Mention thrush to a horse owner; it’s a frustrating term heard all too often. In this article, I will explain what thrush is, the symptoms, how to prevent it and how to treat it.
What is thrush?
Thrush is a bacterial infection that occurs on the underside of a horse’s hoof, most commonly in the cleft of the frog. It is not uncommon and minor cases are usually treated easily with no lasting damage to the horse.
There are two very obvious signs that your horse has thrush in their hoof.
The first is a terrible odor. This odor will come directly from the underside of your horse's hoof. You will generally notice this odor when you are picking out their feet.
The second is a black, muddy substance on the surface of sole that will scratch off with your hoof pick to leave a white powder. This unpleasant muck is the result of bacteria eating away at your horses hoof. The black matter and the smell is literally rotting flesh.
The repercussions of leaving thrush untreated include weakening of the immune system leading to other illnesses, abscesses and severe laminitis.
There are a few things you can do to prevent thrush from causing issue for you and your horse. Thrush is generally caused by moisture and dirt creating bacteria in the horse's hoof.
The first step is environmental management. Do allow your horse into the their pasture if it is still wet or muddy two days after rain or if it is affected by any “dirty” water such as sewerage. You also need to ensure that any boggy areas of your horse’s pasture are fenced off or allowed to dry when they become wet.
Your horses paddock, stall, stable etc. need to be mucked out thoroughly on a regular basis. Manure packing in your horses hoof can easily lead to a thrush infection if it occurs frequently.
The other very important process in preventing thrush is to keep your horse’s hooves clean and dry as much as possible. You should be picking your horse’s hooves at least once per day. If you are riding or working your horse, their hooves should be cleaned before and after the workout.
Treatment of thrush should be executed as soon as possible when symptoms appear. The earlier you catch thrush, the less time it will have to progress and damage your horse’s hooves.
The first thing I do when treating thrush is to tie my horse in an area with clean, solid ground; the best example of this is a concrete-floored wash bay. Then, I will pick out the horses hooves thoroughly, as I would on a daily basis. Next, I wet the sole of the hoof with water and proceed to apply a cleansing agent and scrub the hoof clean with a hoof brush. Some examples of hoof cleaning chemicals include horse-shampoo, hand-soap, bleach, dish-washing detergent, anti-bacterial soap, and hydrogen peroxide. It is up to you which product you use. Some people advise against the use of harsh chemicals such as bleach and disinfectant solutions and opt for the gentler agents such as dish soap which are just as effective for this purpose. Personally, I use a different product depending on severity. If you use a harsher product, you cannot use it as often.
It is important after scrubbing each hoof to thoroughly rinse the sole and heel using a hose. Inadequate rinsing may cause irritation to the hoof or skin.
When the hoof is mostly dry, you should apply a hoof sealer of some description. I recommend mixtures with antibacterial properties such as Stockholm (Pine) tar and specialist hoof ointments. By thoroughly covering the entire sole and wall of the hoof with these products, you are sealing moisture out of the hoof and protecting it from further infection.
Once the sealant has been given a chance to absorb into the hoof and dry, you can release the horse to his stall or pasture. Take note that it is very important to release the horse only to a CLEAN environment while he is handling thrush, otherwise the infection will continue and maybe even get worse. Please read the prevention paragraph again.
Treatment should be processed daily until symptoms disappear completely. There is no harm in continuing treatment after the infection has cleared; it is better to be safe than sorry.
I hope this article helps you too understand thrush and has given you some handy tips on how to deal with it!
Happy horsing :)
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