Horse Health: Caring for Hooves and Treating Thrush

Most horse owners have seen, or at least heard of, the condition known as thrush. Often attributed to an unhealthy living environment and dirty stalls, thrush is a common occurrence in many horses and the causes of this condition continue to spawn debate amongst veterinarians. So what is thrush? What causes it? Read on to learn more about this condition and several ways to treat it.

Thrush is the result of an anaerobic bacterial infection of the horse’s hooves, though no specific organisms have been identified as the cause of this condition. Affecting the frog (the soft triangle-shaped part of a horse’s hoof), thrush infections are usually characterized by a black putty-like material that can be found when cleaning your horse’s hooves. Possessing a very foul odor, a thrush infection is easily identified and can cause not only tenderness in your horse’s feet, but can also cause mild degrees of lameness.

Commonly attributed to a lack of hygiene, research has shown us that there are actually a great many contributing factors to the onset of thrush. While unclean living conditions can breed bacteria, horses also seem to have developed thrush due to abnormal hoof growth, lack of hoof maintenance, or poor diet. Additionally, some veterinarians believe that thrush can be caused by poor circulation to the frog and disuse. Some reports have even found that thrush can be cured, in some cases, simply by changing the shoe and trimming the foot, without medication, change of environment or an alteration of daily routines.

If you notice that your horse has developed thrush, the most important thing to do is consider his environment. While unclean living areas can attribute to the onset of thrush, this is not always the cause. However, improving your horse’s living conditions will help prevent the spread of thrush, as well as aid in curing it.

Do you clean your horse’s hooves often? Daily cleaning of the hooves is essential to proper hoof care, as well as going a long way in preventing thrush or, at least, catching it early. Furthermore, a horse’s hooves should be picked on a daily basis to ensure no stones or foreign objects have become trapped. Failing to clean your horse’s hooves puts him at risk and could make him lame if you’re not careful. Cleaning your horse’s hooves on a daily basis will also ensure that you catch thrush when it first starts, rather than letting it go until it has caused severe damage to the frog and become inflamed.

If you do find that your horse has thrush, there are many different treatments available. One of the best purchased products is known as Thrush Buster, though many people have had luck with less-expensive home remedies, some of which I will list here. Please note that you do have to have some level of experience with horses, in order to do this safely. If possible, it is always best to contact your veterinarian or farrier before attempting any kinds of treatment.

In order to treat your horse’s hooves, you need to know the condition and level of the thrush. Horses suffering from serious infection or inflammation are often difficult to work with, due to pain, and could possibly injure you if not handled properly. Always proceed with caution, take your time and be patient with your horse.

The first step is to clean the horse’s feet gently, making sure to remove all foreign objects, but not digging or gouging into the soft tissues of your horse’s hoof. Lightly pressing the hoof pick around various spots on your horse’s hoof and at the back of his heel can help you to determine how sensitive and sore he may be.

Next, you will want to get a pail of clean water. Some people like to add a small amount of bleach to this, but it’s not necessary if you are using another treatment. Using a good stiff brush, wash your horse’s hoof thoroughly with water, doing your best to clean down inside without gouging or causing him any discomfort. When you are finished, wipe the hoof off thoroughly with a clean towel and then let it air dry for 10 minutes. If you are doing this on a dirt surface, try having him stand on a small square of plywood to prevent objects from dirtying his foot once again.

The next step will be to apply a product that will help destroy the bacteria and disinfect the wound. Three commonly-used products are bleach, iodine and hydrogen peroxide. Personally, I have always found bleach to work well in helping to clear thrush, though it is not suitable for use when the infection is severe. Taking either a bulb syringe or a large push syringe, draw a generous amount of the liquid into the base and then apply to the bottom of your horse’s foot.

You will want to start at the back of the heel, ensuring that the liquid gets well down into the crack and helps to flush out any other foreign objects. Then, raising the horse’s hoof to a horizontal level, apply the rest of the liquid to the bottom of the horse’s hoof, paying particularly close attention to the frog. After rinsing your horse’s foot in this manner, be sure to give him another 10 minutes for his hoof to dry thoroughly; you’ll simply undo all your work if you let him walk around and track dirt back into his hooves before the disinfectants dry.

For more serious cases of thrush, a gauze pad dipped in medication, such as Thrush Buster or Reducine, can be carefully pressed into the crack in your horse’s heel, keeping the damaged crack from closing up, as well as enabling the infected area to heal from the inside out; air reaching it while keeping most of the dirt at bay.

Swabbing the bottom of your horse’s hooves thoroughly with medication and giving them ample time to dry will assist in treating the thrush as quickly and efficiently as possible. When treated with gauze inserts, a foot can be left for two to three days between treatments though one will have to take into consideration the moisture level in your horse’s environment and the condition of his foot. If you do use this form of treatment, it is important that you do not treat any more than three times a week in this fashion, but not less than twice a week, and it’s imperative that you always remove and discard the old gauze.

If the degree of thrush is severe, your veterinarian or farrier may suggest a different type of medication or, at times, a special boot that your horse can wear, to help prevent foreign objects from working their way up into the damaged hoof. Feel free to discuss alternative methods with them and ask what they feel is best and their suggestions for preventing the thrush from returning. Once the thrush has been eliminated, be sure to maintain proper hoof care and have the farrier examine your horse’s hooves on a regular basis to prevent further attacks.

Ensuring your horse’s feet are healthy is a vital part of horse care and will happy to keep your equine friend happy. Always be sure to treat him with patience, love and understanding and he will love you for it.

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