…..it’s been a rather warm and wet spring. As a consequence we’ve seen a fair few horses with mud fever (or to give it the technical term, pastern dermatitis). This usually occurs in the pink skin areas of the horse.

The term can be used to refer to a wide range of skin conditions. It can be caused by a variety of bacteria, which thrive in muddy, wet conditions. The infection can stay dormant in the horse’s skin and only become active when the surface is compromised, usually by prolonged exposure to wet conditions or when the skin is softened or damaged by repeated wetting or brushing when the skin is wet.

Clinical signs:

  • Matted areas of skin
  • Crusty scabs with lesions beneath
  • Pus and discharge from beneath the scabs
  • Swollen legs and painful to palpation.
  • At it’s worst, it can cause lymphangitis which is an inflammation of the lymphatic system in the horses legs. This can cause swelling of the whole limb and will need veterinary treatment.

You may also notice heat and swelling, with the horse reacting to pressure or flexion of the affected limb. Eventually, hair loss can leave inflamed, raw-looking skin which may split open at the back of the leg in severe cases, creating the horizontal fissures characteristic of cracked heels.

Prevention is always better than cure:

  • If they have heavy feathering then applying liberal amounts of pig oil and sulphur will protect the skin from getting damaged by the abrasive actions of the mud in this part of the country.
  • if less hair, then letting the mud dry on the legs and not washing it off minimises the softening of the skin.
  • If brushing it off when it is dry; use a soft brush such as a body brush rather than a curry comb or dandy brush. This means that you are unlikely to damage the skin of the legs and therefore make it harder for the bacteria from the soil to penetrate the bodies defences.


  • Each horse is an individual both in characteristics and in body make up, therefore it is best to talk to your vet early on in the process to maximise the chances of quick resolution.
  • Management is key in these cases, so prevention is most definitely better than cure.