With all this rain and flooding it is important that us horse owners acknowledge the importance of caring for our horses during these wintery conditions. At this time of the year the bad weather can really cause havoc on our horses skin. The dark nights, continual water logging and inappropriate rugging for changing weather conditions make it extremely difficult to get anything dry, this puts your horse at risk from weather related conditions such as Mud Fever and Rain Scald. In this guide I will go through some ways in which you can prevent these conditions as well as explaining some of the symptoms and causes.
Horses and livestock require extra time and care in the colder winter months, so please ensure they have adequate shelter to escape extreme weather conditions. Also be prepared to provide extra feed along with good quality long fibre especially when grass is so sparse. It is crucial to check the water troughs and buckets are clear of ice.
Adequate shelter is vital when it comes to protecting your horse from these nasty conditions however if shelter is not sufficient then owners should use waterproof rugs in order to give their horses added protection from the cold wet weather. In particular it is wet mud you have to watch out for, regular checks of your horses hooves should be carried out in order to look out for problems such as abscesses and loose shoes, also check their legs or for any signs of mud fever. It is important to make sure owners have a dry resting area for their horse, away from the mud.
Another factor to consider when riding in winter is being aware of your horse getting sweated up because they can easily catch a chill. For your own personal safety its important that you always wear reflective clothing in the dark when riding on the roads in particular.
Mud fever is an extremely frustrating problem amongst horse owners and treatment is not simple. The scientific name for mud fever is Pastern Dermatitis and it refers to a whole range of skin reactions to a number of different irritants frequently called ‘greasy heels’ or ‘cracked heels’ and is caused by an infectious agent called dermatophilus congolensis which develops in muddy wet conditions.
There are a variety of contributing factors to mud fever. The infection is normally provoked when the skin surface becomes damaged. Typically wet conditions cause irritation to the skin. Horses with feathered legs are typically at risk as the hair will trap moisture against the skin. Abrasions and scratches also allow infections to take hold. The use of oils, grease or ointments, once an infection has started, will generally worsen the condition.
Other factors include:
- Prolonged damp, mild conditions
- Standing in deep mud or soiled bedding
- Constantly washing limbs before and/or after work without fully drying them afterwards
- Excessive sweating under rugs or tack
- Heavy limb feathering is frequently blamed but this is probably only because the legs tend to be washed and scrubbed more than unfeathered ones; clipping them out may not be the answer as this exposes the skin further
- Skin trauma, such as rubbing from overreach boots or incorrectly fitted bandages, chaffing from artificial surfaces such as sand, or over-enthusiastic grooming
- Generally unhealthy skin or the presence of a poor immune system, usually secondary to some other primary health problem
- White limbs or patches on the body possibly due to an associated photosensitisation issue
There are quite a few symptoms of mud fever which are fairly easy to recognise the most obvious sign is soreness and inflammation of the skin. The skin becomes sore, crusty and scabby, hair falls off and the legs can swell – in the most severe cases mud fever can cause lameness. Although the long feathers around a horse’s fetlocks are protective, they can get completely waterlogged or infested with mites, which is one of the most common reasons for mud fever in heavy horses.
Matted areas of hair containing crusty scabs
Small, circular, ulcerated, moist lesions beneath scabs
Thick, creamy, white, yellow or greenish discharge (containing the causal organism) between the skin and overlying scab
Removed scab typically has a concave underside with the hair roots protruding
Deep fissures in the skin – in severe cases the skin at the back of the leg may split open, producing the horizontal fissures that are characteristic of cracked heels
Eventual hair loss leaving raw-looking, inflamed skin underneath
When found on the front legs it can be mistaken for over-reach injuries
Heat, swelling and pain on pressure or flexion of limb
Mud fever can occur on other parts of the body, especially the back, when it is called rain scald
If severely affected, lethargy, depression and loss of appetite
Treatment for Mud Fever varies depending of the cause. There are various treatments available. Fundamentally the basis is to treat any underlying conditions such as mite infection or contact allergy, is to remove the infection and allow the skin’s natural barrier to heal.
Clip the affected area - Firstly remove the hair so all the skin can dry out. The organism will grow better with lack of oxygen so allowing more air will reduce mud fever.
Remove scabs - Firstly wash with an antimicrobial and antibacterial shampoo, lather and allow to stand for 10 minutes before rinsing and then dry thoroughly with a clean towel. Some scabs can be difficult to remove for the tricky ones cover the infected are in a cleansing ointment, this way the scabs will soften making it easier to remove.
Rain scald is another very common skin condition found in horses during long periods of wet weather and mostly during the winter months. The condition is actually caused by the same bacteria as mud fever, Dermatophilus congolensis. The affected areas will produce a sticky secretion that causes you horses hair to matt and create scabs.
The condition looks as if the skin has been scalded by water droplets especially over the loins and the saddle areas. A lot of the affected areas will also produce a sticky secretion which causes the horses hair to matt together and form scabs. Underneath the scabs the skin will appear pink and moist and will be sore to touch.
Normally Rainscald will heal on its own, however as the condition is prone to spreading to larger areas efficient treatment is recommended. Although there are some cases where rain scald can be very severe, the majority of cases are only minor and can be treated at home naturally.
If your horse or pony has been diagnosed with rain scald, it should be brought into a stable and kept dry. If this is not possible, a waterproof rug should be used.
Gently remove and dispose of the ‘paintbrush’ scabs. Remember, the scabs can spread infection of Dermatophilus. In severe cases, the coat may need to be clipped out. Again, remember to clean the clippers thoroughly to prevent spread to other horses. Once you have removed as many scabs as possible, wash or spray the affected areas with either a chlorhexidine or povidone-iodine solution for seven to ten days. Dry the skin thoroughly after each wash and keep dry until the next application. Application of antibiotic cream may be useful but barrier creams should be avoided until the scabs have been removed as they can be difficult to wash off.
Wash grooming brushes in disinfectant and avoid sharing tack and equipment with other horses. In severe cases, your vet may prescribe antibiotics. Recovery from rain scald may take several weeks
To make sure your horse avoids developing conditions such as the ones listed above, its importance you keep your horse well groomed and clean. We have some great offers going on grooming products on Equine Superstore. Why not have a browse and keep your horse healthy and also looking fresh!
Wahl Artiko Horseline Clipper - £169 > £142.99 Buy here
Shampoo and Oils
Carr & Day & Martin MF Pro Ultimate Winter Skin Protection Kit - £49.50 > £39.99
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