Mud fever is one of the most common skin conditions to affect horses.
It is principally an infection of bacteria (Dermatophilus congolensis). However in reality there are many other factors involved in contracting and developing the disease including:
- Excess sweating due to feathering
- Hypersensitivity (to bedding or forage)
- Other bacterial infections
Mud fever is mostly a winter and autumn problem but can occur at any time of year. Cases vary widely in there severity, some infections persist for months whilst others resolve without treatment in a matter of days. In the worse instance the infection can be severe enough to cause lameness and ill-thrift. Horses with white legs and feathering tend to be the most commonly and severely affected.
Diagnosis is usually made by the appearance alone, which is quite distinctive. In some instances an impression smear or skin scrape may be needed to confirm presence of the bacteria and to test for any of the underlying causes. In some rare occasions the vet may wish to take a biopsy to look at the skin microscopically.
The level of treatment required depends on the severity and duration of the infection. Mild cases can be easily treated by the owner using topical antiseptics, barrier cream and removal of the underlying cause such as clipping off feather or stabling the horse. For more severe cases antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and insecticides to kill mites may be necessary.
As with all diseases, prevention is better than cure and in this case is a good deal easier. For a susceptible horse once the condition has been resolved it is imperative to continue with a barrier to the moisture on the legs, and attention to the state of the pasture is essential. Keeping the feathers cut back is also enormously helpful. If these factors are constantly controlled then the likelihood of recurrence is low and your horse can have a happy and scab free existence.