Greasy Heel is also known as mud fever, grease heel or scratches.
Greasy Heel varies in it's severity from horse to horse. It is usually found around the coronet, which is the upper part the horse's hoof, where the horn of the hoof meets the skin of the pastern. Greasy heel is also found around the heels and less frequently, higher up on the leg or the stomach area.
Greasy heel appears on lower legs as patches of cracked flaky encrustation like scabs. It occurs when the horse's skin becomes infected with a bacterium called Dermatophilus congolensis which is also responsible for mud fever and sweet itch. Once infected, the bacteria start to grow and the skin becomes sore and moist. This damaged skin in the pastern areas can be difficult to heal since the area is always in movement as the horse walks. The condition is very painful and can cause the horse to appear lame. The infected area is very painful to the touch.
It has been found that pale skin, which is not as strong as darker skin, is more prone to infection by Dermatophilus congolensis.
SYMPTOMS OF GREASY HEEL
- Swelling of the coronet/pastern area
- Itching of the coronet/pastern area
- Greasy or weeping surface on the affected area
- Crusts or scabs on the affected area
- Cracks in the skin of the affected area
- Hair matting
- Hair loss
CAUSES OF GREASY HEEL
- Infection through a scratch or cut by a bacterium called Dermatophilus congolensis
- Wet or damaged skin allowing access to the skin for Dermatophilus congolensis
- Too much exposure to standing in mud or muddy water
- Too much exposure to standing in stables which are not regularly mucked out
- Warm damp environments
- Deficient cleaning of pastern area
- Poor nutrition
- Irritants which might be found in soil, bedding, deworming chemicals or perhaps antibiotics
TREATMENT OF GREASY HEEL
If Greasy heel covers a large area, has become badly cracked or there is any sign of swelling or infection, you should call your vet. Antibiotics and medications to control infection and inflammation may be necessary. Most antibiotics will help to control Greasy heel. The antibiotic may be administered orally or directly onto the skin. If a cream for direct application to the skin is prescribed, the affected skin and hair must be thoroughly cleansed before applying any medication.
If you have spotted the symptoms of Greasy heel at an early stage, you should be able to successfully treat the condition yourself.
The first thing you must do is ensure your horse lives in clean, dry conditions. Keep its stable clean and don't allow dampness to build up from urine.
Clip away the hair around the encrusted areas if matted. Lightly scrub the affected area to clean away the "grease" with a warm solution of water and a medicated wash, using something like a very soft nail brush. Do this as gently as possible. Your vet will recommend a good medicated wash. Leave the solution on the affected area for about 10 minutes before rinsing. Rinse off with clean water and pat dry. If your vet has prescribed an anti-biotic, you should apply it at this stage. When you have carried out this procedure a few times, the healing process will be well under way. When the pain and swelling has decreased apply a drying agent (again, your vet will recommend a suitable one) daily to keep the skin dry. Bandaging is not recommended.
Greasy heel is contagious so the equipment used on your horse should be sterilized before use on another horse. If you can set aside a separate set of brushes and equipment for the affected horse, it would be more effective against cross-contamination.
You should take steps to improve the condition of your horse's skin. For example, smearing some zinc-based ointment or other barrier cream on the skin when the horse is turned out would help control infection. If your horse has light coloured skin, a thin application of a sunscreen every other day or so would be most beneficial Not only would it help prevent sunburn, it will help keep moisture down and control Greasy heel skin infection.
Some herbal products will also help with skin condition and control of infection. Types of herbs used are cedar root, tea tree and aloe vera whilst herbal supplements are also available. You can check these out online.
Lastly, treatment of Greasy heel will be more effective if you can keep paddocks and pastures free of manure build-up, and improve drainage if mud is a problem.