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Equine Skin problems usually increase in warm, wet weather, and are associated with a number of causes.

Mud fever can range from a mild skin irritation to very painful infected sores, and can in some cases cause significant swelling with severe lameness. The condition affects the lower limb, most commonly the back of the pastern. It starts off as matted hair with dry crusts, caused by the inflamed skin weeping. When the same condition occurs on the upper body it is referred to as “rain scald”.

In winter the rain and mud soften skin. Constant wetting and drying of the legs causes the skin in this area to chap.  Anything which breaks the skin, such as a small cut, can allow the bacteria to invade. For this reason muddy conditions are not always necessary for mud fever to occur.

While every horse has the potential to be affected, those with white legs, those with either long hair or sparse hair on their cannon bones and fetlocks, and those that are turned out in the elements and not groomed every day are the most susceptible.

It is important, to inspect your horses legs for any swelling/ lameness, heat around the area and smell to indicate whether bacteria has entered the wound. Also observe horse eating changes. Ensure that veterinary assistance is given to prevent complications such as secondary bacteria that can be involved

FEI-licensed veterinarian Duncan Peters, DVM, chair of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Owner Education Committee. “Once the primary bacteria take hold, it opens the door for other bacteria and even fungi to enter”.

Preventative measures are very important and simple however, if unsure always consult your veterinary specialist.

Keep the well-used areas as dry and clean as feasible. Some simple measures are:

  • Large wood chips spread around water tanks and highly travelled areas
  • The use of gutters re-routing water away from travelled areas
  • Stall mats or crushed gravel in a run in shed gives horses a place to get out of the wet
  • Year -round pasture rotation prevents overgrazing and the loss of ground cover
  • Keep run in areas and stalls clean from manure


Care of horses


  • Keep horse in a dry area
  • Constantly groom
  • Clip excess hair around the area
  • Gently dry skin around affected area
  • treated with a recommended topical application


Dr. William Miller, VMD, DACVD, professor of dermatology and medical director of Cornell University’s Companion Animal Hospital and co-author of the book Equine Dermatology cautions about the use of ointments. “When there’s a condition with bacteria or fungi, if you put too much ointment over it, it’s like putting the lid on the toothpaste tube, then trying to squeeze the tube. Choose your topical remedies wisely and carefully,” he says.

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