Rain and snow have come on with a vengeance in many parts of the country, and whether horses live in wet conditions from rain or from a rain-freeze-rain mix, they're at risk of “scratches,” also known as mud fever, greasy heel or dew poisoning, all of which are collectively called pastern dermatitis. The scientific term is dermatophilus congolensis.
An infection that thrives in muddy conditions, pastern dermatitis can remain dormant on skin until the skin is compromised, typically by remaining wet for a prolonged amount of time, according Horse & Hound. The spores of the infection germinate and create thread-like tentacles that penetrate and spread in all directions. This causes inflammation and pain.
Causes of mud fever include:
- Standing in mud or soiled bedding
- Prolonged exposure to wet conditions
- Washing horse's legs often without drying them thoroughly
- Excessive sweating under saddle pads or blankets
- Skin trauma from bandages or boots
- A poor immune system
- White legs, which can be associated with photosensitivity
Signs of mud fever include:
- Heat and swelling on the affected limb
- Matted hair with crusty scabs
- Round scabs with moist lesions beneath them
- Green or yellow discharge found between the horse's skin and the scab
- Cracks in the skin which can open
- Hair loss to reveal raw, inflamed skin
Keeping skin clean and dry is the crux of all pastern dermatitis treatment. Removal of the scabs is key to getting the infection under control; they made need to be softened and the horse sedated to remove all of the scabs.
Once the scabs are removed, the area should be thoroughly washed with a mild disinfectant or surgical scrub and rinsed well. The legs then should be dried thoroughly. Once dry, there are a number of creams on the market that may help; bandaging may also help keep the limb clean and dry.
In severe cases, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories may need to be administered.
Read more about mud fever and how to prevent it at Horse & Hound.
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