ThoroughBred Racing

Understanding and Managing Pastern Dermatitis in Horses: A Guide

Understanding and Managing Pastern Dermatitis in Horses: A Guide


Pastern dermatitis, also known as scratches or mud fever, is a common and multifactorial infection that affects a horse’s lower legs. It is characterised by inflammation, irritation, and sometimes infection of the skin in the pastern region. This condition can be uncomfortable and, if left untreated, can lead to more serious complications. In this article, we will explore the signs of pastern dermatitis and provide helpful tips for recognising and managing this condition effectively.

Recognising Pastern Dermatitis: Pastern dermatitis can vary in severity and appearance. The following are common signs to look out for:

  1. Inflammation and Swelling: Affected areas may appear swollen and red, accompanied by heat and tenderness.
  2. Crusty or Scabby Skin: Crusts or scabs may develop, ranging in colour from yellowish to brown or black. These scabs can stick to the horse’s hair and are often seen in the pastern area.
  3. Moisture and Discharge: In more severe cases, the skin may become moist, and a discharge or oozing may be present. This can give rise to an unpleasant odour.
  4. Hair Loss and Skin Lesions: Horses with pastern dermatitis may experience hair loss in the affected area, exposing raw or irritated skin. In some cases, open sores or ulcers can develop.

Managing Pastern Dermatitis: While managing pastern dermatitis can be challenging due to its multifactorial nature, the following tips can help in recognising and effectively managing the condition:

  1. Prompt Veterinary Consultation: If you suspect pastern dermatitis, it is crucial to seek veterinary advice promptly. A veterinarian can assess the severity of the condition and recommend an appropriate treatment plan.
  2. Proper Hygiene and Cleaning: Clean the affected area gently using mild, non-irritating cleansers or antiseptic solutions recommended by your veterinarian. Thoroughly dry the area after cleaning, as moisture can contribute to the development and persistence of pastern dermatitis.
  3. Regular Monitoring: Keep a close eye on your horse’s lower legs for any signs of inflammation, discharge, or changes in the skin condition. Early detection and intervention can help prevent the condition from worsening.
  4. Provide Clean and Dry Environment: Ensure your horse’s living environment is clean, dry, and well-maintained. Avoid prolonged exposure to wet or muddy conditions, as they can contribute to the development and recurrence of pastern dermatitis.
  5. Tailor Management to Underlying Factors: Pastern dermatitis can have multiple underlying causes, including bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infections, as well as allergies or compromised immune function. Work closely with your veterinarian to identify and address these factors through appropriate treatments, such as medicated shampoos, topical ointments, or systemic medications if necessary.
  6. Support Immune System Health: A strong immune system plays a vital role in combating pastern dermatitis. Provide your horse with a balanced diet, regular exercise, and minimise stress to maintain optimal immune function.


Pastern dermatitis is a multifactorial condition that requires diligent care and attention to effectively manage. By recognising the early signs, practising good hygiene, providing a clean environment, and working closely with your veterinarian, you can help prevent, alleviate, and control pastern dermatitis in your horse. Remember, each case is unique, and it’s essential to tailor the management approach to address any underlying factors contributing to the condition. With proper care, you can help your horse maintain healthy and comfortable lower legs.