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Winter Mud Defences

Kate Hore. RNutr(Animal), R.Anim.Technol (Cert). Head Nutritionist at NAF

Mud Fever is a bacterial infection of the skin around the lower leg and fetlock caused principally by the bacterium, Dermatophillus congolensis. On un-rugged animals it may also be seen across the back where it is referred to as Rain Scald. Ordinarily the bacteria live happily on skin without any issue. However any break in the skin allows the bacteria to enter then dermatitis sets in. Mud fever is seen as painful scabs and matted hair, leading to lameness. Prolonged wetting from muddy conditions in the field can weaken skin allowing entry; but so too can abrasive bedding, and any minor nicks and cuts. Check legs daily and quickly treat any minor abrasion with wound cream and an effective barrier cream.

While it can be seen in any animal, those with thin skin and white legs do seem to be particularly prone. Feathers may help protect from mud but, once infection sets in, can encourage it by keeping the area warm and wet – ideal conditions for bacterial proliferation. Feathering also makes it harder to effectively treat the area, so for affected animals it is advised to closely clip the heels, allowing easy access and air to circulate. Clip, if required, then remove the scabs – but carefully. Never pick off dry, hard scabs as this leaves an open wound allowing bacteria in, and is likely to be painful for the horse and, therefore, potentially dangerous for you! Wash the area with a natural anti-bacterial shampoo, such as one based on teatree oil, massage in well and leave for ten minutes before rinsing with clean water. For persistent scabs apply a cleansing solution and poultice overnight, which should soften the scabs making them easier to remove.

Once the scabs are removed and the area cleaned, ensure the legs are carefully dried using paper towelling or clean, dry towels. Avoid re-using the same towel, or sharing between horses, as this could potentially spread infection.

While tackling what’s happening on the surface, supporting the body from the inside out will help maintain the body’s own defences. Choose a natural supplement based on antioxidants, to flush out toxins from the area, which are associated with the response seen. Ideally ensure that supplement also includes nutrients to maintain skin strength, such as bio-available sulphur (MSM), zinc and amino acids.

To prevent further attack ensure you liberally apply an effective barrier cream to clean, dry legs before turnout or exercise. Opinions are divided as to whether to wash legs when they come back in or not. It is thought that both wetting and chilling are key triggers, so if you do wash legs regularly ensure they’re thoroughly dried too. Alternatively you may wish to apply wraps or bandages over the muddy legs, which keeps them warm; simply brush dry mud off in the morning and reapply your barrier cream before turnout.

With care your horse can show winter a clean pair of heels and get away to the warmer, drier days of Spring.

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