Seasonal bacterial conditions

Mud-rash/mud fever and rain scald/rain rot

Time and time, I hear people looking to quick fixes for mud rash or rain scald, we need to stop dancing around the fact that most cases are potentially serious bacterial infections and may require veterinary attention. Without proper care and management horses can develop cellulitis or lymphangitis which can stay with them for the rest of their lives. As always we believe in pro-active care and management.

Mud-rash & Mud fever

What is mud rash – irritation and dermatitis on the lower legs of horses. Often caused by a mixture of bacteria (dermatophilus congolensis) mud fever can also be caused by fungal organisms. If the infection gets established, it may be very painful for the horse and cause lameness. It is more commonly seen on horses with feathers and on white legs. Mud fever is a chronic but progressive dermatitis. It affects all breeds of horses, but it is most common in heavy draft horses like the Clydesdales, also known as pastern dermatitis. It often starts as a small red ulceration of the skin in the plantar pastern region of the legs.

Causes – The infection can stay dormant on the skin and flares up when the skin is compromised e.g. prolonged wetting, trauma such as rubbed skin or general unhealthy skin or compromised immune system. Some soil types can predispose horses to mud rash/ fever. Washing the horses’ legs and not drying them can contribute to mud rash.

pink skin can be more susceptible to mudrash

Treatment –  

Step 1) If your horse develops scabs, scrub the legs with warm water and a diluted antiseptic such as hibiscrub, iodine or even baby shampoo, this is especially useful for irritated sore skin.  If using antiseptic massage it into a lather, leave for 10 minutes to allow contact time for the antiseptic to kill the bacteria, and rinse with warm water. You MUST then dry the legs after cleaning. Do this at least twice a day, or whenever the horse is exposed to muddy conditions.

Step 2) Some cases have persistent scabs, you can persevere, keep cleaning and softening the scabs, with creams, baby oil, even zinc and castor oil. Although bacteria thrive the damp moist conditions bandaging/poulticing can help soften the scabs.

Step 3) Apply barrier cream/udder cream after cleaning and drying the legs. There are many over the counter remedies the most popular oil based but depending on the type of infection these may not 100% clear up the infection. Most vets make up their own tropical ointment, these have antibiotics in the cream, and some have steroid, even anti-inflammatory and painkillers. If you can’t get on top of the mud rash within one 1 week contact your vet about a tropical ointment, even a basic flamazine cream (topical antibacterial) from your vet may suffice.

This began as a pastern dermatitis and infection has spread to the outside of the pastern

Prevention – Hygiene is a very important factor, both in treating the horse and preventing horses from getting this condition. Wash horses legs off once they come in from the field. Dry the legs off as well. Bacteria grows best in damp, warm conditions. If your horse has feathers unfortunately you will need to trim them off, clipping the legs off can help to allow drying.

Keeping horses in while they are suffering from mud rash may be beneficial, especially while you clear up the infection. However, some horses’ legs swell up if kept in so you may need to hand walk or exercise twice a day. Be mindful, if your arena is damp sand, or wood chippings this may irate the skin also!

Many people swear by vaseline, pig oil, castor oil, even vegetable oil and/or cattle udder cream to prevent a flare up after clearing up the original infection. We advise to find a pro-active measure to keep flare up’s at bay.

Results – Properly managed many horses make a full recovery, however the horse may be prone to re occurring bouts so extreme and pro-active care is required to avoid flare ups.

If left uncared for horse can develop cellulitis, a painful condition caused by a bacterial infection of the connective tissue under the skin. Cellulitis can result in chronic lymphangitis which impacts the lymphatic drainage and lymphatic flow which will allow fluid to pool rather than drain out of a articular limb. This is a perfect place for bacteria to grown and cause infection.

Variables – Mites – There are some other conditions that can appear similar to mud rash such as pastern dermatitis or mite infestation. This (mite infestation) often occurs higher up the leg particularly in feathered horses that may not have been turned out on wet fields. If you are struggling to completely cure a case of mud rash despite carrying out the advice mentioned above, veterinary attention may be needed.

extreme example of cellulitis and lymphangitis as a result of mud rash

Rain rot or Rain scald

What is rain scald – The most common symptom of rain rot/scald on horses is hair loss along with a rough, scabby looking skin, generally on the horses back and hind quarter. The hair will appear to rise up as little tufts as opposed to the sleek, smooth look of a typical healthy horse. Hair will fall out if lightly rubbed or brushed bringing some skin or scabs with it.  In severe cases these exposed areas become open sores the small scabs that appear to look like raised lumps of hair can easily become infected and lead to greater problems. This is caused by the bacteria dermatophilus congolensis, so the same bacteria as the above condition. Commonly occurring in winter.

Cause – Common flare ups occur during periods of damp, humid weather or under a non-breathable rug these bacteria can multiply to the point that they irritate the hair follicles and skin of afflicted horses. Similarly, these bacteria can multiply under a numnah or rug especially if the horse is repeatedly sweating.

Treatment – Identify the cause, ask is due to no rug, a non-breathable rug or under saddle conditions.

Step 1) If your horse develops scabs, scrub the area with warm water and a diluted antiseptic such as hibiscrub, iodine or even baby shampoo, this is especially useful for irritated sore skin.  If using an antiseptic massage it into a lather, leave for 10 minutes to allow contact time for the antiseptic to kill the bacteria, rinse with warm water. You MUST then dry the area completely.

Step 2) Some cases have persistent scabs, you can persevere, keep cleaning and softening the scabs, with creams, baby oil, even zinc and castor oil. Apply barrier cream/udder cream after cleaning and drying the area. There are many over the counter remedies the most popular oil based but depending on the type of infection these may not 100% clear up the infection. Most vets make up their own tropical ointment, these have antibiotics in the cream, and some have steroid, even anti-inflammatory and painkillers. If you can’t get on top of the mud rash within one 1 week contact your vet about a tropical ointment, even a basic flamazine cream from your vet may suffice.

Step 3) If your horse had a rug on, change it and if the horse didn’t have any rug applying a clean and breathable rug to protect the skin especially if your horse doesn’t have access to a stable while the conditions recovers. If the condition occurs under saddle it may be worth giving your horse a few days off ridden work to allow step 1 & 2 to clear up this condition.

It may be worth running a blood test and assessing the horses overall health when they succumb to a bacterial infection. Some may be run down a require more feed, antibiotics or a tonic.

uneven hair on the middle back as well as tufts of hair standing, this is the start of rain scald

Prevention – Hygiene is a very important factor, both in treating the horse and preventing horses from getting this condition. Wash horses back area thoroughly after exercise and more importantly dry the area with hay, towel, a cooler or heat lamp. Ensure rugs are clean and breathable and that the horse doesn’t sweat under it.

Wash and disinfect all brushes, numnahs and rugs. Many isolate horses as technically the bacteria can spread.

Results – Properly managed many horses make a full recovery, however the horse may be prone to re occurring bouts so extreme and pro-active care is required to avoid flare ups.

Variables – Mites – There are some other conditions that can appear similar to mud rash such as pastern dermatitis or mite infestation. This (mite infestation) often occurs higher up the leg particularly in feathered horses that may not have been turned out on wet fields. If you are struggling to completely cure a case of mud rash despite carrying out the advice mentioned above, veterinary attention may be needed.

Thanks for reading – feel free to share on social media platforms.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Brilliant read! Thanks so much for posting! Really informative and helpful!

    1. Hi Nikki, delighted to hear you enjoyed the post. Thanks for your feedback – it’s much appreciated!

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