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Turmeric for Horses with Greasy Heel or Mud Fever

Other names: pastern dermatitis, scratches, swamp fever

Image by Natalie Alderwick

What is it?

Greasy Heel (aka Mud fever) is an inflammatory condition of the skin (dermatitis) and often appears on the lower limbs of horses, particularly on white socks (pigmented skin is ‘tougher’ and not so susceptible).

Image by Natalie Alderwick

The skin can be red, inflamed, swollen, cracked and scabs may form. As the infection progresses there may be a discharge that appears greasy or sticky.

If Greasy Heel is left untreated it can result in lameness.

What causes it?

Greasy Heel is caused by the invasion of the bug Dermatophilus congolensis which is ubiquitous (found everywhere) to moist environments and holds both fungal and bacteria properties. Once it has infected an area of the skin more damage can come in the form of other bacteria and yeasts.

It is the same bug that causes skin infections in other animals – in sheep its known as lumpy wool, on horses its called rain scald (if its affects other parts of their body) and it can also affect the skin of cattle, humans and dogs.

This particular bacteria thrives when the hair is wet for long periods of time or kept in unhygienic conditions such as damp or muddy environments.

Doug English’s (Vet) Notes:

My understanding of Greasy Heel is a result of 45 years of observation and treatment during my work as a Veterinary practitioner.

Often the course of events leading up to Greasy Heel are:

  • A drop in the horse’s immunity levels (can be slight).
  • Moisture in the area where the horse is kept – poor drainage, constant rain, high humidity, dew, muddy conditions and anything else that continually wets the lower leg.
  • Unhygienic conditions which result in a higher number of the organism’s floating about.

Reoccurrence will always happen because you can NEVER get rid of Dermatophilus congolensis – it is ubiquitous in the stable environment and in paddocks. It’s a bug that likes moist skin to grow on and in its ideal conditions it will continue to grow and invade.

Treatments that work


When turmeric is included regularly in a horses feed it can increase skin healing, and I have seen chronically infected greasy heel disappearing in some patients.

Turmeric can help Greasy Heel - Image by Natalie Alderwick

Homemade (Dougies) spray

  • 300 mls methylated spirits (aka surgical spirits or rubbing alcohol)
  • 150 mls vinegar (all commercial vinegar is 2% acetic acid) – Ratio is 2:1 metho:vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 30 mls coconut oil (best added if you live in the tropics – see note below)

Place the ingredients in a handy spray bottle (2:1 metho:vinegar) and spray up to 4 times daily (it really can’t hurt). This spray is self-drying when administered to skin and hair.

Note: Watch the turmeric, it can stain (for more details on How to remove stains Click HERE). Also, if the temperature is below 23 C (74 F) the Coconut oil will solidify and clog the spray .

This spray can also be used on dogs feet when they lick or chew their paws as the cause is similar to greasy heel in horses. I also use this mix on my own feet after a bath or a run.

Povidone iodine wash

Povidone iodine wash (a liquid antiseptic) can be used to treat Greasy Heel but you must dry the area completely afterwards.  Once dry you can then use the Homemade (Dougies) spray and leave the area to dry naturally.

Condy’s Crystals

Mix Condy’s Crystals, otherwise known as Potassium permanganate into a solution – approximately 50 mg/litre (1/10th teaspoon of crystals in 1 litre of water). This can be applied to the affected area and will create a brown stain. You also need to completely dry the area afterwards.

Condy’s is probably the BEST and fastest way to kill all the bugs. You can then use the Homemade (Dougies) spray for maintenance.

Grease-based Ointments

Zinc Ointment can be used after the area has been treated using the above methods and dried thoroughly. This ointment, and others like it works well because it softens the scabs and skin and helps repel water.

Other Things that may help

– Ointments and lotions such as White Healer, Yellow Lotion etc for their antibacterial qualities.

– Clipping can also help with making the treatment methods of Greasy Heel more efficient – less hair means more chance that the skin will remain drier.

Just be aware that reinfection is going to happen when the conditions are right and this can occur only a few hours later.


Scabs are mostly impenetrable and they can harbour bugs. You can soften them with an oil or cream and then scrub them off.

 NOTE: Getting rid of the scabs is an important principle of treating Greasy Heel.

Scabs can help keep the bugs away from the immune system and if the scabs are left alone it’s possible for the bugs to seed back onto the skin surface.


IMPORTANT: Greasy heel CAN be cured BUT this will only be short lived if the conditions are right for re-invasion.

Article By Doug English