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Mud Fever

Mud Fever

Mud fever, also known as pastern dermatitis or 'cracked heels,' is a commonly used term to describe a wide range of skin conditions which affect horse’s lower limbs, usually the pastern.

Signs to Look Out For

  • Matted areas of hair with crusty scabs on the skin and lesions underneath the scabs;

  • A possible thick discharge between the skin and scab;

  • Possible heat and swelling of the infected area;

  • Reactiveness and soreness to pressure and/or touching of the area.


  • Bacteria found in wet and muddy conditions;

  • The infection may be dormant in your horse’s skin and only become active when the skin surface is compromised, usually from prolonged exposure to wet conditions.


You need to be sure that what you think is mud fever is, so in the first instance call your vet for advice. Depending on how severe the problem is, they may recommend specific medication and treatment.

Treatments you can do include:

  • Washing the infected area with a diluted antiseptic solution (as directed by your vet). Use warm water and rinse well afterwards. It is vitally important that you thoroughly dry the areas afterwards;

  • Remove scabs gently, if possible, during the washing process. Remember that the scabs are highly infectious and should be disposed of carefully;

  • Clip any feathers away from your horse’s legs to make treatment easier and more effective;

  • Apply a good barrier cream after cleaning to help the areas to start to heal by protecting them.


As with any illness prevention is always better than cure. Mud fever can be an irritating and chronic condition so it is best avoided if possible.

The simplest way to do this is to try and restrict the time your horse spends standing in wet and muddy conditions. This may involve less turnout, moving water troughs or moving gateways to reduce the build-up of muddy areas.

Always check your horse’s legs daily and be aware of the signs of mud fever so that you can react quickly if needed.

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