Mud fever? Got it, caught it, cured it.

You’ve had quite a few tales from me recently, so I thought it was only fair that today you had some tips and a little bit of learning to keep the grey matter working.

And what better subject to tackle at this time of year than mud fever? I have five horses, they live in exactly the same condition, and every year my Arab mare suffers while the other four have scab free legs. Luckily I know the signs, have learnt how to keep it at bay and treat it quickly when it does appear.

The bane of many horse owners’ lives, mud fever tends to flare up when the weather is at its worst. Just when we are battling with the gloomy evenings, the extra mucking out and trying to keep horses fit, those scabs start appearing on our horses legs.

Why my Horse?

Mud fever is notoriously difficult to treat, but having a better understanding of this condition can only aid the battle. The first thing to take on board is that there are several causes. Some horses just seem to be prone, which is probably due to their genetics. It is more prevalent on horses with white on their legs, or on horses with long feathers.

Horses become susceptible when they are under conditions that cause their skin to soften or break. This can happen when they are constantly standing in wet conditions, or if their skin is irritated and rubbed.  Dirty brushing boots, allergies, insect bites and rubs are all factors. Look out as well for primary skin infections such as ringworm or sweet itch, as breakages in the skin can allow a secondary infection in. In these cases, the initial cause must be treated, otherwise the problem will keep reoccurring.

Infection Creeps In

When the skin is compromised, infection invades, and it is this that leads to the tell-tale scabby condition known as mud fever. Common bacteria leading to these wounds include Dermatophilus congolensis and Staphylococcus spp.

Crusty Scabs are the Sign

Mud fever is usually easy to spot, consisting of irritated and sometimes very painful and infected sores. The skin oozes a serum, which gives the coat the raised un-groomed appearance. Big cracks can appear at the back of the pastern in particularly bad cases. Crusty raised scabs form. If it happens on the back, it is known as rain scald.


Treatment will depend on the severity and the cause. The initial cause must always be sorted first to prevent relapses. Often, if environmental issues are to blame, the horse has to be moved from that environment, which generally means stabling. If not badly lame, walking out followed by regular exercise will stop any swelling occurring.

The scabs will next need to be treated. Trim away any excess hair and wash with antiseptic. The aim is to remove as many scabs as possible and the wash should soften this process. However, it can be very painful so you may need to sedate your horse if that is the case.
It is important to keep the wound as dry as possible – remember, if the skin is damp and soft, infection can invade. Dry it really gently, avoiding rubbing (which will hurt!)

Applying a topical cream, with antiseptic and/or antibiotics, helps to soothe and keep the infection at bay. Treat it as an open wound and cover with a dressing and bandages to begin with, to keep clean and infection free. Allowing air to the wound once it starts to dry up will help it breathe and heal.  Make sure if you are doing this that the area the horse is standing in is clean and empty. Keep treating the area accordingly until the wound starts to heal. Severe infection may need a course of antibiotics and pain killing drugs.


Prevention is easier than cure. Some people swear by using a barrier cream, but the leg must be very clean and dry, otherwise you may be trapping infection beneath the barrier cream. Although difficult in winter, keep the horse away from muddy wet conditions. Boots and bandages are sometimes used during turnout to protect from mud, but if mud squeezes beneath them, it can make the situation worse.

Keep the leg as dry as possible. Avoid hosing down; instead brush off the mud when dry. Dry off as much as you can.

Don’t Pass it On

This infection can be passed between horses on grooming kits, clippers, bedding etc, so keep everything scrupulously clean and don’t share equipment. It can be extremely difficult to get rid of, but by being alert to the signs, putting in prevention methods and keeping everywhere clean, you are reducing the risks.

I hope you’ve found this useful; if you have why not check out more of our learning over on the products page – yes I know, a blatant plug! .

Take care


P.S. do you genuinely love learning more about horses? Do you enjoy studying from home, at your pace? Then check out our courses and let your learning journey start.

Learn2horse, the home of accessible equestrian learning.

2nd February 2016

0 responses on "Mud fever? Got it, caught it, cured it."

Leave a Message

2015 © Learn2horse