How to Treat Cracked Heels in Horses

Written by laurie bryan
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How to Treat Cracked Heels in Horses
Excessive hair around the heel can hold in moisture. (sabot image by Vely from

Cracked heels in horses, also called greasy heel, scratches or mud fever, is a condition affecting the heel, which is located between the back of the hoof and the pastern. The bacterium Dermatophilus congolensis penetrates the skin through an existing wound or through skin that has been softened by prolonged exposure to mud or dampness. The infection causes scabs to form at the heel and can lead to swelling and fever. Cracked heels can be painful and cause lameness if not properly treated.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Bucket
  • Antibiotic soap
  • Soft bristled brush
  • Sterile cloth
  • Antibiotic cream

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  1. 1

    Move the horse to a clean and dry area for the duration of treatment.

  2. 2

    Soak the affected heel in warm water and an antibiotic soap to clean and soften the scabs for easier removal.

  3. 3

    Remove scabs and crusty material carefully with a soft bristled brush or your fingers. The scabs should be easy to remove once they are softened. Gently and thoroughly clean the heel with antibiotic soap and rinse well.

  4. 4

    Dry the area thoroughly using a clean, sanitary cloth. Use a blow dryer if necessary.

  5. 5

    Apply an equine antibiotic cream or antiseptic to the affected heel.

  6. 6

    Discard or sanitise all equipment used to prevent cross-contamination of the bacterium.

Tips and warnings

  • Prevention is the best medicine for cracked heels. A horse that is prone to cracked heels should be pastured or boarded in a clean, dry area, especially during the wet seasons. Stalls should be cleaned regularly to remove urine and manure, which harbour the bacteria that causes cracked heels.
  • For horses that have excessive hair around the pasterns, the heels should be shaved to prevent the hair from holding in moisture. Leg wraps and bandages can also hold in moisture and should not be used. The affected area should be left exposed and allowed to dry in the fresh air.
  • Cracked heels can be very painful and cause lameness if untreated. Seeking the advice of a veterinarian may be necessary to ensure proper treatment and cure.

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