Mud Fever Demystified: From Causes to Treatment Strategies

The skin disease known as "mud fever," also referred to as "scratches," "pastern dermatitis," or "greasy heel," mainly affects the lower legs of horses, particularly the pastern region.

The skin disease known as “mud fever,” also referred to as “scratches,” “pastern dermatitis,” or “greasy heel,” mainly affects the lower legs of horses, particularly the pastern region. Moisture, bacteria, and fungi are only a few of the variables that contribute to its development.

Mud fever usually arises in damp, muddy settings where prolonged contact with moisture may weaken the skin and create an environment conducive to developing fungus and bacteria. In addition to developing tiny crusty scabs, swelling, redness, and sometimes even pus leakage, the skin becomes irritated and inflamed. In severe cases, the horse may find the situation quite uncomfortable.

Mud fever is a chronic issue. Traditionally, it has been related to the muddy, rainy winter weather, but we have cases all year.

What begins it?

Dermatophilus congolensis, a type of environmental bacteria, is the reason behind this painful skin ailment. A perfect moist habitat for the germs for growth exists by wet, hurt skin. Once an infection takes hold, the skin may become very sensitive, and the horse may scratch its legs, further weakening the skin’s barrier and allowing the entry of more bacteria.

As the hair will retain moisture against the skin, horses with hairy, feathered legs are often at risk. Once a virus has begun, oils, grease, or ointments usually make the problem severe.

Mud fever usually comes from germs and is more common in the winter. This is because moisture makes the skin softer, and mud rubs against this more delicate skin, damaging the surface and opening the door to infection.  

Leg mites are more likely to affect horses with thick feathers, and you may notice them hitting their legs in pain. Heavy scratching can cause skin cracking, which makes the region vulnerable to bacteria. Speak with a doctor for more information if you think your horse may have insects. 

Mud Fever,What begins it?

The symptoms

The pastern (the area between the fetlock and the hoof), the heel, and mud fever are the most common sites where these conditions appear.

Mud fever can appear as: 

Crusty scabs developing on the lower legs or heels

Someone broke or hurt the skin.

Stuck or balding areas with exposed flesh beneath

A creamy, white, yellow, or green discharge may appear between the skin and the scabs.

Lower limb swelling, discomfort, and heat

Someone might note lameness in serious situations.

Under the scabs, infections can grow, and in more severe cases, the leg may enlarge. Someone might not touch the horse in the area because of the pain caused by mud fever.

skin component

The skin comprises an outer skin, a middle dermis, and an inner deep layer. The outer epidermal layer gives an actual physical barrier to the environment. Someone can cause an infection and inflammatory response if they steal it. In addition, hair roots that grow from the dermis protect the skin. In addition, they contain sebaceous glands, which create natural oils that help seal and safeguard the skin.

Many beneficial microorganisms (bacteria, fungi) living on a healthy horse’s skin surface are typical and do not harm. These “normal” germs can spread into the deeper layers of the skin, damaging its protective coating.

As mud traps, they provide the ideal warm, damp environment for the bugs to grow. What can be done to prevent it?

Preventing mud fever is preferable to treating it, so a few management methods can be used to avoid it. Avoiding muddy, wet events is a free-cut plan to control mud fever, so it’s best to keep shelters and gateways clear of mud (try placing wood chips down in high-traffic areas) and remove horses from muddy pastures. Hairy legs can serve 

Someone can clip the hairy legs to help keep them dry and clean, improve sight, and make spots more likely to be seen.

Legs must always be dry and clean. Washing your horse’s legs twice daily will only help if they are also scorched since moist, macerated skin fosters the growth and development of germs. After shampooing with water or a weak hibiscus solution, it is a good idea to dry your legs with tissue paper, old bath towels, or even a hairdryer in a cold setting.

Risk components

Your horse’s skin can suffer harm due to several situations, infecting them with microorganisms and, consequently, mud fever. These consist of:

Enduring long periods of mud or wetness. 

I was standing on dirty sheets. 

Wash the legs regularly, especially if they are not dry afterward.

A wound, such as an overreach injury, has broken or injured the skin.

Legs with white marks as the pink skin behind is frequently more sensitive than dark skin. 

Thoroughbreds and Arabs have thin skin that is more vulnerable to harm. 

Prevention & Prognosis

Dirt-covered legs are traditionally the sign of mud fever, but many out-wintered ponies and horses that live in muddy fields make it through the winter months without showing any symptoms. This leads us to the conclusion that the root of the problem is not just the dirt but the constant wetness and cooling of the skin. The fact that mud fever is frequently a severe issue in yards where the horses’ legs are often washed throughout the winter and left wet for an extended period, as in opposing yards where the horses’ legs are never passed, and mud fever is rarely an issue, adds support to this theory.

The best course of action is to allow the mud to naturally dry on the legs rather than washing it every day and then brushing it off the next day when it is dry.

One can place leg bandages on top of the mud to “wick” away moisture and brush it off tomorrow. We now understand that longer drying times and difficulty in finding early lesions of mud fever make mud fever more common in hairier legs, despite traditional beliefs.

Waterproofing your legs is a good idea before going outside or exercising, and barrier creams like “Sudocrem” work well. Before using the cream, the legs must be dry and clean; otherwise, the cream will serve to keep an infection in the legs.

Mud Fever,Prevention & Prognosis

How is mud fever treated?

The type of treatment depends on what caused the mud fever. Many therapies are available, but none are a “one-size-fits-all.” The first step is to address any underlying issues, such as contact allergies or mite infections, get rid of the illness, and let the skin’s outermost layer repair.

Stabling the horse is usually essential to prevent dirt contamination and the wet-dry cycle, which harms the skin barrier. If the weather is dry, turnout in an arena can be possible. Although sand might be unpleasant, and the horse might still experience “chapped” skin.

Leg shaping will be beneficial for horses with thick flying. This has various advantages, including making it simple to see the affected area and helping the skin and hair to dry more quickly. Scabs will also separate from the damaged area, and topical treatments will be able to reach the suitable locations without becoming caught in the hair.

Scab removal can be an emotive issue. They traditionally think that removing the scabs will clean the area of bacteria. Scab removal enables oxygen to bathe the affected area because Dermatophilus congolensis is an anaerobic germ (it cannot survive in the presence of oxygen). If appropriately applied, hibiscus (chlorhexidine) has excellent antibacterial and antifungal qualities. Your veterinarian can help you determine how to dilute 0.1%, which can sell in various strengths.

The usual advice is to soak the legs in warm water, mix Hibiscrub, and remove any scabs that come off naturally without pulling. Only do this every three to four days to avoid drying up the skin too much. It’s also vital to thoroughly rinse with warm water and dry the legs off with a clean towel (preferably one for each leg to prevent the spread of infection).

Antibiotic creams

Painkillers and drugs that reduce inflammation are essential when a horse has painful scabs. Increasing the horse’s comfort is necessary for its health. And it’s also likely to increase the partnership regarding providing medicine or cleaning off scabs!

Treatments for microorganisms are a topic all on their own that your veterinarian will cover.

We use UV light or turnout socks for horses with light-sensitive lesions or stabling during the day.

Steroids for horses with immune-mediated diseases, both topically and systemic.

How is mud fever treated?


Each horse is different, and treatment success and severity can change. You could help your horse recover from mud fever and lessen the possibility of a recurrence by being active in prevention, maintaining cleanliness, getting professional veterinarian advice, and offering the proper treatment.

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