How to Treat Mule Leg Sores

Leg sores are a topic that raises questions all the time. It can be frightening to see leg sores develop on your mule or donkey, especially if you haven’t noticed them early on and when you finally see them, they’re at their worst. One of my clients wrote in with a great question about leg sores and I wanted to share it with you so that you can apply the same solution if leg sores become a problem with your mule or donkey.

“I have a couple of mules that get bad sores on their front legs. The sores are caused by the mules biting at their legs. I have tried several creams and bug sprays, but nothing helps. I put wraps on their legs, but the mules just chew them up. The sores only show up in the warmer months. I asked my vet and he thought maybe it was an allergy, but he wasn’t sure. Only some of my mules have them and none of my horses. Have you ever experienced this? By the way I love the videos you have been putting on Facebook and YouTube.”

Options for Leg Sore Treatment

Don’t you just hate to see your mule in pain? This is a great owner who is doing everything he can for his mule – including talking to the vet. Folks, I can’t tell you how important it is to do your research and find a good vet who you can call on when your mule or donkey needs them.

In this case, since the sores are only showing up in the summer, there are several things that could be causing the leg sores and several ways you can help the mule.

Bot Flies Causing Leg Sores

One thing that causes leg sores on mules and donkeys are bot flies. A bot fly is a bee-like creature that flies around your mule and drives him crazy. These flies lay a lot of yellow eggs which attach to Mr. Mule’s hair. Keep the eggs off your mule’s legs and body using a bot knife; it’s safer that using a pocket knife. You can knock bot flies down with your hand and then step on them. Use a dewormer that takes care of bots before the bot season.

Chorioptic Mange Mites Causing Leg Sores

Leg sores can also be caused by Chorioptic Mange Mites. These mites are very small but can cause irritation, skin lesions, and licking or scratching of the fetlock. They can also cause pastern dermatitis. Mange mites are more common in the summer in equines that are pastured. They can be spread by direct contact or through grooming equipment.

Here’s what to look for on your mule to spot signs of the mites:

  • Reddening of Skin
  • Crust Formation
  • Hair Loss
  • Thickening Skin
  • Swelling
  • Stomping Their Feet
  • Rubbing Against Feeders, Posts, Fences

Here’s what you can do to get rid of these mites. Clip or shave the long hair on the pasterns to make cleaning easier and more effective. This also helps lengthen the contact time so the chemicals work better. Use keratolytic or selenium sulfide shampoo to help remove skin debris and mites.

Insecticides and endectocides have been used to try to get rid of these mites. Chorioptic mange is partly responsive to macrocyclic lactone drugs, such as ivermectin and moxidectin which are used to de-worm equines. Parasiticides used for cows or dogs have been used with some success when applied topically. Doramectin, fipronil and eprinomectin also show some success. The effectiveness of these options is helped when combined with clipping the long hair around affected areas and shampooing or scrubbing to remove all crusts, scales, and skin debris before the use of chemicals.

Leg Sores Caused by Jack Sores or Summer Sores

If it’s not bot files and it isn’t mites, it could be habronemiasis causing these leg sores. Habronemiasis is more commonly known as Jack Sores or Summer Sores because the sores occur most often in the spring and summer, when the fly season starts.

The wounds usually shrink during winter months and will appear to be healing – only to flare up again in the spring. These sores are caused by the larvae of stomach worms. Flies carry and deposit Habronema stomach worm larvae that can cause inflammation when they infect small wounds or other moist areas of the equine’s body.

In the normal stomach worm life cycle, flies pick up the stomach worm larvae in mule manure, old bedding, and rotten feed, then deposit them near the mule’s mouth. The mule eats the larvae that travel to the stomach and, in a couple of months, mature into adult worms that usually cause little damage to the equine. The adults lay eggs that are passed in the mule’s manure. Flies pick up the hatched larvae and cycle begins all over again.

The problem starts when the stomach worm larvae are deposited by house, stable, or face flies that feed on fresh wounds or moist areas. The larvae can’t mature into adult worms, so they move around in the wound and cause swelling and severe itching. The mule or donkey chews on the wound and swollen flesh that surrounds a healing wound, becoming a wound that doesn’t heal and can last for years, getting worse over time.

Here are signs to look for which indicate Jack Sores or Summer Sores:

  • Annoying and unsightly sores
  • Non-healing skin wounds
  • Intense itching
  • Formation of tissue that is red, moist, soft, and bumpy
  • “Greasy” look
  • Blood-tinged fluid draining from the sores
  • Yellow or white hard “rice grain-like” material from the sores

Young and thin-skinned animals are especially susceptible to the pests.

Treatment of summer sores can be difficult, requiring a number of approaches. In small wounds, deworming the animal with either an ivermectin or moxidectin paste dewormer will kill the worm larvae and allow the sore to heal. Wrapping the wound if it’s on the legs will protect it and prevent the mule from chewing on it. In serious cases of infected sores, surgery may be needed to remove the dead or diseased skin.

Best Treatment for Mule and Donkey Leg Sores

Unfortunately, the best treatment is prevention. You should setup a regular deworming program, about every six to eight weeks in warm weather, less often in winter.

Do everything you can to keep flies at a minimum, including the use of fly traps. Make sure to always dispose of manure and bedding properly from stalls and rotating pastures.

Always inspect for fly breeding sites; quickly and regularly remove all fly eggs from tack and the equine’s coat.

Be diligent in keeping flies from infecting the mule’s food and water. Keep infected animals away from the rest of the herd, as well.

Faithful application of a good repellant will also help keep infected flies away from our four-legged friends.

Before trying any of these treatments, you should check with your veterinarian to make sure you are using the right medicine and the correct dosage.