Mud Fever – Causes, Treatment and Prevention.

What is mud fever?

A skin infection primarily caused by a bacteria that thrives in wet and muddy conditions. It causes the skin to become inflamed, red, cracked and scabby. The affected area can also ooze and is commonly very itchy.

Mud fever can also be known as greasy heels, or cracked heals, it can also occur on other parts of the body such as the back, where it is more commonly know as Rain Scald.

The infection can lay dormant in the horses skin and become active when the skin is damaged allowing the bacteria to penetrate into the skin causing an active infection and an acute inflammatory reaction.

Causes of mud fever

  • Skin exposed to Prolonged damp and mild conditions.
  • Standing in deep mud or soiled bedding for long periods of time
  • Excessive washing of limbs without fully drying them afterwards
  • Excessive sweating under rugs or tack
  • Rugs being left on constantly 24/7
  • Damage to the skin through rubbing from overreach boots, incorrectly fitted bandages, chaffing from artificial surfaces,over-enthusiastic grooming, overreaching etc
  • A poor immune system, usually secondary to some other health problems
  • White limbs or patches on the body possibly due to an associated photo-sensitisation issue
  • Fungal infections

Symptoms of mud fever

  • Stamping of legs due to itching
  • Sticky, matted areas of hair covering crusty scabs
  • Beneath the scabs are areas of oozing, ulcerated skin.
  • Thick, creamy, white, yellow or greenish discharge  between the skin and overlying scab
  • Cracks in the skin and heels – hence the term cracked heels
  • Skin looks sore and inflamed
  • A change in the horses behaviour around the affected area
  • Heat, swelling and pain in the affected leg
  • Possible lameness

Mud fever treatment

The skin needs to be kept clean and dry, which usually involves box rest until the mud fever has cleared up completly.

The scabs need to be removed so the treatment cream can get to the skin and bacteria underneath. Removing the scabs can be extremely painful for the horse and also needs to be done carefully to avoid further trauma to the skin. Depending on how painful it is for the horse you may need to get the vet out to sedate whilst the scabs are removed.

You can soak the scabs off using a warm poultice, make sure you only leave it on for a short time – not overnight. Holding a warm sponge over the scabs can help to soften them too, then gently rub the loosened skin off – avoid picking/pulling the scabs off as this will cause trauma to the surrounding skin.

There are also mud fever treatment available on the market that will help with the removal of the scabs and the treatment of the mud fever. We have a really good cream. The GDB cream is packed full of natural ingredients that work with the horses skin to gently exfoliate off the scabs, whilst forming a protective barrier that allows the skin to breath, and also promotes cell regeneration and hair growth to speed up healing time. You can see more details here.

Once the area is free from scabs, it should be washed using a mild disinfectant or a medicated shampoo. Again be gentle with the washing process and do not scrub the area, as we are trying to void further damaging the fragile skin.Make sure the area is extremely well rinsed.

The area must be thoroughly dried – this is vital. You can blot/pat dry using kitchen roll or clean towels. If your horse will permit it using a hair drier is a great way to thoroughly dry the hair and skin.

Once the coat and skin are thoroughly dry you can apply a treatment cream. Before applying the cream make 100% sure the area is dry. The treatment creams create a barrier over the skin, so if you apply the cream whilst the skin is wet it will lock the water in and cause further damage to the skin. The GDB cream is formulated to treat mud fever and has natural ingredients to help promote cell regeneration and hair regrowth. We highly recommend it to help with the treatment of mud fever.

Although mud fever is very treatable there is a chance your horse will get it again. Once you know your horse is susceptible to mud fever prevention is the best course of action. We have another blog all about How to prevent Mud Fever

Mud fever can be hard to treat and may take weeks to fully heal. You will probably need to repeat this treatment process a few times. Depending on the severity of the mud fever your horse may need antibiotics or anti-inflammatories . This will be decided by your vet, who should always assess your horse first before any treatment commences. Not only to determine the best course of treatment, but also to confirm what it is you are treating, as there are other skin conditions that can look very similar to mud fever, but require a completely different approach and treatment programme.

Always seek your vets advise before commencing any treatment programme for your horse.


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