Now that spring has finally sprung here in Eastern Canada, horse owners have to deal with the increasing amount of mud in their paddocks. With mud comes mud fever; every horse owner’s spring nemesis.
Mud fever, also known as scratches, is a type of dermatitis that happens behind the pastern and on the heels of the horse’s legs. It can be caused by either bacteria or fungus that grows well in wet environments. This can cause soreness and itching for the horse and can even become inflamed and infected.
Several factors can predispose a horse to mud fever: prolonged exposure to wet environments (standing in mud or wet shavings), over-washing the legs, rubbing from ill-fitting boots (which can cause sores that bacteria can fester in), and heavily feathered legs.
The best treatment for mud fever is prevention. Try to keep your horse in a dry environment. Dry their legs thoroughly when they come in from the mud. If scabs form on the heel there are creams available. And contrary to what you might think, it is better to keep the scabs moist so that they can heal. They just need to be cleaned thoroughly and kept clean to prevent bacteria from entering. Antiseptic creams and disinfectants are available to keep the heel moist and promote healing.
Bandaging the horse’s leg before going out is also a good way to keep sores clean. Just ensure that you are using the proper bandaging technique: making them too tight can irritate the leg or too loose can allow moisture to enter.
If ever in doubt it is best to call a veterinarian. Horse’s legs are very sensitive and they need special attention from owners.