Make Udder Care A Ritual

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Most horsemen pay little attention to a mare’s udder unless she’s lactating. However, mammary-gland problems range from discomfort to fatal disease.

You’re more likely to find problems early if you include the udder in your routine care. When toweling the horse after a grooming, always include the udder, using a gentle wipe in the fold between the inner leg and the udder, as well as between the two halves of the gland. Thoroughly soap and wipe these areas during baths or when hosing her off after work.

If the mare isn’t accustomed to having her udder touched, expect some reaction, so be ready. Once she understands, she’ll quickly accept this as routine and pay no attention, unless she develops pain in the region. By working with the udder routinely, you will become familiar with its size and consistency so you will notice problems quickly.

Dermatitis
The most common udder problem is a buildup of waxy/greasy material, sweat, dirt and dead cells, much like the smegma in a sheath. It can accumulate in the crease between the two sides of the gland and the fold between the sides of the udder and the inner thigh.

One of the earliest symptoms is tail rubbing, so many mares are treated with dewormers, fly repellents and tail treatments before the real cause is recognized. She may also show tail swishing and a wide-based and/or stiff gait behind when moving.

Left unattended, the skin becomes red, raw and irritated. Inflammation can spread to layers beneath the skin, along the udder itself and the leg. Some swelling and secondary bacterial invasion can occur.

Treatment is similar to that for a dirty sheath. For heavy buildups, wash with warm water and a mild shampoo, such as Corona or pure Ivory bar soap, but don’t attempt to remove tightly adherent material at this point. After thoroughly rinsing and patting dry, apply a generous coat of aloe vera gel for the soothing effects and to help loosen the crusts. Allow it to work for 24 hours, then clean again using a sheath cleaner.

Mastitis
Mastitis is inflammation and infection of the mammary gland. It’s more likely in lactating mares but can occur in any mare, especially with injuries. Plus, because of the lymphatics in the udder, systemic infections may seat there, including strangles or pigeon fever.

Symptoms include swelling, heat and sensitivity. It may or may not be possible to milk material out from the teats. If present, it can vary from pus, to a yellowish “serum,” to off-colored fluid with clumps. The treatment is antibiotics effective against the specific infection, so you’ll need a veterinary examination. If the area is hot and inflamed, cold-water hosing may be advised, but if an abscess is trying to form, warm hosing would be best.

Tumors
Although tumors are rare, they’re likely to be cancerous. Symptoms include an asymmetrical hard lump, and there may be a discharge. The lump is usually painless, but some malignancies are inflammatory and painful. You’ll need to get a biopsy.

Inappropriate Lactation
Some mares develop an enlarged udder unrelated to pregnancy or nursing. It’s a common symptom of pituitary tumors (Cushing’s disease). The enlargement is usually symmetrical without heat or pain. The udder may feel firm. Treatment with drugs that suppress the pituitary output of hormones will cause the udder to shrink to normal size. Blood tests are in order to find the cause.

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