Riverina Equine Vet



Greasy Heel

A common skin problem we see in these wetter months is greasy heel, also known as mud fever or pastern dermatitis. 

This condition is painful for horses and owners alike. It can cause discomfort and lameness in the horse, and can be very difficult for owners to treat as the condition can be quite persistent and tricky to get rid of. Horses that have pink skin and white hair on their pasterns are the most predisposed to the infection. Another major predisposing factor is standing in constant wet and muddy conditions.

The condition presents as painful thick, crusty, yellow scabs around the back of the heels and the pastern. It is most commonly seen on the hind feet but can occur on all four. In severe cases greasy heel can spread around the front of the feet extend up the legs, the skin becomes thickened and inflamed (red) and the legs swell up.

Greasy heel usually involves a bacterial infection in the skin. Cases that are not resolving with standard treatment may need further testing to ensure there is not another underlying cause such as mites, fungi or immune mediated conditions (body attacking itself).

Treatment initially involves clipping the hair away and washing the legs to remove all mud, followed by keeping the horse housed in dry conditions. Soaking and scrubbing the affected areas with an antiseptic detergent such as chlorhexidine scrub to soften and remove the scabs is critical for killing the bacteria.  Scab removal may need to be done in stages to avoid hurting the horse. Scab removal and washing should be followed by drying the legs and then applying a topical antibiotic and steroid based cream such as Dermapred or Neocort (vet only). Pain relief should also be given.


A few words of warning

Horses with this condition can be very irritable and painful and may not tolerate their legs being handled and washed. Even quiet horses can lash out and kick violently if their legs are sore, so please be careful. A significant amount of this treatment can be DIY but an initial vet visit to start the treatment process is recommended as sedation and pain relief is usually required to safely clip the legs and remove all the painful scabs. Antibiotics may also be used in some cases.

There are a lot of 'home remedies' for this condition, some good and some that can make the condition a lot worse, so if you are not sure then check with us first!