By Dr. Melody Campbell, D.V.M April 2021
Finally, the snow is gone and the rainy days have arrived heralding Spring. We all welcome the change as it promises warmer sunny days to come. If we look at horses, like the PARD boys, there are potential problems that can arise with the wet weather. Like many horses, four of our boys live outside year-round. Only our smallest horse, Bobby, lives indoors at night as a treasured guest of Wendon Hills Equestrian Centre. The remaining four boys are protected from the snow and cold during the Winter with their winter blankets. When everything melts and the rains arrive, we can protect their bodies with “rain sheets” (like rain coats for people), but we cannot protect their feet and legs. That can lead to some health problems.
What we know as “mud fever” is part of a complex syndrome called Equine Pastern Dermatitis. This condition can develop when the skin of the lower leg is exposed to continuing wet conditions. It can also be related to allergies to biting insects or contact irritants. Even sunburn damage of white areas involving the lower leg can lead to this condition. There are many complicating factors such as bacterial and fungal organisms, and even mites (they look like little tiny crabs under the microscope!) that can make the problem worse.
Prevention starts with pasture and paddock management. It is very important to have horses in pastures or paddocks that have well-drained soil, not on wetlands or in boggy areas that are continuously wet. In areas where horses congregate, like at feeders or watering troughs or at entrances and exits from fields it can be helpful to stabilize the area with a layer of crusher-run gravel, shale or other aggregate. It can also be helpful to raise these areas slightly to encourage drainage. As they say, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”!
Management during the wet seasons, which are Spring and Fall, involves keeping the lower leg areas clean and dry. This is where good grooming techniques come in. We all brush our horses at PARD before we ride, but there is a lot of time in between when we are not riding. The boys are checked regularly and they are groomed, and even ridden or exercised, by our wonderful PARD volunteers. Due to Covid-19 restrictions this has been done primarily by Board members and a very small number of select volunteers who are allowed to be on the property. During our program season, usually from June to September, our boys are looked after by many more volunteers and even some of the riders. We cannot thank our dedicated horse lovers enough!
Mud fever can start with tiny scabs on the skin that have pus under them. There can sometimes be patchy hair loss as well. When it progresses, there can be larger areas of thickened infected skin that can be more difficult to treat. Early diagnosis and treatment is very important.
Treatment of Equine Pastern Dermatitis (mud fever) involves sorting out the cause and treating appropriately. The PARD boys have an excellent veterinarian who comes to the farm when they need preventive health care, and also if they have any medical problems. We even have two veterinarians on the Board of Directors! The health of our boys is important to all of us. Treating mud fever involves cleaning & drying the affected areas, and applying topical therapy to deal with infection and inflammation. In severe cases there is sometimes a need to use injectable medications such as antibiotics and medications to deal with inflammation or allergy. Our PARD veterinarian can sort out the best treatment plan.
There are also conditions that can affect the foot in wet environments, like Thrush, but we will deal with those when we take a closer look at the foot and associated problems that can occur in a future newsletter.
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