As the weather gets wetter and wetter this represents a challenge for many of us horse owners and how best to care for our horses without creating further heath issues and complications.
At the same time - leaving your horse out in the rain is common place so managing the length of time your horse spends outside in wet conditions is key.
Put simply, it is vital to prevent your horses legs or feet being submerged in muddy ground conditions for prolonged periods of time, particularly if they wear tack around their legs or have a history of developing health issues at this time of year.
Bacteria found in soils can be worsened or agitated with extensive wet weather and this can lead to irritation or even infection in your horses legs of feet. Horses prone to abscesses and thrush are typically more at risk it wet and muddy conditions and an ongoing concern for most horse owners when the ground becomes muddy is ‘mud fever’. As it begins to warm up further complications can then be found with parasites and biting insects which can lead to viral diseases such as Encephalitis or West Nile virus.
Horses with varying levels of infection can show signs of pain and discomfort and sometimes indicate early signs of lameness.
We look at signs where your horse may be experiencing issues with the wet weather and what you should do about it.
In all cases we recommend a professional diagnoses of the condition.
What is Rain Rot?
“Rain rot” is likely to be the most common form of health issue relating to your horse being submerged in mud and is a skin disease caused by Dermatophilus congolensis.
Rain rot, as the name suggests, relates to the rain (wet conditions) and is where your horses skin suffers from an increase in moisture resting against the skin. It is also sometimes found in high humidity areas.
The condition can appear upon inspection to be serious however thankfully it is fairly straight forward to treat and in the majority of cases leaves no long term issue. It is however a medical emergency and requires immediate attention.
Rain rot can lead to a loss of hair and can take several weeks for that hair loss to return. As ‘crusty scabs’ begin to appear this can effect the hair growth within that area often leaving a bare patch of skin.
What is Mud Fever?
"Mud fever" is a common found health condition in horses which directly relates to soft ground conditions and can be found in all horses of any age.
Mud fever is a skin condition experienced by some horses where their skin becomes inflamed and sore and is properly known as Pastern Dermatitis. It can lead to significant pain in your horse and create further health complications so requires immediate attention and treatment.
A horse who has experienced mud fever is more prone to experience it again. If your horse has not been previously diagnosed with mud fever it would be worth speaking to your vet.
You are most likely to detect sign of mud fever as the horses hair will begin to mat together with crusty scabs appearing with a nasty looking discharge often between the scabs and the skin. Some horse owner will notice heat and swelling and often a reaction to any additional pressure or flexion of the effected limb.
Hoof infections such as Trush
Trush is a common infection found in horses hooves which are left wet for extended periods of time. Trush can lead to pain and requires immediate attention to prevent further complications such as abscesses.
Leg mites and other parasites can thrive in wet and humid conditions. Chorioptic mange (leg mites) can create extensive damage to the skin which causes swelling and thickening of the skin which then lends itself to bacterial entry. Mites are more common in breeds with feathered legs but can be found in all horse breeds. If you suspect parasite infection has incurred it is important to seek professional medical diagnosis where your vet will take a deep dermal skin scrape to asses what the exact issue is.
What can you do to help prevent these conditions?
Prevention is far better than cure - using this logic and approach will help you moving forward.
Often where you and your horse enter the paddock or regularly feed the ground becomes more muddy. You could, if possible, try to move this location around the paddock to prevent standing in one spot all the time and relocate water troughs every few months. If this isnt possible try to cover the extremely sodden areas with clean hay or shavings - anything to prevent them submerging their legs in the mud.
If your horse is turned out then you could look at providing additional shelter and warmth for them to get them out of the muddy and cold conditions. If your horse is turned in then you could look at changing the bedding as that can sometimes being the irritant both physically (through the hay/straw) or chemically (through the ammonia created by urine).
If your horse has feathers then clipping the feathers will help you treat the condition.
Installing better drainage and gutters along the roof which redirect rainwater away from the paddock or standing areas can also help. Wet, poorly drained pastures and paddocks are commonly associated with the distal limb dermatitis and can be avoided with careful planning of the drainage water.
Blankets do not automatically protect your horse from complications but you check with the rug manufacture for advice on which of their rugs would be best suited for your requirements and whether your existing rug can be re-proofed (Made waterproof again).
If your horse wears tack then ensure this is placed higher than the resting ground level and that the tack is not submerged for long periods of time, this includes mud-fever boots which keep the leg dry, overreach boots or magnetic bands.
What should you do to treat hoof issues related to the muddy ground?
If your best efforts to avoid mud related issues don’t succeed then the first step to take is to ensure your horses legs (or where the issue is) is kept completely dry and clean.
The earlier you can spot any infection the easier, quicker and cheaper the treatment will be! In wet times of the year we recommend checking your horse daily.
You need to carefully wash the area of concern first. You should use a diluted Hibiscrub solution (chlorhexidine) - ideally 0.1% solution - and rinse off the cleaned area with warm clean water as this provide antibacterial and anti fungus properties.
Take extra care to ensure the area is dried properly before applying a layer of barrier cream, a layer of cling film (!) and then a clean and dry bandage over the top. Bandaging the area helps avoid further bacteria infecting the skin and the cling film helps keep the treated area completely dry. It is vital that the treated area remains clean and dry.
The next morning inspect the area and (if your horse lets you) remove any hard scabs which have appeared, repeating the washing and treating progress until the condition improves. Remember that removing these scabs is key to starting the healing process.
It is vital that every time you treat the scabs that you follow this process and that you do not reapply the cream over the top of any Hibiscrub wash without properly cleaning the area as this can lead to creating an environment for the condition to worsen.
Once your horse is clean and dry then we advise attaching a set of advanced magnetic bands to two of the least effected legs with a view to improving the recovery condition of the horse. Although not clinically proven advanced magnetic horse bands claim to offer a complementary solution to other treatments which have been shown to support an improved recovery period from a variety of skin conditions, abscesses and more.
If your horse does not react to any treatment and the condition persists then systemic or topical antibiotics may be required, along with anti-inflammatory medications.
In summary, if your horse is prone to developing conditions such as mud fever then at this time of year when the ground is particularly wet it is extra important to ensure you keep a close eye on their legs and make sure no early signs of infection or discomfort develop. If they do - act!