Thrush in horses hooves becomes more common as the wetter seasons begin. Hoof Thrush is the name that we tend to use for any fungal or bacterial infection in our horses' Frog. Thrush usually has a foul-smelling and either white, grey or black sludgy residue in and around the Frog. Hoof Thrush can also cause significant pain and tenderness in the area.
A common misconception among horse owners is that Thrush is a hygiene issue or cosmetic flaw. Thrush can however be a severe health issue, causing mild to severe lameness, with the symptoms often mimicking navicular syndrome.
Thrush can cause a host of other horses' problems, both within the hoof and throughout the rest of the body.
The horses' Frog is a fundamental component within the hoof. Along with the other structures in the back half of the foot, it acts as one of the main shock absorbers, dissipating the energy from impact and protecting surrounding structures.
A healthy hoof will allow a horse to land-primarily heel first. A healthy frog and heel are essential for this critical function in the hoof.
Any sensitivity in the area will cause the horse to alter the way he moves. When this happens, the result may be that your horse modifies their action to try to alleviate the pain. The hoof may begin to land toe first.
An action with the horse's toe landing first, puts significant stress and concussive forces through the rest of the hoof, bony column, joints, ligaments and muscles. In turn, this will likely result in injury and even long-term breakdown.
Additionally, unmanaged Thrush in the horses' hooves can cause hoof wall flares, capsule rotation, hoof cracks, thin soles, bruising, sole and pedal bone damage and abscessing.
A healthy and functioning Frog is critical!
Wet and unhygienic conditions are a risk factor for Thrush; however, it can also occur in dry climates.
It's essential that your horse's living conditions are free from manure and urine and that if they are living in wet conditions, they have some places to stand that are well-drained.
Improved living conditions can be achieved through the use of ag drains to disperse water, and gravel to alleviate muddy areas. Pea gravel is particularly useful as even a sore horse will be able to stand comfortably in between 4-6 inches of soft round pea gravel. Pea gravel is also helpful to exfoliate the hooves and Frog and condition the hoof tissue.
Bacterial and fungal infections tend to thrive in anaerobic environments, so keeping your horses' hooves clean, picked out and trimmed is important.
Any excessive flaps of frog tissue can be trimmed (by your expert farrier) to allow the air to get to the Frog. However, excessive frog trimming should be avoided. When in doubt, it's best to leave more on!
Your horse will get sore very quickly if too much Frog is removed, and it can also expose healthy frog tissue to infection by the bacteria and fungus that is already there.
The hooves should also be regularly trimmed and well-balanced to encourage correct use, movement, growth and form of the hoof.
Almost all hoof problems have a vast nutritional component, and Thrush is no exception!
When the horse does not receive the critical building blocks that he or she needs to make and maintain healthy tissue, in this case, hoof and frog tissue, then the structures weaken and become diseased.
An excellent quality, high dose, trace mineral and vitamin supplement is KEY!
Something like Missy's Bucket Original is ideal. It also contains essential amino acids, methionine and lysine, biotin for hoof health, and the two most significant (and most deficient) Trace Mineral guns - ZINC and COPPER. For even greater impact Missy's Bucket GUT-Plus has the same balance of vitamins and minerals, plus significant digestive support to enhance your horse's gut health.
A diet consisting of low sugar, decent quality forage (pasture and hay) without additional iron and balanced minerals is paramount.
Once the diet, environment and trimming have been adjusted to promote good hoof health, then you can look at topical treatments.
Many different products are marketed to treat Thrush; however, some of them may not be your best choice due to the caustic and tissue-damaging effects they have on healthy hoof tissue.
We need to try and focus on treatments that not only kill the fungus and bacteria but also support the healthy, living Frog and hoof tissue! Underneath all that damaged, smelly goo is sensitive, live and sometimes very thin tissue.
First, clean the hoof well by scrubbing with a stiff brush and bucket of warm soapy water. Choose an antibacterial hand or body soap for this purpose. Then apply the treatment of choice.
The treatment you choose needs to get to the deepest parts of the hoof and frog cracks to be effective. This can be achieved by soaking or injecting the product into the area with a nozzle syringe or similar.
If soaking the following mixes work well in soak boots:
Some topical treatments could include:
A great place to start would be to:
Once you've got the three bases covered, start with the treatment that includes soaking and topical treatments.
Two additional thrush treatment resources:
Biotin is one of the most important B vitamins in the horses' diet, particularly for hoof growth and hoof horn quality.
The B vitamins are closely involved with protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism and interactions, therefore they play a very important part in the metabolism of hoof tissue which is highly active and fast-growing.