What is Mud Fever?
Mud fever is non-contagious skin condition that effects the lower limbs. The condition is caused by the bacteria dermatophilius congolensis, which thrives in wet and muddy conditions. The bacteria typically enters the body via a breach in the skin, normally caused by an injury. Prolonged exposure to wet conditions can soften the skin, making it more susceptible to injury.
Leg Mites in Horses
Leg mites can also break the skin allowing bacteria to enter. Heavier horses and cob breeds with thick feathers are more susceptible to leg mites. If you suspect your horse has leg mites, you should contact a vet who will be able to advise on the best course of treatment. Unlike mud fever, leg mites are highly contagious and affected horses should be isolated until successful treatment.
What causes mud fever?
Cases of mud fever can happen at any time of the year but are more common in the winter and autumn months where there is typically more rainfall, resulting in waterlogged and poached ground. Mud fever can appear on other parts of the body, this is a condition known as rain scald and is characterised by painful scabs and hair loss.
Symptoms of mud fever include:
- Dry, cracked, raised or scabby skin on the legs
- Oozing or discharge from affected skin
- Hair loss on the legs
- Heat in the limbs
- Lower limb swelling that does not ease with exercise
It is important that you contact the vet if you suspect your horse has mud fever. A diagnosis can be made on clinical signs, however some vets may also conduct further tests. These can include taking skin samples or blood tests if they believe another underlying factor is present. If a mud fever diagnosis is confirmed, the vet will usually prescribe a course of antibiotics to treat the bacterial infection. In more severe cases, pain relief and anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed to help manage the symptoms.
If left untreated mud fever can quickly develop into lymphangitis - a much more serious condition characterised by acute swelling of the lower limbs, pain and lameness.
Managing mud fever:
- Where possible try to avoid turning out in or riding in wet, poached or muddy surfaces.
- Prevent ground from becoming poached by limiting turn out in wet conditions and avoiding overstocking and overgrazing paddocks.
- After exercise in mucky conditions, ensure the legs are cleaned and dried thoroughly to remove any mud. Washing legs without drying them correctly afterwards can actually cause more harm than good. Dried mud can be removed from the legs with a brush.
- Make use of exercise bandages or specialised mud fever boots to protect the lower legs from mud exposure during exercise or turnout.
- If your horse is prone to injuring their lower legs we recommend taking extra measures to protect them. Over reach and brushing boots can be worn during exercise. Specialised turn out boots can also be worn if your horse is turned out.
- Barrier creams can also be applied directly to the legs to create a layer of protection. If using barrier creams it is important that the legs are clean and dry before application, otherwise it can create the perfect conditions for bacteria to thrive.
- If your horse has feathers you may want to consider clipping these as this will reduce the risk of leg mites.
- We recommend checking your horses legs on a daily basis for any signs of injury or mud fever, the earlier the condition is detected, the easier it is to treat.
Horses with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to developing mud fever. These horses may benefit from being fed a dietary supplement that is specifically formulated for supporting the immune system. Our Lymph Assist supplement takes a three pronged approach to maintaining the horse’s immune response and general wellbeing by supporting the lymphatic, circulatory and immune systems, making it ideal for horses who may require a bit of extra TLC.