Weather conditions lead to mud fever rise

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As the wet weather continues and fields become more muddy we are seeing an increasing number of cases of mud fever in horses.

Also know as pastern dermatitis, it tends to affect the lower limb. It is caused by the bacterium dermatophilus congolensis. This is a normal inhabitant of the horse’s skin, but when the skin is subjected to prolonged wetting or damage it can cause infection.

Obviously, it is almost impossible to completely avoid mud and rain. There are, however, ways to reduce the frequency and severity of cases.

Factors pre-disposing to mud fever include damp, mild conditions, standing in mud or soiled bedding, constant washing of limbs without drying, skin trauma, white limbs possibly associated photosensitisation damage, and chorioptic mange infestation.

During an infection the area around the pastern develops crusts. Underneath the skin is inflamed and may ooze. Skin cracks may also be evident. This may be accompanied by swelling.

Treatment involves keeping the horse clean and dry. It must be stabled. Bacteria live underneath the crusts therefore treatment involves removing the scabs. They may need to be softened with warm, soapy water. This can be painful for the horse and in severe cases they may need sedating.

Once the area is clear of scabs the skin should be cleaned with an antibacterial solution, such as dilute chlorhexidine (hibiscrub) or iodine. This should be left for ten minutes, then rinsed off and the skin dried thoroughly. Once dry, a moisture repellent cream should be applied, such as sudacrem. In severe cases systemic antibiotics may be required.

Obviously, it is almost impossible to completely avoid mud and rain. There are, however, ways to reduce the frequency and severity of cases.

Ensure that heels and pasterns are cleaned and dried thoroughly every day. Oily-based barrier creams can be used. Vaseline is ideal. Another combination is half baby oil and half vinegar. The oil prevents the skin from cracking whilst the vinegar changes the pH so bacteria are less likely to grow. Test this on a small area 24 hours before full application.

Waterproof leg wraps are an alternative to barrier creams. Rotating paddocks ensures that ground doesn’t become too muddy. Some people find adding an area of hardstanding can help.

Remain vigilant for signs of soreness or scabs so that appropriate treatment can be initiated early.

By Charlotte Hewitt-Dedman, Vet