Mud fever

What you need to know about pastern dermatitis aka mud fever 

Pastern dermatitis, commonly known as ‘mud fever’,’ cracked heels’ or ‘greasy heels’ is a skin infection caused by dermatophilus congolensis.

This microorganism thrives in wet muddy conditions or can lay dormant on the skin surface without causing problems, but in the right conditions can cause infection. This is not uncommon and can be potentially painful to the horse and frustrating to treat. Any damage or compromise to normal, healthy skin can lead to an active infection. Cuts, grazes, tack or boot rubs and prolonged wetting can allow the organism to enter through the skin, subsequently growing hyphae, which are tentacle-like projections which can invade the skin layers surrounding the initial damage.



  • Typical distribution around areas of prolonged
  • wetting (heels and pasterns), boot rubs, skin folds etc.
  • Matted hair with scabs underneath. When the
  • scabs are removed the hair frequently comes out with it.
  • Ulcerated red raw skin under the scabs
  • Thick discharge 
  • Heat and swelling
  • Painful to touch



Frequently straightforward but it can be easily confused with other similar-looking but different conditions so an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan is essential to prevent wasted time and money! 

If the lesions are confined to white areas only, occur in dry months, cause itchiness, foot stamping or are persistent or severe then veterinary advice and treatment should be sought.



  • Keeping the affected areas clean and dry is very important for successful treatment. This may involve stabling the horse until the lesions have resolved.
  • Treating the infection topically will resolve the infection in most cases. This usually involves disinfectant/medicated shampoos or washes, with or without topical ointments or creams.
  • Treatment plans should always be made on an individual basis. 



In the face of mud fever, appropriate management changes should be made to prevent recurrence. Equally it is worth assessing your winter routine to reduce the risk of mud fever in your horses even if she/he has never suffered from it. This may involve:

  • Stabling the horse or alternatively fencing off muddy gates or rotating paddocks to prevent poaching.
  • Avoiding over-washing legs in the winter (even if you have a horse with long feathers that comes in with half the field dripping off!!) Consider allowing the mud to dry fully then brushing it off.
  • Avoid vigorous brushing with hard brushes which can damage the skin surface.
  • Keeping legs as dry as possible especially before putting boots on.
  • Topical barrier creams are occasionally helpful- however this should be done with caution as many creams actually exacerbate the problem by trapping bacterial and moisture between the cream and skin- creating the ideal environment for growth.
  • Ensure bedding is clean and dry.
  • Waterproof turn out boots can help so long as mud doesn’t travel up inside them.


Please do not hesitate to call us to talk to one of our vets about prevention, treatment or if you have any other questions!


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