What is Thrush?
Thrush is a very common infection that can occur on a horse’s hoof. The bacteria that causes thrush is naturally occurring in a horse’s environment, especially when the horse is in a muddy or unsanitary location, such as a dirty stall. If you have a horse that has very narrow heels or deep clefts, then they are much more likely to develop thrush, as are horses that are allowed to live in very wet or muddy environments.
Thrush is more than simply the cause of smelly feet and a source of embarrassment. This infection can actually eat away at the tissue of the foot, which can be painful, especially if it is left untreated. If you do notice signs of thrush, then you will want to take your horse to the veterinarian right away to ensure that you get the right treatment and that you are able to prevent serious damage or additional discomfort.
This disease occurs when the bacteria is able to penetrate the frog, causing the tissue to deteriorate and making it look ragged and uneven. A recessed and unhealthy frog that is shrunken away from the surface of the rest of the hoof will continue to atrophy, which allows debris and dirt to accumulate in grooves of the frog.
What Causes Thrush?
It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what has caused your horse’s thrush, but there are a few main causes. These include:
- Moist stall conditions
- Constant wearing of a hoof pad
- Poorly trimmed hooves
- Dirty stall conditions
If your horse has thrush, then your first consideration should be their stall, as it is very likely that they developed it thanks to unclean conditions. Urine and manure that are allowed to soak into the mud in a stall can cause a horse to develop thrush. This means that if you notice that your horse’s stall is dirty or hasn’t been cleaned in a while that you will want to clean it out as soon as possible to ensure that you do not run into this problem.
Even if you make sure that your horse’s stall is clean all of the time they can still develop thrush. Horses who have very narrow and thin feet are much more likely to develop thrush than horses who have wider feet. Because the horse will move awkwardly due to the shape of their feet, they will often have debris lodged in the hoof, which will allow bacteria to enter as well, causing an infection.
What Are the Symptoms of Thrush?
It can be tricky for some horse owners to say for certain that their horse has thrush, especially if they haven’t ever dealt with this problem before, which is why seeing a veterinarian is a good idea. They are the only ones who will be able to determine for sure whether your horse is suffering from thrush or has another medical problem. Some of the most common symptoms of thrush include:
- Bad odor
The odor that thrush produces is far stronger and much worse than the way that a horse hoof normally smells. If you notice that your horse’s hooves smell stronger than normal and the smell is accompanied by another symptom, then your horse may be suffering from thrush.
Not all cases of thrush will cause discharge, but discharge is a very common symptom that you will want to be aware of. Discharge normally occurs around the frog and tends to be darker in color. A brown or black discharge that is also smelly is a clear sign that your horse probably is suffering from thrush.
While there are many problems that can cause either sensitivity or lameness, thrush will make your horse favor a hoof and try to avoid putting their weight on it. This is because putting weight on the infected hoof can be very painful. Other reasons why your horse may be showing signs of sensitivity in a foot include diet-related problems, arthritis, and traumatic injuries.
As the infection worsens and the thrush is able to take hold on your horse’s hoofs then there may be a white coating. This occurs near the frog and is a clear indication of where the infection has taken hold in the hoof. This symptom isn’t always present, so it’s important not to discount the possibility of thrush just because there isn’t a white coating on the hoof.
What Can Happen If You Don’t Treat Thrush?
It is imperative that you treat thrush right away so that your horse can heal. Failing to do so can result in major health problems for your horse in the future. One of the most common problems that you may experience if you don’t treat thrush right away is lameness.
Thrush, when left untreated, can actually become entrenched in the foot and reach some of the more sensitive tissue that is deeper in the foot. If this occurs, the thrush can cause lameness and other health problems. You can generally tell if this has occurred by compressing the frog using a hoof tester or your thumbs, as a reaction from your horse will generally indicate that the thrush has invaded deeper into the foot.
Other problems that can occur include damage to the frog corium, which are very sensitive tissues under the frog, as well as deep infections in the foot that will need professional treatment. Because thrush is so easily treated when it is not dangerous, it is not common for horses to have to suffer from extensive infections or long-term damage.
While lameness is always a possibility due to thrush, by treating the thrush right away, you can decrease the possibility of this occurring. It’s never a good idea to try to let thrush “run its course” and hope that the horse will be able to get better on their own, especially when there are some amazing treatments that are easy to do and will work quickly to provide your horse healing and relief.
How to Treat Thrush
Treating thrush is more involved than simply addressing the bacterial problem. If you want to make sure that you are able to prevent thrush from occurring again in the future, then you need to make sure that you address the abnormality of your horse’s hooves. This is almost impossible to do on your own and you will need to work with a skilled farrier who understands how to handle hoof abnormalities and help the horse become as healthy as possible.
The first step in treating your horse’s thrush is to clean out their flooring and make sure that they have dry and clean flooring to prevent this problem from occurring and to speed up the healing process. It’s also important that you have the frog of their feet thoroughly debrided to remove any of the infection. The foot needs to be balanced and the horse needs regular exercise to help strengthen the foot.
Daily hoof cleaning with an astringent solution will help the foot to heal and prevent there from being another problem in the near future. Very mild thrush can usually be treated with just one application of a remedy, while moderate and severe thrush need to be addressed by a professional to ensure that the microbes are killed, but that surrounding tissue isn’t accidentally harmed.
If you are going to treat the thrush at home, then you need to follow these steps for the best possible results:
- Thoroughly washing the hoof
- Picking and brushing to remove any debris from the hoof
- Wiping and drying the hoof to remove any remaining moisture
- Applying a medication or astringent
Here are the recommendations for the best hoof supplement.
Once you have your horse’s thrush treated and under control, then your farrier will need to ensure that it doesn’t return. They can do this by carefully trimming the hooves of your horse so that the heel of the hoof capsule and the frog are on the same plane. For some horses, this only involves rasping down the heels, while other horses will require more extensive work to be performed.
How to Prevent Thrush
While there are ways to treat thrush and limit the amount of damage and discomfort that your horse has to endure, the best thing to do is prevent thrush from occurring in the first place. By taking the following steps, you can help to provide your horse with a safe and clean location so that you don’t have to worry about thrush being a problem.
Cleaning out the paddocks and the stalls is one of the most important things that you can do to help prevent your horses from suffering from thrush. Any urine and manure that is left on the ground will cause pathogens to grow, which is why you need to make sure that you muck your horse’s stalls on a daily basis. While this is a huge task, it’s the best way to help prevent thrush from becoming an issue and will ensure that your horse has a clean and healthy location to stand and rest.
Another way to help prevent thrush is to make sure that your horses always have dry footing. If you have noticed that your horses are constantly standing in wet areas, then you need to take steps to provide them with areas where their hooves can dry out. Providing dry run-in sheds, as well as putting down gravel in a wet paddock, will allow your horses to dry out their hooves, which is essential in preventing thrush.
Regularly picking out your horse’s hooves is also important, especially if your horses live in smaller pastures and are in areas that are wet and filled with loose debris that may lodge in their feet. If your horses have larger pastures, then you may not need to check their feet on a daily basis, but checking them bi-weekly is the best way to stop problems right away.
If you have taken your horse on a ride or have recently brought them in from a turnout, then you will want to pick their feet. These are prime times that your horse can pick up debris that can cause thrush in the future.
Another important step in preventing thrush is having a farrier come and check your horse on a regular basis. Horses who have problems with imbalanced hooves or lameness are much more likely to suffer from thrush. Having a farrier check and repair your horse’s hooves can prevent problems from occurring.
While you may not think that there is a problem with using shredded wood for bedding, it’s important to consider the pH of the trees used and how they can affect the pH of the soil in your paddock. Highly acidic trees, such as some conifers, can improve the conditions for bacteria to grow. There’s nothing wrong with using shredded or chipped wood, but you do need to be diligent about checking the condition of your horse’s feet and making sure that they are healthy.
Exercise is another key to preventing thrush from occurring. Each time your horse takes a step, their hooves will expand and then contract, which can help to push out any debris lodged in the food. If you are not able to turnout your horse on a regular basis then you need to consider riding the horse on dry ground or hand-walking them to ensure that they are able to get the exercise they need to keep their feet as healthy as possible.
While you may be tempted to pick your horse’s feet in their stall or without turning on a light, especially as you become more comfortable with the task, it’s a good idea to make sure that you only pick their feet in a well-lit location. This is because you will be able to see the signs of thrush right away and will be able to identify the problem much faster if you can see their hooves. Good lighting will make it much easier to stay on top of your horse’s health problems and will ensure that you are aware of any issues right away.
Fred is the editor of Equine Ridge. He grew up raising horses and has been riding, training, and competing for almost four decades. Fred started out performing on the AQHA and PHBA circuits. Fred trained other competitors in English and Western riding disciplines and today offers free riding lessons to youth who would otherwise not be able to afford lessons. When not working with horses he can be found backpacking or trying to brew the perfect cup of coffee. Email Fred at firstname.lastname@example.org