe way to remove the scabs is to apply a large amount of Dermagel  or Aloe Vera gel to the affected sites.  Then, wrap the leg in cling film and put a stable bandage on top overnight.  This is called sweating the leg.  The next morning the scabs will have moistened and disintegrated.  Then wash the leg with warm water and a small amount of Triscrub and you will be left with these small pink patches like in the image here.

Applying barrier creams like Foran MRS Ointment will help to stop further infection and scabs from forming.

You may need to call out your vet if your horse is being particularly sensitive or difficult to clip the hair or to remove the scabs.  Sedating the horse will allow you to do this safely.  You may also need to call your vet if the skin has progressed and the lower leg is swollen, hot and painful causing the horse to be slightly lame.

Long Term Management

Long term management and prevention of the condition can be difficult and requires a lot of patience and attention to detail.  Following the above tips and advice will help towards reducing the risk of getting this skin condition and will help you manage it if your horse is suffering from it.

  • Clip the hair on the legs very short
  • Remove the scabs by washing or sweating them off
  • Ensure you dry the legs thoroughly after washing them.  And change the towels that you dry the legs with regularly to prevent the risk of contaminating skin further
  • Apply barrier creams to affected sites if you are turning the horse out

We are always looking for new and interesting ways of treating this frustrating condition so get in contact with us via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to share your experiences.

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