Mud Fever




What is It?

Mud fever is a common condition affecting horses particularly in wet conditions. The infection can stay dormant in skin, becoming active when the skin is compromised, usually by prolonged wetting. Spores germinate and produce hyphae (threadlike tentacles) that penetrate into the skin. The result is an acute inflammatory reaction. If the skin is injured or damaged . The organism enters the horse’s body through the broken skin, and multiplies in the damp, warm epidermal layers, starting an active infection.


These may include:

  • Bacterial infection caused by the pathogen actinomycete Dermatophilus congolensis
  • Prolonged damp, mild conditions and /or standing in deep mud or soiled bedding
  • Washing limbs without fully drying them afterwards
  • Excessive sweating under rugs or tack
  • Photo-sensitivity
  • Skin trauma, such as chaffing, minor injuries and incorrectly fitted bandages, chaffing etc
  • Generally unhealthy skin or a compromised immune system.
  • Some horses with pastern dermatitis will be suffering from infestations of tiny chorioptic mange mites called called heel mange.
  • Fungal infections can also be responsible for skin damage.
  • Another form of pastern inflammation is caused by a disorder of the body’s immune system, which attacks the skin known as leucocytoclastic vasculitis and targets the unpigmented areas of the lower limbs and sunlight is thought to aggravate it.

Clinical Signs

  • Back of pastern and heels are most commonly affected.
  • White legs are most likely to be affected with large areas of skin becoming inflamed.
  • Serum is exuded which mats the hair in crusty clumps
  • Swelling of the lower limb and the horse may be lame.
  • Small, circular, ulcerated, moist lesions beneath scabs
  • Thick, creamy, white, yellow or greenish discharge between the skin and overlying scab
  • Removed scab typically has a concave underside with the hair roots protruding
  • Deep horizontal fissures in the skin that are characteristic of cracked heels
  • Eventual hair loss leaving raw-looking, inflamed skin underneath
  • Heat, swelling and pain on pressure or flexion of limb leading to lameness.


  • Diet. A horse with mud fever should be given a light diet. Avoid barley and high performance concentrates until the condition improves. This will ensure that the gut flora has the right pH levels. ie fewer acid loving micro-biology and more alkaline loving micro-flora.
  • Veterinary prescription drugs may include corticosteroids, antihistamines, antibiotics, non-steriodial and anti-inflammatory drugs. Keeping the skin clean and dry is the basis of treating the condition.
  • Clip hair from around the affected area
  • More specific treatment has to penetrate the pathogens under the scabs, so these must be lifted and removed at the start.
  • Some of the tougher scabs may need soaking or poulticing first to soften them, before they can be peeled away.
  • Alternatively the area can be sprayed using a weak solution of cider vinegar with 1 tsp of echinacae to 1 litre of vinegar. This then can be covered with clingwrap and keep in place with a bandage for 24 hours then gently remove the scabs
  • Apply Hyperdula Spray. A blend of Hypericum and calendula to act as an antiseptic flush and treatment to the exposed pathogens under the skin. Some people find that colloidial silver and/or manuka honey are effective.
  • Re-bandage for a further 24 hours
  • Once the area is free from scabs, it should be washed — using either a mild disinfectant such as chiorhexidine, iodine wash or surgical scrub, or another a medicated shampoo — and then rinsed well.
  • Drying the limb thoroughly is vital —
  • Once dry, there are numerous creams, lotions and emollients that may help. Zinc, castor oil, lead acetate and various commercial anti-inflammatory ointments can all play a part, but only if the skin is clean and dry underneath.
  • To stimulate the immune system give 5 ml Equ-Ech (echinacaea ) for several weeks This will also act as an anti-biotic.

Preventing mud fever 

  • Boost the horse’s immune system by feeding Echinacae,  garlic and olive leaves.
  • Ensure bedding is clean, dry and non-irritant at all times
  • Although many horse owners are loathed to keep their horse stabled, once the infection is established it may be the only option.
  • Avoid over-washing and/or too vigorous grooming
  • If bandaging or putting on boots, ensure limbs are clean and dry first
  • Periodically disinfect all equipment, gear and stable surfaces, as they could harbour dermatophilus spores
  • Consider topical barrier creams (usually produced in an oily base) such as tea tree oil, sulphur, MSM, aloe vera, honey with vitamin E, calendula and hypericum, goose grease and petroleum jelly. Use on clean, dry legs or underside of belly prior to turnout or exercise
  • Creams should be used with caution, as they may provide a suitable environment for bacteria to grow between the waterlogged skin and the greasy layers applied on top
  • Try using waterproof leg wraps for turnout
  • Consider nutritional supplements for promoting a healthy skin, such as omega oils, seaweed (not for pregnant mares), antioxidants, herbs and essential oils such as lavender, camomile and yarrow
  • Rotate paddocks to avoid poaching.
  • Introduce anti-bacterial and anti-fungal herbs to your horse’s environment ie a separate pharmacy paddock . Oregano is one such herb that can be introduced gradually.
  • Use electric fencing to block off muddy areas around gates
  • Some horse owners find concreting or hard-coring the areas where horses congregate helps keep legs dry Sand schools can irritate the skin further, as can excessive washing to remove mud and scrubbing with a stiff brush
  • Be vigilant. The sooner you spot the first telltale signs of mud fever, the quicker you can take action and so prevent a lengthy, and costly, recovery.
  • Allow the paddock to rest every seventh year and sow mustard seed which acts as a soil steriliser along with a nitrogen fixer like blue lupin then replant with an equine pasture mix.


This paddock is being spelled for a year using mustard as a soil steriliser which has been reputed to be as effective as methyl bromide.

DISCLAIMER: Hira Laboratories will not be held responsible for the use or misuse of any products listed. We recommend that either a qualified herbalist or your animal professional carry out diagnosis and subsequent treatment. Herbal remedies must not be given not be taken in conjunction with other medication with out consulting a medical professional.


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