Cracked Heels in Horses

This condition is also known under the common terms “greasy heel,” “mud fever,” and the medical term pastern dermatitis. Horses that spend a great deal of time in wet, dirty environments may develop this condition. It is characterized by soreness and inflammation of the horse’s heel and pastern, followed by the development of a sticky substance on its heel and the surrounding skin. After time, this sticky serum dries into a painful scab, which then cracks. This is a painful skin condition for the horse but rarely causes lameness.


  • Tender skin around the heel and pastern
  • Inflammation or swelling of the area right above the hoof and below the fetlock
  • Presence of red, raw skin on the back of the pastern, with serum or scabs depending on the stage of the condition
  • Cracking of the skin
  • Rarely lameness develops


The cause of cracked heels is the proliferation of bacteria around the pastern when the horse spends an excessive amount of time standing in wet, dirty conditions such as a muddy paddock or damp, dirty stall. Horses with feathering on the legs may be slightly more at risk for this condition, as the extra hair traps moisture and does not allow the skin underneath to properly dry. As this skin stays perpetually wet, bacteria from the environment grow and cause a mild, superficial skin infection that causes inflammation and the development of small sores that lead to scabs.


The symptoms listed above provide conclusive evidence for this condition. Experienced horse owners can often diagnose this condition themselves, however sometimes a veterinarian is needed to properly treat the condition.


Any type of pain or tenderness or lack of soundness in the feet or legs of animals


The hard outside of the feet of certain animals, like horses, cattle, goats, and pigs


A condition in which the skin becomes inflamed

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