What a wet wet summer we have had here in Queensland!
With over 2m of rain falling on the Sunshine Coast in the last 6 weeks not only is our Keuring preparation out the window but we are fighting pretty hard to keep our horses protected from the elements.
One of the main concerns of course is that for a lot of that time they have stood ankle-deep in mud, and whilst a mud mask might appeal to most of us as a lovely way to pamper ourselves, this usually lasts for less than an hour, not for 6 weeks at a time. The result of this wet muddy environment without an incredible amount of diligent cleaning and blow drying could have very well been Greasy Heel.
So what is greasy heel? How do we protect our horses from it and if they have it, how do we cure it?
The medical term is “Pastern Dermatitis”. It has many names paddock names including; Mok; (although this relates more to mites than moisture) Dew poisoning; scratches; mud fever; and of course, greasy heel.
It is a moist exudative dermatitis affecting horses at the caudal heel and pastern area. It is however not a condition in itself.
Greasy Heel may be caused by a long list of skin conditions, including infection (viral, bacterial, fungal, or parasitic), allergies, irritants, autoimmunity, and photosensitisation.
Initially the heel is affected, presenting with swelling, exudation, and loss of hair. The affected skin of the coronet and pastern area becomes itchy and swollen, eventually developing into a moist grey-yellowish weeping surface. This is when you want to get to it and stop it in its tracks!
These discharges are often ‘greasy’ or sticky to touch, with hair matting and deep cracks developing in the dry, inflamed skin as the pasterns flex during exercise. Lesions and scabs may progress to involving the surrounding areas with matting of the hair, crusts, ulcers, fetid odor, and sometimes lameness. The lesions might be due to primary or secondary infection. In severe cases the lesions may present up as far as the cannon. Horses like Friesians which have long fetlock hair and are kept in muddy environments are particularly prone to this condition.
Swelling (oedema) of the tissues occurs under the skin of the affected area. Most of the hair falls out, leaving short spikelets (islands of hair) scattered over the area. The skin cracks become infected, exposing sensitive underlying tissue, which causes discomfort and lameness as the horse exercises. In short, I’m no horse but it looks jolly sore!
A number of diagnostic tests may be necessary to obtain an accurate diagnosis; including microscopic examinations to rule out parasites as well as fungal and bacteriological cultures.
Because there are numerous causes, treatment should be directed to the underlying cause. It is common for people to begin treating the horse with various products bought over the counter that may be not effective, delay the resolution, or even cause a skin irritation–thus complicating the clinical picture.
If you suspect Greasy Heel as a result of standing in mud:
- Wash the affected area and lightly scrub with a medicated wash. Dry gently and thoroughly with a soft clean towel;
- Clip all of the feathers away from the affected area (I know I know – but no hoof no horse right?- they have the gene – it will grow back);
- Treat with a spray or rub of 1 teaspoon of tea tree oil in 1 cup of coconut oil. This will kill any bacteria, begin the healing process and create a light barrier on the skin to protect against further moisture. It will however lock in any moisture that is already there so make sure it is thoroughly clean and dry before applying.
- Seek veterinary assistance for persistent Greasy Heel and treat with appropriate drugs. Anti-inflammatory drugs may be necessary to reduce the inflammation.”
- If possible stable your horse overnight in a clean dry stall to give them a break from the mud.
As tempted as we were to leave the horses locked up and out of the mud during the rain, this would have had other effects on the horses (like insanity) so we allowed their mud wallowing but made the time to keep them clean and mok free!
With prompt, proper treatment, most cases of greasy heel can be easily treated following the veterinarian’s advice.
If you don’t have greasy heel but want to prevent it in bad weather smear a generous amount of Zinc cream on the heel will effectively act as a barrier and prevent greasy heel.
If you discover that your horse has a very bad case, seek immediate medical attention.
Having well drained pastures will help reduce the environment where GH can take hold. If you don’t and moving isn’t an option, getting some professional help from pastural managers can really help.
I doubt that we have seen the back of this rain yet, but we are armed now with loads of zinc cream to see us through this crazy weather.