Mud Fever: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Mud Fever: A Comprehensive Guide to Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment


Mud fever, also known as pastern dermatitis or pastern eczema, is a common skin infection that affects horses’ pasterns, which are the areas located above their hooves. It is caused by a combination of factors, including bacteria, moisture, and prolonged exposure to mud. While mud fever is generally not life-threatening, it can be uncomfortable for horses and lead to lameness if left untreated.

Causes of Mud Fever

The primary cause of mud fever is prolonged exposure to wet, muddy conditions. When horses’ pasterns are constantly wet, the skin becomes soft and macerated, creating an ideal environment for bacteria to grow. The bacteria responsible for mud fever are often found in soil and manure, and they can enter the horse’s skin through small cuts or abrasions.

Other factors that can contribute to mud fever include:

  • Poor hygiene: Horses that are not properly groomed and have dirty feet are more likely to develop mud fever.
  • Lack of turnout: Horses that are kept in stalls or paddocks without access to dry areas are at an increased risk.
  • Nutritional deficiencies: Horses that are deficient in certain nutrients, such as zinc, may be more susceptible to skin infections.
  • Underlying health conditions: Horses with compromised immune systems or other health conditions are more likely to develop mud fever.

Symptoms of Mud Fever

The symptoms of mud fever can vary depending on the severity of the infection. In mild cases, horses may only have mild skin irritation and swelling. However, in more severe cases, the skin may become cracked, raw, and painful. Other symptoms of mud fever include:

  • Scabs and crusty lesions
  • Hair loss
  • Pus or discharge
  • Lameness
  • Reluctance to move

Diagnosis of Mud Fever

Mud fever is typically diagnosed based on the horse’s symptoms and a physical examination. The veterinarian may also perform a skin scrape or culture to confirm the diagnosis and identify the specific bacteria causing the infection.

Treatment of Mud Fever

The treatment of mud fever involves several steps:

  1. Clean the affected area: The first step is to clean the affected area with a mild antiseptic solution. This will help to remove dirt and bacteria and promote healing.
  2. Apply topical medication: The veterinarian may prescribe a topical medication, such as an antibiotic cream or spray, to kill the bacteria and reduce inflammation.
  3. Bandage the area: In some cases, the veterinarian may recommend bandaging the affected area to keep it clean and protected.
  4. Provide a dry environment: It is important to keep the horse’s feet dry to prevent further infection. This may involve providing a dry stall or paddock, or using boots or wraps to keep the pasterns dry.
  5. Address underlying health conditions: If an underlying health condition is contributing to the mud fever, the veterinarian will need to address it to prevent future infections.

Prevention of Mud Fever

The best way to prevent mud fever is to keep horses’ feet clean and dry. This includes:

  • Grooming horses regularly to remove dirt and debris.
  • Cleaning horses’ feet after exposure to mud or water.
  • Providing horses with a dry stall or paddock.
  • Using boots or wraps to keep pasterns dry in wet conditions.
  • Maintaining good nutrition to support the horse’s immune system.

Prognosis for Mud Fever

The prognosis for mud fever is generally good if it is treated promptly and effectively. Most horses will recover fully without any long-term complications. However, if the infection is severe or left untreated, it can lead to lameness and other health problems.


Mud fever is a common skin infection that can be uncomfortable for horses and lead to lameness if left untreated. By understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment of mud fever, horse owners can help to prevent and manage this condition effectively. Regular grooming, hygiene, and providing a dry environment are essential for maintaining the health of horses’ feet and preventing the development of mud fever.

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