UGH!   We've struggled with Mud Fever just as so many are doing right now. It's an annoying, frustrating situation that can actually turn VERY serious in short order to the point of cellulitis, possible lymphangitis and deterioration of the P3 with the ultimate demise.

So what, exactly IS "Mud Fever"?  Also known as scratches, dew poisoning, and greasy heel, mud fever is skin condition that is caused by a bacteria known as dermatophilus congolensis. (That's certainly a mouthful!)  Dermatophilus congolensis is a gram positive bacteria that is also known as streptithricosis (another mouthful). 

Mud Fever is considered to be an opportunistic pathogen. That is, it is not contagious directly to a healthy horse but it will take advantage of a horse whose immune system is taxed and skin is compromised by environmental conditions. 

Characteristics include scabby, oozing, ulcerations that create raised patches in the fur and raw, painful patches when removed. Usually they're found on the back of the pastern or fetlocks but also can be found developing up the leg to the cannon bone. It typically affects the white leg more than others. 



Mud Fever proliferates and thrives on horses exposed to wet and muddy environments for prolonged periods of time.  If you live in a warm, humid area, such as we do, the skin of the horse can be challenged thus defeating its natural defenses to bacterial infections.

For us, living in flood waters after Hurricane Irma for 2 weeks did the trick. Mud fever found my horses white socks and took hold. Interestingly, it also has invaded my bay's black pasterns. But those floods were n.a.s.t.y. and who knows what was in that water and, even still today, lives in the environment as a result of the flood waters?  UGH, again. 

The bacteria can be transmitted by:

--Using contaminated grooming tools
--Sharing blankets, leg wraps, halters or saddles
--Scratching post or other scratching areas
--Being close to another horse that has Mud fever.    

Interestingly it should be noted that a horse can carry the bacteria but not exhibit any clinical symptoms of the disease.

So, what to do, what to do? 

Well, first of all, a good wash of the pasterns and fetlock with a strong anti-bacterial scrub or diluted essential oil such as Melaleuca or one with carvicrol properties (Oregano, Thyme) to clean up the mess and give the initial attack against the bacteria would be where to start.  I, personally, will do this and then soak the limb in an activated charcoal rinse for 10 mins or so. The charcoal will soothe and help any inflammation as well as aid with the wash in destroying the bacteria. Dry the area thoroughly and then, what I like to do is cover the area with a salve that has antibacterial and antifungal properties to it. I also spray with a sea-salt spray before applying the salve. The salve I use has natural pesticides to it to help keep the midges and flies and mosquitoes from biting. Essential oils, raw organic honey, and other healing agents can be mixed in a base of zinc ointment to help keep further moisture out of the area. 

Some veterinarians will give an antibiotic injection to the horse while others don't see the need of that. 

The important thing is to be diligent with the treatment and to keep the horse is as dry an area as possible. While I don't advocate for stalling horses, if that's the only dry area then that might be a solution to help the rapid recovery from Mud Fever. 

Because Dermatophilus congolensis can quickly turn into a serious issue it is important to catch these lesions quickly and treat them appropriately. Call your veterinarian or other health provider for advice. I use Homeopathy as well as an immunoregulator in addition to the topical treatments with good success. It's all important to ensure a diet that promotes and encourages a healthy immune system to help ward off this nasty, frustrating condition. Excess carbs will cause inflammation and feed bacteria. Be aware of what's in your horse's food as you want to feed the IMMUNE SYSTEM more than 'feeding the horse'. Throwing loaves of bread or qts or corn at a horse will feed the horse but wreak havoc on the immune system. Instead, think of what horses are created to eat ... forages. Make sure healthy forages are the mainstay of your horses diet and that, too, combined with the topical treatments, will help your horse on the road to a rapid recovery. 

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Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications includingThe Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here:


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