Prevent Mud Fever 5 Different Ways


Maybe using the word “easy” is wrong here. To prevent mud fever takes a significant effort with many angles to attack. Unfortunately, the most obvious solution to getting rid of mud fever is the absolute hardest to do.  And that would be banishing mud from all the land. Instead, focus on minimizing muddy areas, being diligent about signs of mud fever, reducing skin damage, and working with your vet if you notice those tell-tale crusty scabs.


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Table of Contents


What is mud fever?

Mud management

Clip the feathers – maybe

Clean and dry legs

Bedding and stall picking

Get the vet involved

Go shopping



horse pastern with healing mud fever

This case of mud fever is on the way to full healing.  


What is mud fever in horses?


  • Mud fever, also called scratches, dew poisoning, and greasy heel, is part of the larger collection of skin conditions called equine pastern dermatitis (EPD).  Most equine vets will agree that whatever you call it, it’s a giant pain to get rid of, as the affected area can climb up the leg and affect other areas of the body.


  • Mud fever is usually a bacterial infection of the skin around the pastern and fetlock, although some severe cases extend up the lower limb. There may be a secondary fungal infection, too.


  • When these microbes – the bacteria and fungus – have warmth, moisture, and a horse’s delicate skin, mud fever can happen. It can be itchy, and you will see scabby skin, usually with some hair loss. These lesions love to spread and can even lead to cellulitis and lymphangitis.  


  • Other EPD causes include liver problems, mites, allergies, and sunlight. You are not always dealing with bacteria and microbes. 


  • Mud fever can cause lameness, discharge, and skin that resembles grease.


  • Any horse can get any from of EPD, but horses with white legs with pink skin are more likely.


  • You might think that mud fever only occurs during the winter months, but it can happen any time there is wet weather creating muddy conditions.


See some more photos and details about EPD here

For more about cellulitis, read this. Or if lymphangitis strikes your curiosity, read this.


1 Manage the mud 


  • Mud carries bacteria and moisture to your horse’s lower legs. Then, the mud rudely creates a sticky barrier to trap all the irritation against your horse’s skin. Do what you can to minimize the mud.  

Drainage is vital


  • There are many ways to create drainage, including using hills, digging little ditches, adding French drains, and screaming into the void, which helps keep the turnout less muddy.


  • Temporary fencing can block off extra-muddy parts of the paddocks. Bark, wood chips, or mats can also make the areas around gates, water troughs, and feeders less likely to be muddy.


  • An old carpet or rug also makes an excellent surface under a thin dirt or crushed stone layer.


  • Horses will grind dirt into the carpet and eventually wear it out, but it keeps the deep mud at bay. 


  • You can purchase grid systems that go under driveways, gardens, and other muddy areas to keep the earth behaved. These grids are amazing mud abatements.


tractor making a trench for water

This tractor is making a small trench outside of a barn aisle for drainage.


Move things around


  • Rotate pastures frequently for gate areas, corners, and popular paths to allow ground cover to fill in any blanks. 


  • You may also want to drag your feeders and water troughs to different locations. The area under the tubs will keep growing, and the footing around the tubs won’t ever be stomped into oblivion. 


horse eating from a hay net inside a tub outside

Move your feeders around for mud control!  This paddock is also crushed stone, great for drainage.


2 Your horse’s feathers need a haircut. Maybe.



  • Now, address your horse’s feathers. These gorgeous and fluffy leg curtains are the breed standard for some horses, but sometimes at a price.  


  • Feathers create a fabulous hairy petri dish for skin infections and scald to take hold. Some types of microscopic buts, like leg mites also love to live in feathers, which can cause so much trouble that the skin and legs are permanently swollen and damaged. Many horses develop lameness from feather mites due to the discomfort.


  • Feathers also hinder your eyes and fingers from quickly noticing skin infections and complicate applying medications and ointments.


feathered legs on gypsy vanner horse

Gorgeous feathers on clean bedding for the win


The question becomes – to clip or not to clip?



  • Trimming feathers may sound like a crime against feathers, but it may help prevent mud fever on your horse. The benefits of clipping will depend on each horse’s pasture, paddock, and barn environments. 


  • Clipping the feathers is something to consider if you constantly battle mud fever.  You may think that clipping will worsen raw skin, but a clipped leg stays dry and clean much easier.


  • If you find a scab or patch of skin infection, you need to clip the area and ensure it stays dry and clean. It’s really difficult to apply a zinc cream or topical antibiotics through long feathers with enough precision to reach the damaged skin.  


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trimming up a horse fetlock

You never have to clip to the skin unless you want to or it’s medically necessary.  Trimming off the chaos can be enough.


Grooming oils for feathers


  • For some horses, drowning the feathers in grooming oil is an excellent idea. The No. 2 Heavy Oil or pig oil are great choices. Do this when there is no skin infection. The oil makes a slippery barrier on the feathers, and mud is easily removed. You may need to re-apply daily.


  • And when I say drown, I mean this quite literally.


3 Keep your horse’s legs clean and dry


  • Your goal is to heal the skin and prevent infections. Clean and dry is your new mantra.  


  • Mud is not the only culprit of wet legs. Overbathing, too much rain, or horses that like to wade into streams or ponds can have the same issues. 


  • Old towels and dish rags are always handy to have at the barn to dry legs. Some horse people will also use a blow dryer, but use it cautiously to avoid burning the skin.


white hoof standing in grass with a sock on

Horse socks with silver embedded fabric create a barrier, allowing the skin to heal.


Cover the legs with socks or mud boots


  • The easiest way to prevent mud fever is to create a barrier between your horse’s leg and their world. Socks and rain jackets for lower legs are two ways to make that happen.  


  • Contrary to logic, unique fabric socks can get wet and muddy. They are dense enough to protect the skin and airy enough to keep the skin happy.  


  • Use rain jackets for horse legs with or without an underlying wrap. Horses with bandages, wound coverings, or standing wraps will keep their legs and wraps clean and dry.  


mud prevention boots and bell boot for horses

The mud boots and special mud bells prevent mud on the skin, hooves, and bandages.


4 Keep your horse’s bedding clean to prevent mud fever


  • Your horse needs clean sheets. Dirty shavings cause stains, can harbor mold, love to pump out harmful ammonia, and offer a home to bacteria. You may need to experiment with types of bedding to find the best one(s) for your horse.


  • Keep your horse’s bedding clean! You may pick out the best shavings for your horse, but it won’t matter if you are not picking the stalls more.


  • If your horse has wet legs, let them dry before doing anything else. No turnout, no shavings, only dry!


Read this for more on ammonia in horse bedding


5 Get expert help


  • Your vet can help! Work with your equine team for a diagnosis, medications, and treatment plan. With the multitude of causes for EPD, save some time and get your vet involved at the first sign of trouble. You’ll also save money in the long run, and your horse will feel better sooner. 


  • It’s handy to remember that skin trouble affects your horse’s immune system – their first line of defense. Your vet is the best source of how to help your horse!


  • Talk to your vet about your horse’s diet – often, adding some Omega-3s or an immune system booster can help the skin’s health from the inside out. 




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Omega 3's plus gut health support in a delicious cold milled flax formula. It's delicious and it will turn your horse's coat into a mirror.


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