Skin problems on the lower limbs

Mites (Chorioptes)

Skin problems on the lower limb, like mud fever, are quite common. Horses that have abundant feathers are even more likely to suffer from it. The skin is sheltered by the feathers and therefore stays warmer but also wetter. In horses with abundant feathers persistent skin infections on the lower limb are often caused by the itch-mite Chorioptes.

The habitat of the equine itchy-leg mite Chorioptes is the epidermis (outer skin) where it burrows tunnels. This mite lives off skin flakes and dead cells. The burrowing in the outer skin produces a reaction of the immune system in the skin and in the skin itself. Inflammatory cells travel to the affected skin and the skin becomes thicker.


Excess subcutaneous connective tissue develops when horses are sensitive to this condition. The connective tissue causes a reduction in blood flow and negatively impacts the regenerative capacity of the skin which makes it even more vulnerable. In situations when the  lower limbs are exposed to wetness, urine and droppings for extended periods, the bad bacteria from the soil or droppings may get a chance to trigger a skin infection. These persistent skin infections in turn provoke the wrong reactions from the immune system so that part of the skin infection is due to an eczematous reaction of the skin itself.

Infected leg

When the bacterial skin infection manages to get through the splits and cracks of the skin right into the layer of low-resistant connective tissue it can migrate up the length of the leg via the lymphatic system. This leads to an Einschuss (blood poison) infected leg, or in other words, blood poisoning. Blood poisoning can cause serious damage to the whole lymphatic system and trigger an enormous increase of less vital tissue/repair tissue, result: an elephant leg. The more advanced the above process is, the more likely there will be permanent damage. Early intervention by a vet is crucial to advance chances for the recovery of healthy limbs.

A chronic chorioptic (mange) infection can easily be spotted by the occurrence of thick, dry scabs under the socks in the hollow of the fetlock. Mites can hide deep in the burrows of the outer skin and won´t die. The only effective treatment is to bathe the leg in a Neocidol® or Sebacil® solution.

Swab culture

When your horse’s skin is wet with a reddish irritation or shows thick scabs then he is likely to suffer from a bacterial skin infection. This infection needs immediate treatment to stop it from getting out of hand and developing into an infected leg. If this bacterial infection has been going on for some time and has been treated with several antibiotics then it is advisable to take a scab and grow a culture from it so that an antibiogram can be obtained.

The next step is to make a plan and keep monitoring the process to establish the rate of success of the treatment and to determine whether the treatment should be prolonged or changed. 

Mud fever

Mud fever is a skincondition that occurs mostly at the lower part of the horses leg (at the pastern area). You can recognize mud fever by crusts, wounds and cloves in the affected area. Depending on the severeness of the condition, mud fever can be painful and can cause lameness. Mud fever can occur when horses are kept in a wet environment (when they’re out in the field on rainy days for longer periods of time, or when the stables aren’t mucked properly and the bedding is wet, etc.). The (soft) skin on the lower legs will weaken, making it more accessible for bacteria to create infections. Mud fever is more common for horses with feather on the lower legs. When the skin underneath gets wet, it takes more time for the skin to dry. The longer the skin stays wet, the more chance the bacteria will have to create an infection. Mud fever is also more common for horses with white hair and pink skin underneath. Apart from wet environments, sunburn, mites, fungal infections, or inflamed hair follicles may cause mud fever.

If not treated correctly, mud fever can cause Einschuss or blood poisoning. Therefore, it is important to treat thouroughly to improve the healing process.

When your horse is suffering from mud fever, make sure to rule out the cause of the mud fever. When it is caused by fungi or mites, the skin has to be treated with a specific product to eliminate the cause. When in doubt, always contact your veterinarian. If the mud fever is caused by wet environments, make sure to keep the skin dry. When the legs are wet (from washing or riding on wet ground), dry them with a clean towel. Keep the stable as clean as possible, so urine and manure won’t irritate the skin. advise to treat mud fever as following:

Wash the infected area with a desinfecting shampoo, for example Malaseb Shampoo. This is both cleaning and softening the skin. Be careful that crusts which are on the skin are not pulled off. This may cause new infections. After washing, dry the skin with a (clean) towel.


After washing and drying, apply a mud fever ointment or cream.  You can also wrap the leg with a bandage with silver-ions, or put on a stable boot with silver and carbon. Bandages and stable boots with carbon and silver will eliminate the bacteria that cause mud fever. Make sure to follow instruction manual for the best results.

We also advise to clean your brushes (especially the ones that are used on the legs) with Imaverol or Fungatrol. This helps to prevent cross-contamination.

To prevent your horse from getting mud fever, you can apply a barrier cream such as Equizal in the pasterns when the horse spends time in wet areas. Equizal is a product of natural ingredients that hydrates the skin but repels water and dirt. For protection from the inside out, you could use Puur Moc or Hilton Herbs Mud Defender.