Mud fever, mallenders and sallenders (unpleasant and intractable infections around the joints) are a bit of a mystery. They seem to come from nowhere. The microbes responsible are probably already on the skin just waiting for an opportunity to get in a bit deeper and cause trouble.
Horses prone to these conditions include the elderly, those with compromised immune systems from Cushings Syndrome or other metabolic conditions, and those who’ve suffered previous bouts of infections. The heavier feathered breeds seem to be more susceptible, though young healthy horses can succumb if the conditions are right.
One way in is through tiny cuts and cracks so you need to prevent these occurring if you can.
We don’t advise brushing the fetlocks or knees or hosing/shampooing often - this can dry out the skin so it’s more likely to crack. It is better to keep the legs as dry as possible by towelling and powdering with a talc-based product once a day. Let any mud dry out and fall off when you massage.
Try to keep your horse in as natural an environment as possible – plenty of room to move about, lots of grass/hay and some field companions (as psychological health is also important). My mare went down with a nasty bout of mud fever when she went to a stud to have her foal. Her environment was alien to her as she was in a postage stamp paddock with poor grass and, although there were other mares adjacent, she had no companions. I think she pined and lost condition and this led to her being susceptible to skin infections.
If you think your horse is susceptible, examine the target areas each day by massaging them firmly with your fingers, feeling for any granular rough patches. Quick-Silver lotion is a useful cleanser to spray on while you feel for these. It lubricates the skin as well as cleaning it. We also use a good waterproof barrier cream applied once a day to protect the skin’s mantle if conditions are very wet.
- Fetlocks or knee area itching and horse rubbing one lower hind leg with the other or biting at the affected area
- no heat felt
- slight grainy feel and skin/hair scaling off when massaged with fingers
- no pain on massaging
What we do at Biteback: Cleanse the areas thoroughly with Quick-Silver lotion twice a day to prevent any microbes entering and taking hold. This lotion will also effectively deal with feather mites.
- more extensive grainy hard lumps on the skin’s surface
- some heat and inflammation noticeable on pink skin
- some filling around the joint
- loss of skin/hair when massaging firmly
- no or little pain on massaging
What we do at Biteback: Cleanse the areas thoroughly with Quick-Silver lotion, dab dry with wads of cotton wool and powder to further dryness with Flowers and Zinc then lightly apply either Mudbar Plus or Sweet Relief Silver antibacterial cream to soothe and soften any hardened skin. Repeat twice a day until any scabs fall off themselves, after which once a day should be sufficient.
Full blown signs:
- Extensive scabby areas very visible all around the joint, often accompanied by bloody inflammation
- Painful to touch and filling of legs above the joints
- Horse out of sorts and in pain
What we do at Biteback: Follow the steps for ‘Developed’ signs but also wrap in clingfilm, then Vetwrap around the joint overnight. Allow the horse to be turned out, if possible, to reduce filling. Remove the film next morning and use the three products again. Leave unwrapped throughout the day. Re-wrap overnight until most of the hard, crusty skin has fallen off.
If the condition does not improve with this regime within 3 or 4 days, your horse may need an oral antibiotic from the vet and/or a steroid dose to kick start healing. Always consult a vet if unsure that the situation is being managed.