Monday, June 18, 2012

Choose your own adventure

It is funny how much you can learn about a disease over the course of a couple weeks. (Has it really only been 2 weeks?!)

First of all, I really want to thank my followers and commenters and facebook friends for the outpouring of support, commiseration and advice. Mud fever is a new one for me, and it feels good to know that even you guys (who I consider to be outstanding horsekeepers!) have dealt with it.

I have certainly been inundated with advice on treating it. It seems everyone I know, and many relative strangers, and most of the internet, has a preferred remedy. So far, the advice is as follows:

Wash his feet every day.
Wash his feet once a week.
Don’t wash his feet.

Clip the affected area down to the skin.
Avoid clipping the area.

Remove the scabs every day.
Don’t touch the scabs.

Apply Tri-Care.
Apply MTG.
Apply desitin.
Apply althlete’s foot cream.
Apply DMSO.
Apply nothing.

Keep the feet wrapped in gauze.
Keep the feet wrapped in plastic.
Under no circumstances should you wrap the feet.

Try feeding more copper.
Try feeding more iron.
Try feeding fish oil.

Keep him away from water.
Keep him away from rich grass.
Keep him away from clover.

Truly, I wish that I had the time and facilities to try every known remedy, one at a time, in a scientific vacuum, double-blind study.

But here’s something really interesting that I learned. What we call mud fever or scratches is just a name for the symptom of inflammation of the skin of the lower legs. The disease in question—the actual cause of the inflammation—can be fungus or bacteria or pressure, and one can lead to the other.

Speaking of. EnduranceGranny mentioned in her reply to my original post that she’s seen a correlation between clover and mud fever. I am amazed it took me until today to really put that together. Guess who’s horse was enjoying a new section of pasture at the end of May. Guess what the main forage is in that little corner of pasture. I did a quick google search that yielded a bit of info about the link. I didn’t get a biochemical explanation (yet), but the anecdotal evidence is certainly there.

I have been as good as my word and recruited helpers to make sure Blue gets a hefty smear of TriCare morning and night. On nights when I am there, I also add the DMSO/Panacur paste. In theory the DMSO helps the other meds penetrate. And yes, I wear gloves.

We are seeing progress, though I would not characterize the problem as solved. The front pasterns seem to have mostly run their course. He’s bald from heel to fetlock, but yesterday there was only a tiny bit of scabbing on the edges.

The hind feet are my Waterloo. For one thing, Blue is not excited about me treating them. I praise this horse to the skies for being such a good sport for most things. And really, given the circumstances, he has been a trouper. Anyway, he doesn’t snatch his foot away when I start smearing the goo on there… but he does lift his foot higher and higher to almost acrobatic levels. He doesn’t actually kick, so I think this super-high leg lift is sort of a displacement activity for the kicks he would like to give me every time I rub stinky ointment into his sores.

The good news is that his is not lame and the lower leg swelling is down. The bad news is that every time I rub ointment in, more clumps of hair come out.

The further good news is that he is eager to work. I worked him hard on the lunge line yesterday. He was sound and energetic—surprisingly focused. I say surprisingly because there were two draft horses loose in the arena while I was working him. They watched from a respectful distance; I was proud of all three horses for their composure.

I will start riding him again this week.

Here's my question: Is it ethical to take him to Renegade? Assuming he's mostly closed and healed (hopefully totally closed and healed), is he still contagious? Are swollen, bald pasterns going to get me pulled? 

I don't want the vet to pick up his foot during the pre-ride exam and then pick up the feet of 40 other horses and spread this awful mess.


  1. If the inflammation is truly caused by exposure to alsike clover, it's not contagious. Some horses can eat it and show no adverse reactions; others develop photosensitivity (especially on white areas of the body, nose and feet).

    When I had a clover/photosensitive horse, it was only a problem when he ate clover AND was exposed to bright sunlight. Since those things don't happen often in combination in the Swamp, it wasn't a problem very often, and never got severe for him. I've never seen a dark horse be affected by this, and most of my horses are dark.

    Here are some research links to alsike clover allergy syndrome. It's most common in northern Canada, so most of the research comes from there.

  2. p.s. if the inflammation was CAUSED by clover exposure, but has gotten infected since it began (didn't happen with my horse but as I said his flare-ups were mild and short-lived), there might be a contagion risk. Check with your vet.

    Scratches is "kind of" contagious, because the fungus lives in the it isn't the horse (or the vet) who spreads it, but horses who hang out in deep mud together can pass it around like kids in a preschool swapping slobbery toys. Eeew.

  3. Yet I was told it can spread by hands, brush etc. too.

  4. So, I think you should take him to Renegade....

    But only because of the selfish reason that I will be there (until Saturday morning, at which point I turn into a pumpkin and return home).

  5. I had a horse with 4 white socks and learned lots about mud fever. I found that it was best if I could prevent it by learning the conditions that were more likely to cause it for my boy - sunny days combined with long/wet/dewy grass or lots of mud. The sun made his unpigmented skin pretty pink (ie. photosensitivity) and the moisture seemed to soften the skin - warm and moist, ideal for infection. So if I thought there was any chance, I would put zinc cream (high zinc nappy cream is good) on to prevent the sun getting on the skin and also act as a barrier for moisture. Anything that would make him more photosensitive (ie. diet) or weaken the skin itself (chafing or injury) was also a risk factor for me to consider.

    As far as once he had it, I had success with a few different (but commonly used) ointments/treatments... since it can be caused by different things, it can respond to different things. The worst case he had (before I learned as much about it), I used prednoderm with good results, but wouldn't use steroids unless warranted. I have seen bad cases where the infection has become systemic... looks terrible! :(

    Good luck with it! And have fun riding!