Greasy heel

Greasy heel, more commonly known as ‘mud fever’, is a painful infection caused by the same bacteria that causes rain scald. It usually affects horses with white feet but it can also occur in animals with dark feet and in endurance animals. In severe cases it can extend as far up the leg as the cannon.

Contrary to popular opinion, greasy heel is infectious so it’s very important to quarantine affected horses to prevent transfer to paddock mates. It is most common in damp, winter weather but the bacteria can be present in moist, poorly drained paddocks all year round.

Clinical signs:

The basic signs of greasy heel are probably familiar to all horse owners: red, crusty, cracked lesions with a greasy yellow weeping around the heels. These weeping sores are extremely painful and require prompt treatment, both to relieve the suffering of the horse and in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease to other horses.

Treatment protocols:

Initial treatment is aimed at reducing the pain and fighting the infection with antibiotic/cortisone creams. In very severe cases, a shot of penicillin may be required.

In all but the most severe cases ongoing treatment can be carried out by the owner. The method described below is a very effective treatment you can do at home.

Warning! Remember that greasy heel can be very painful. Your usually mild mannered horse may become a bucking bronco at the mere scent of anyone approaching those very sore heels. It’s best to have a ‘second in command’ to hold the horse for at least the first round of treatment to make sure it’s performed safely and effectively.

Be sure that you don’t become the agent of transmission. Before beginning treatment, wash your hands thoroughly, and always care for the ‘clean’ horses first, then deal with the infected animals.

Check all heels, starting with the dark feet. For affected heels clean off the grease with warm salty water, then carefully clip the hair over and around the lesions, following any cracks.

Very gently, massage Yellow Lotion (available at the hospital) on the area with a soft nail brush. Avoid causing any further abrasions as these can allow easy access for the bacteria. Don’t forget to clean in the deep cracks, and don’t be too concerned if they bleed, as the skin will initially be very raw.

If the heel is very sore and swollen follow the Yellow Lotion with some prescription antibiotic/cortisone cream.

This process must be repeated every day for four or five days. Once the affected areas look less raw and swollen use Cetrigen (available at the hospital) every morning and night to dry it out.

There are some paddocks rife with greasy heel bacteria. There are also some horses predisposed to this nasty infection. In these animals, a thick, zinc based cream such as Filtabac or Derisal can be applied to the susceptible areas each morning to try to prevent the return of the infection.

Important! Please, do not use any of the ‘natural’ or ‘home made’ treatments you may have heard about for the treatment greasy heel. There are dozens of these so-called ‘therapies’ and treatments, from metho to sump oil. None of them work, none of them will do anything to combat the infection, and many of them are downright bad for the horse.