Treatment and Diagnosis of Mud Fever and
Cracked Heels in Horses

Mud fever in horses and ponies is also described as "Cracked Heels", "Greasy Heel", Grease, Scratches, Rain Rot, "Mud Rash"and "Dew Poisoning" and Dermatophilosis.

Mud fever is a form of dermatitis or skin infection affecting horses which is caused by a micro-organism called Dermatophilous Congolensis which thrives in wet and muddy conditions.

Cracked Heels more commonly refers to the condition where it affects the hollow of the pastern.

This form of equine dermatitis is caused when the bacterium penetrates the skin either through a wound or as a result of the horses skin becoming softened due to mud or persistant moisture and dampness on the horse's skin.

Mud Fever/Cracked heels is characterised by scabs forming on the horse's legs that may have swelling in the area surrounding the scabs.

The crusty scabs caused by mud fever stick to clumps or tufts of hair - when they are removed the matted hairs come with them.

The skin under these clumps of hair is often inflamed and oozing serum.

wet and muddy conditions cause mud fever

Mud fever can cause swelling in the pastern area of the leg and the horse or pony may be lame.

It is possible that the mud fever can also lead to more serious infection such as equine cellulitis which can be extremely painful for a horse or pony.

Treatment of Mud Fever

  • If your horse or pony has a severe case of mud fever - i.e. He has very swollen legs or is lame you should seek advice from your veterinary surgeon who may prescribe Antibiotics and/or Corticosteriod ointments nad possibly an anti-inflammatory such as bute to reduce the pain.
  • Remove the horse from wet muddy field conditions.
  • Remove any matted crusts from the affected areas.

    Soaking the crusts or scabs in warm soapy water will soften them and make the procedure much less painful for the horse.
  • When the crusts and scabs have been removed the affected skin should be treated with an anti-bacterial solution , such as Pevidine Hibiscrub, and then left for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • The treated area should then be rinsed then dried with a dry clean towel.

    A good method of drying the wounds and and outer skin is to apply "rubbing alcohol" or "surgical spirits".

    Ethanol is also effective and is less of an irritant and also has antibacterial properties.
  • Apply an antibacterial ointment together and also a moisture repelling product such as vaseleine or baby oil.
  • An Equine Corticosteriod ointment may also be applied - get this from your vet.
  • It is important, in addition to cleaning thoroughly, not to cover the affected areas with ointments, etc. until the water is forced out. Otherwise the bacteria can thrive beneath in the damp conditions locked in by the ointments or creams.

Prevention of Mud Fever and Cracked Heels

  • The bacterium Dermatophilous Congolensis is a natural inhabitant of horse's skin.

    Wet grass and muddy conditions provide the damp enviroment which cause an infection, therefore its almost impossible to completely prevent a horse from getting Mud Fever.

    However taking preventative measures can reduce the chances of a horse getting infected with Mud Fever and reduce the severity of the symptoms.

    Always make sure that the horse's pasterns and heels are cleaned thoroughly and dried after exercise.

    Clip any long hair and feathers but avoid clipping all of the horse's legs.

    A good preventative remedy to try is to spray the legs , especially the back of the pasterns, with a half and half mixture of vinegar and baby oil after washing and drying drying.

    The baby oil moisturises the skin and prevents it from cracking, the acidic vinegar changes the pH value of the skin just enough to make conditions on the skin unfriendly for the bacteria to grow.

    Preparations like tea-tree oil and emu oil also have mild antiseptic properties and can also be used to try to prevent and treat Mud Fever.

    Use a feed supplement with a formula of herbs that help improve skin condition.

Treatment, Causes and Diagnosis of Mud Fever and Cracked Heels in Horses