Like every year when the rainy season arrives, owners of horses staying out in the field fear mud fever. Here I’ll explain what it really is (spoiler: it’s not scabies) and how to get rid of it. Let’s go ⏩
Mud fever ain’t scabies
Yes, mud fever is not perfectly suited to this pathology. Indeed, a “real scab” would be caused by a parasite (a mite in fact).
While in horses, “mud fever” is actually a disease caused by bacterias. Its little name: Dermatophilus congolensis. Besides, the real name of mud fever is actually dermatophilosis. (Not to be confused with dermatophiTosis, which is actually Ringworm).
The symptoms of mud fever are easy to recognize 🔍
The symptoms: lower limbs and pasterns swell, visibility of crusts, red skin, hair fall… Horse is in pain and can get lame because of it. However it does not get itchy.
Mud fever mainly appears in autumn and winter because the bacteria proliferate in humid environments such as mud for example 😉
By the way, know that mud fever can touch the line of the back and the croup for the horses housed 24/7 in the field!
The symptoms are quite easy to recognize, but … be careful not to get confused!
Mud fever can be mistaken with other pathologies
And yes, other pathologies, more rare certainly, give somewhat equivalent symptoms.
These include scabies (the real one this time), chronic dermatosis in draft horses, ringworm and even lice.
These pathologies can appear without the presence of mud or moisture.
If in doubt, call your veterinarian. He may take a small sample of the skin in order to identify the pathology.
How to treat mud fever?
Step 1 – Keep your horse dry
The bottom line is that our lovely bacteria Dermatophilus congolensis, loves water. 💦 So to get rid of mud fever, you’ll have to get rid of humidity… The first treatment is therefore to keep your horse in a dry environment! Avoid contact with mud as much as possible.
For the same purpose, it is strongly recommended to clip the lower limbs in order to minimize the stagnation of humidity.
This also applies to the back line if your horse is has in this area. It is not very aesthetic but it is essential.
Step 2 – Disinfect
Once the “hygienic” treatment is in place, you must fight the bacteria. First thing to do: disinfect with an antiseptic soap. It must be disinfected but be careful not to rub too hard so to limit the inflammation. If the scabs fall off, that’s good, but you shouldn’t tear them off at all costs.
“For me the only soap that works is the real Marseille soap! Classic antiseptic soaps like Betadine Scrub may be less effective on mud fever. ” Dr. Marine Slove, veterinarian
Step 3 – Dry
Once the area has been properly disinfected, it is necessary to … dry it of course!! It has to be perfectly dry, not just sponged. So arm yourself with your nicest towels (and clean please, to avoid recontaminating the freshly cleaned area), or even your hair dryer, and dry the area perfectly. It’s super important.
Step 4 – Protect ☔️
Once dry, you can put on an antiseptic, healing and protective ointment. However, the advice of your veterinarian for that would still be a plus.
⚠️ In fact, depending on your horse’s living conditions (typically if you were able to get it dry or not), ointment can be an aggravating factor. Indeed, ointments, especially those that are oily, can become very dirty with mud, soil, hair etc. Also, their hydrophobic side complicates care (it is difficult to remove it, so disinfection is incomplete). Suddenly the dirt accumulates, the treatments are not effective and the bacteria proliferate. So ointments can be worse than better. ❌
So call your veterinarian who will tell you whether or not it is essential and if so which one.
What about antibiotics? 💊
Sometimes the veterinarian may decide to put your horse on antibiotics. It is up to him to decide whether it is necessary or not.
⚠️ Treatments must be done every day ⚠️
Or even 2x / day depending on the condition. And this, until complete disappearance of the lesions, therefore until healing. Know that the treatment will be long and… boring… 😓
Is it contagious? 😷
Direct transmission from one horse to another is very rare. The concern is rather that the affected horses participate in keeping the environment (mud …) contagious. So most of the time if several horses in a stable are affected it is because they share the same environment… Hence the importance of taking the horses out of their fields and stabling them inside for healing time.
As usual, animals with fragile immunity are more vulnerable. And in the case of mud fever, we realized that horses with pink skin were more affected. So the color of the coat can be an aggravating factor.
Mud fever is due to a bacteria that is found in wetlands like mud. The disease is therefore rather present in the wet months. Horses develop inflammation of the lower limbs, sometimes with swelling, depilation and crusts. The back line and croup can also be affected. The first hygienic treatment consists in keeping the horse dry therefore avoid contact with mud during healing time and clip the affected areas. Then you must carefully disinfect the area, dry thoroughly and apply a healing ointment to protect, according to the advice of your veterinarian. Antibiotics may be prescribed in some cases.
Mud fever does not spread directly but rather through the contaminated environment.
Till next article,
R&D Responsable at Equisense
A. Anta, « Dermatophilose et autres dermites bactériennes », Techniques d’élevage, 2017. [En ligne]. Disponible sur: Techniques d’élevage. [Consulté le: 22-août-2018].
« Dermatophilose ou gale de boue du cheval », Classequine. [En ligne]. Disponible sur: Classequine. [Consulté le: 22-août-2018].
I. Barrier, « La dermatophilose ou “gale de boue” », Equipaedia, 2014. [En ligne]. Disponible sur: Equipaedia. [Consulté le: 22-août-2018].
Bacteria icon created by Ilsur Aptukov from the Noun Project