Greasy Heel

Also Known As

Grease heel, Mud fever

Description

Greasy heel appears on the lower legs as patches of itchy, swollen skin beneath matted hair. Left untreated, the skin develops deep cracks and becomes infected. The hair falls out, and oozing discharges that are greasy or sticky to the touch coat the skin on the heels and pasterns. In some cases, the sores begin to bleed, and infection and inflammation threaten the health of the horse.

The disease usually occurs in horses kept in paddocks during warm, wet weather. The bacteria that causes greasy heel is similar to the one that causes rain scald, but many other factors are associated with this form of dermatitis known as greasy heel, including microorganisms, allergies, nutritional deficiencies, irritants, and poor soil or bedding conditions.

Symptoms

  • Cracked and inflamed skin on heels and rear of pasterns
  • Weeping sores that ooze a greasy or sticky yellowish discharge
  • Swelling of the tissues
  • Loss of hair
  • Redness and bleeding
  • Lameness

Causes

Greasy heel develops in horses who spend much of their time in warm, wet, muddy paddocks and yards. The bacteria known as dermatophilus congolensis often causes the disease. Parasites, fungus, allergies, photosensitivity, poor or improper nutrition, irritants, such as deworming chemicals and antibiotics, and poor soil or bedding may also play a role in development of greasy heel.

Prevention

Greasy heel is best prevented by keeping horses in clean, dry conditions. Maintain stalls and paddocks to limit dampness from urine and to keep manure from building up.

Improving drainage in pastures and paddocks will help keep mud to a minimum and prevent growth of bacteria that contribute to the disease.

In some cases, smearing a thin layer of a zinc-based emollient onto the skin when horses are turned out will help to control infection. In horses with white pasterns, applying a thin coat of sunscreen on a regular basis will help repel moisture, control skin infection, and prevent sunburn. For horses with a history of recurring greasy heel, this preventative treatment often works well.

Treatment

Cases of greasy heel that are caught early or are mild can be successfully treated by horse trainers or owners. For best results, the hair and skin area should be thoroughly cleansed with a warm, moist cloth before applying topical ointments.

Matted hair should be clipped and lesions lightly scrubbed with a warm solution of a medicated wash, such as Vetadine. Avoid abrading the skin, and leave the medicated wash on the area for 10 to 15 minutes before rinsing.

If lesions are sore and swollen, smear on a corticosteroid-antibiotic cream. Repeat this treatment for 2 to 3 days. Once the discomfort and swelling has decreased, apply a drying agent to the area twice daily to maintain the rate of healing.

Keep the horse in a clean, dry area and avoid using wraps or bandages that may hold in moisture. Any brushes or equipment used on a horse with greasy heel should be sterilized before use on another horse, or a separate set of brushes and equipment should be used to prevent cross-contamination.

In cases of severe infection and lameness, a veterinarian should be consulted as to the best course of treatment.

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