Mud Fever: Natural Approaches
Mud fever, cracked heels and greasy heel are all problems experienced by horses and ponies that are kept outside in wet, muddy conditions.
In this article I will outline the underlying problem, symptoms and signs, and management of this illness.
As the feet are continually exposed to the elements, the heels and the skin below the fetlocks become increasingly red and inflamed, and there may be a pus-stained discharge and crusting. Greasy heel and cracked heels can occur in winter or summer, and may be related to allergy.
Mud fever occurs most often in the winter, and can affect the leg further up to the knee or hock. With mud fever the hair becomes matted, and the animal may become lame and unwell. The main culprit seems to be the organism Dermatophilus congolensis.
Signs that a horse is suffering from mud fever include: inflamed skin, matted hair, crusting, lameness and discharge.
Prevention Better Than Treatment
Prevention is always the best treatment; so keep the animal's legs dry and warm if possible; ensure they have access to a dry area; ensure bedding is dry, and reduce over-washing your horse's legs; rotate paddocks and if possible gateways; cordon off the muddiest areas with electric fencing; disinfect equipment and stables every so often to reduce the chance of Dermatophilus spores remaining.
There are a variety of western treatments currently in use. You may need to clip some of the hair to gain access to all of the affected areas. Gentle bathing is needed to remove the scabs before other treatments will reach the affected areas; a mild antiseptic, such as chlorhexidine, diluted as instructed, is useful. You may need to soak the area to ease away the worst of the scabs. Dry with a hair dryer, as it is essential that the legs are not left damp. Topical creams such as zinc and castor oil (as a barrier) or anti-inflammatory creams can be helpful, as long as the leg is dry first. Keep the horse's legs dry, bandaging may be needed. Waterproof leg wraps are available for turnout. Antibiotics may be needed.
Complementary Therapies can hasten and aid the healing process. A variety of herbal remedies may be helpful. Barrier creams may be enhanced if they contain tea tree oil, aloe vera, honey, Vitamin E, MSM, calendula, hypericum, and/or sulphur. Feed supplements containing cod liver or soya oil, antioxidants and seaweed (not in pregnant mares) may help promote a healthy skin.
Aromatics and Aromatherapy
Aromatics and Aromatherapy are frequently found to be helpful. Garlic, thyme, lavender, yarrow, Roman chamomile or German chamomile aromatic oils can be offered for a horse to self select by inhalation or licking, or if added to an aloe vera and water base can be applied to the affected area 1-2 times daily.
Healing with Reiki or Spiritual healing can help calm a horse and bring in her own self-healing abilities, reducing pain and helping the affected skin to heal. The effect may be enhanced with the use of crystals, such as amethyst. Magnet Therapy can also aid healing.
Selection of appropriate Bach's Flower Remedies depends on the personality and current mood of your horse, so it is better to seek expert advice to get the optimal remedy combination.
Rescue remedy, which contains star of Bethlehem, rock rose, cherry plum, impatiens and clematis, is ideal for use in emergency situations. Homeopathy works best if you consult a trained veterinary homeopath, as the specific remedies can be targeted to your horse.
Mud fever is common in our climate, but with good care can be prevented and with a combination of veterinary and complementary therapies, treated when it does arise.