Guest writer Nicole Lootsma has quite a bit of experience dealing with the dreaded Mud Fever. Below she shares some of her tips and tricks for treatment and prevention!
After a long, treacherous, and seemingly endless winter, the sun has finally returned and the days are getting longer which is great for those of us who work full-time and still want to be able to see what our horses look like in the daylight! The snow has melted and many of us are even able to start riding in our outdoor rings again. All in all, life for an equestrian is good!
However, anyone who’s been riding for any length of time will quickly be able to tell you that spring isn’t always rainbows and daffodils. We all know that April showers bring May flowers, but after reviewing the Pony Express Girls’ pony boxes on one of my previous posts, I saw a photo posted on their April box with a more appropriately edited version of the tagline: “April Showers Bring… Well, they bring lots and lots of mud!”
This couldn’t be closer to the truth, and is certainly the case at most barns. We’re all familiar with the telltale signs of spring when you need to head to the barn extra early before your lesson because you know the time it will take to groom your horse and make him look at least mildly presentable has doubled. You find yourself covered in horse hair from the waist up and mud from the waist down. Unfortunately mud isn’t just an annoyance when it comes to grooming, it can also contribute to a nasty skin condition known as Mud Fever.
Mud Fever, also known as “Greasy Heel” or “Scratches” is a common condition, usually affecting horses’ lower limbs, especially the back legs, particularly if they are white. It is characterized by inflammation of the skin, and the appearance of crusty scabs formed from oozing serum. This is usually caused by the invasion of bacteria, which penetrates the skin following either damage, or softening through exposure to the wet or mud. Under normal conditions, when the protective barrier of the skin is not damaged as a result of cold and wet weather conditions, harmful microorganisms are not able to enter horse’s system and do any damage, but once the protective barrier of the skin becomes compromised harmful bacteria is allowed to enter and cause infection.
Unfortunately I’ve dealt with Mud Fever in all of my horses, with a particularly nasty case hitting my gelding Riley last fall once the grass started to get dewy and moist. A quick Google search will lead you in a million different directions in terms of treatment, and personally I’ve had success with several different remedies based on the horse and the severity of the case. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you I’ve tried every trick in the book, from veterinary-prescribed antibiotics to naturally concocted home-remedies.
As with any ailment, the best course of action is always prevention. The bacteria that causes Mud Fever thrives in wet muddy conditions and so for horses that are susceptible to Mud Fever, it is recommended to protect their legs from the wet and mud as much as possible by turning them out in a clean, dry, area. I am a huge advocate for turnout so while some owners may opt to keep their horses in a clean stall to avoid muddy conditions, that’s not an option for my guy. If muddy conditions are unavoidable, it is recommended to wash your horse’s legs clean and dry them thoroughly with a clean towel once they come in from the mud. The dryer the legs, the better, so you could even try a blow dryer if your horse will tolerate it. Once dry, I like to trim the hair of the pastern. This step isn’t necessary, and some people will argue that the hair on the fetlock is designed to wick away moisture from the pastern so you’re actually doing more harm than good when you clip it. Personally, I find the area much easier to dry and treat when the hair is trimmed so I just use scissors to snip the hair short on my horse’s white foot.
Once the legs are clean and very dry, you can apply a barrier cream containing Zinc (diaper cream works well), or a powder such as Keratex Mud Shield Powder which is designed to waterproof and disinfect the area. Make sure you check your horse’s legs regularly, and at the first sign of soreness, weeping, or scabs, treat the area immediately with a medicated treatment to prevent the condition from worsening (I recommend Keratex Medicated Hoof & Leg Scrub or Eqyss Micro Tek Spray).
Once the foot is dry, I puff on Mud Shield Powder to waterproof it . However, even with the best efforts of prevention, Mud Fever can be stubborn and rear its ugly head. If scabs develop, this is my routine to treat:
1. Carefully wash the affected area with gentle antiseptic soap/shampoo. In the past I have used human Tea Tree Oil Shampoo designed to treat lice from the drugstore as it has antimicrobial properties. This year, I have ordered some Eqyss medicated shampoo based on the success I’ve had with their other products. As you wash, gently scrub the scabs and carefully remove any scabs that will come off (Note: Don’t pick the scabs as they can be very painful). After doing this, then continue to thoroughly dry the area with a clean towel or blow dryer.
2. Once clean, apply MTG and leave overnight. The MTG will help soften the scabs and make them easier to remove the next day.
3. The next day, gently remove any more scabs that have been softened by the MTG. I’ve purchased a flea comb designed for use on cats that has very small bristles which works great to remove the scabs. It is much more gentle and effective than trying to pick them off with your fingers.
4. In many minor cases of Mud Fever, the MTG will be enough to treat on its own. In more severe cases, you may need to apply another topical treatment. I’ve had success with a mixture of Zinc Cream (ie. Diaper Cream) combined with Triple Antibiotic Ointment & Athlete’s Foot Cream (all from the drug store). However I have most recently started using Eqyss Micro Tek and noticed immediate results, so I would definitely say that it will be my go-to product from now on. Continue treatment daily and remove scabs as they soften. It’s not usually necessary to wash the leg each day. I’ve had luck just using stiff brush to remove the dirt around the feathers and then reapply the medication. Make sure you read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for whichever product you decide to use.
5. Once the bacteria has been destroyed, the affected area must continue to be protected whilst new skin and hair grows. Even once the scabs come off, the skin will be tender and exposed so continued application of Zinc cream, Mud Stop powder, or gel will help keep the Mud Fever from flaring up again.
6. Once the area is healed, continue with the prevention steps throughout the muddy season to prevent reoccurrence.
7. As always, if the issue persists or gets worse, consult your veterinarian. Some horses may require antibiotics or prescriptions to treat the infection.
Have you ever had to deal with Mud Fever? What are your preferred methods for treatment?