Q: My 15.2hh Thoroughbred mare is turned out in the day and brought in at night. In the winter she suffers from terrible mud fever.
When it gets really bad I bring her in.
Could you explain what causes mud fever and are there any alternative treatments I could try to prevent it from happening?
And what can I do to make it better?
A: Mud fever has several different names, such as ‘rainscald’ and ‘heel bug’, depending on which area of thecountry you live in. In the USA the condition is referred to as ‘scratches’ or ‘rain rot’.
It¨s a common condition known to most horseowners and occurs predominantly during the winter when the weather is wet and the ground stays damp and when grit and dirt may cause skin damage.
Mud fever is basically a form of dermatitis, which affects the skin around the bulbs of the heel as well as the fetlock and pastern regions.
All breeds of horse can be affected, but especially those which have long hair around the fetlock or those which are kept in unsatisfactory, unhygienic conditions. The back legs are more often affected than the front.
Symptoms vary in severity, initially starting with inflammation of the skin and underlying tissues at the back of the pastern and heel region. This is caused by infection with Dermatophilus congolensis, the organism responsible for rainscald.
As the area swells slightly, the skin stretches, starts to secrete pus which dries and glues the strands of hair together forming hard, scabby lumps and matted, tufted hair.
The scabs can be pulled off leaving areas of moist pink skin, which are often raised and round or oval in shape. Gradually the infection progresses from the bulbs of the heel, creeping round to the fetlock and pastern areas.
As the horse moves, the cracks in the skin may widen, leading to additional discomfort and in the most severe cases, lameness and even swelling of the legs.
There can also be other complications including the common problem of bacterial infection from Staphylocci, Streptococci or Corynebacteria. In the most severe cases, infection can lead to skin irritation and itching.Some of the affected areas may even exhibit a foul odour due to severe secondary infection.
Treatment should start with careful management. Avoid allowing your horse to come into contact with wet, damp or muddy areas and keep her out of the rain as much as possible. Where the horse is stabled, ensure that the bedding is clean and dry to avoid making the condition worse.
Long periods of wet weather will exacerbate the problem, especially if there¨s no period when the affected skin can dry up.
To treat mud fever, first trim off excessively long feathers to make it easier to clean the area. When the legs are very wet, they should be dried off carefully before stabling. Once the legs are dry, gently brush off any mud with a clean brush.
Try to remove any scabby areas using a gentle shampoo. Tea tree shampoo is useful although in very severe cases, a surgical scrub may work better.
Potach alum is often used as a one per cent solutionto help the skin dry when it’s very weepy. Conventional antibiotic and antifungal creams can be used to help treat the problem with additional antibiotics given by injection or by mouth in very advanced cases. However, mud fever also responds well to homoeopathic treatment. There are several useful remedies including:
Use the remedy which most closely matches the symptoms in the 30c potency and dose once daily until the problem resolves.
There are also a number of other preventative treatments based on natural remedies. The most effective often contain tea tree and lavender. These will not only help to reduce infection but will also act as a useful barrier against dirt and water.