Mud fever is a common winter complaint and is often the result of horses spending too long standing in wet conditions, with the wet damaging the skins natural protective barrier. It’s a pain to tackle once it’s set in, and as vet Hazel Clewley explains, prevention is much better than a cure.
“If your horse gets mud fever early on in the winter, you’ll have a long battle ahead of you as you’ll be constantly fighting the environment,” says Hazel. “Try to prevent it as much as possible by keeping your horse’s legs dry and not letting him stand for too long in wet conditions.”
The great feather debate
There’s a bit of a debate when it comes to feathers and mud fever, but if your horse is blessed with hairy legs, your best bet is to keep his feathers on.
“It can be tempting to clip, but more many horses the feathers act as a kind of natural protection,” says Hazel. “The water gets funnelled away from the skin, forming a defensive layer.
“There are many different opinions regarding what to do if your horse comes in with wet, muddy legs from the field, but if he has lots of feather, I’d let his legs dry and brush off any mud afterwards. You want to avoid getting them any wetter.
“For horses with clipped legs, you could rinse them off and pat them dry with a towel, or pop him in a solarium if you have access to one. Keeping him dry and taking water off his skin is key.”
Symptoms can vary from horse to horse, but early signs to look out for might include swelling, or the legs filling or feeling hot.
If he hasn’t got much coat and has pink skin, you may notice his skin looking a deeper pink, or even red.
It’ll then progress to the classic signs of mud fever including painful scabs, or the hair around his legs looking matted.
- Keep your horse’s legs dry (drying with a towel can help)
- Fence off muddy gateways and areas of your field
- Let your horse have somewhere dry to stand
- Provide plenty of deep, dry bedding if stabled
- Put bandages on wet legs
Meet the expert: Hazel Clewley (Associate BVetMedHons MRCVS) qualified at the Royal Veterinary College and works at Western Counties Equine Veterinary Surgeons. She has special interest in sport horse medicine, poor performance and acupuncture.