Healthy Horses: Thrush

If you own a horse, chances are that you have either seen or heard of the condition known as thrush. Best described as an anaerobic bacterial infection that affects a horse’s hooves, thrush is often attributed to unsanitary living conditions. While bacteria thrives in dirty surroundings, however, studies have revealed that thrush can also be the result of poor diet, abnormal hoof growth, or a lack of proper hoof maintenance. Additionally, recent studies suggest that thrush can also be caused by poor circulation to the hoof, as well as in situations where the foot is experiencing uneven weight distribution (from disuse, poor trimming, or ill-fitting shoes).

Thrush, fortunately, is very easy to detect and relatively simple to treat. Possessing a definite foul odor and creating a black putty-like material in the frogs and the deep crevices of the hoof, few who encounter thrush forget these unpleasant symptoms. Not only does it make cleaning your horse’s hooves unpleasant for you, if the thrush is left untreated, it can make your horse’s feet tender and sore, also making it unpleasant for him. Let it go long enough and there is a risk that your horse may become lame and unable to be ridden.

If you’ve discovered that your horse has developed thrush, don’t panic. Instead, take a moment to step back and examine his surroundings. What is his living environment like? It’s true that not all cases of thrush are due to unclean surroundings, but the cleanliness factor must be taken into consideration; regardless of how your horse contracted the thrush, it’s a simple fact that bacteria thrive in warm, moist, dirty surroundings. Failing to clean out your horse’s stall can not only cause him more pain and discomfort, but it can also spread the condition elsewhere in your barn. If the stall is dirty, realize that you will have to clean it, before you put your horse back in there.

How often do you clean your horse’s hooves? This is essential to helping prevent the spread of thrush, as well as taking good care of your equine companion. Cleaning the hooves on a daily basis will dislodge rocks, wood chippings and other debris that could potentially harm your horse. In addition to this, cleaning your horse’s hooves regularly will not only help control the spread of thrush, but will also ensure that you catch the thrush early, before the infection really sets in and causes damage to the frog.

Thrush can occur even under the watchful eye of the most diligent horse-owner. Fortunately, this condition is relatively easy to treat, provided that you are experienced in handling horses and are able to diagnose the severity of the case. Remember, like any animal, if your horse is in severe pain (whether from thrush or any other cause), he may very well be difficult to work with. Some horses will bite, others may sidestep and pull away, some might kick and others will be very calm and docile. Always use extreme caution when dealing with your horse in such a fashion.

If your horse has thrush, the first step is to take a few moments and clean his hooves gently. Ensure that you remove all foreign objects from his foot, but avoid gouging down into the soft tissues of the hoof. Taking the time to take the flat part of the hoof pick and gently pressing against various parts of the hoof will help to tell you how sore and sensitive your horse may be. Always be sure to clean his foot from heel to toe, preventing the sensitive heel from becoming punctured.

The next step is to get a pail of clean water. Some people like to add a capful of bleach to this, but it’s really unnecessary if you’re going to be aggressively treating the infection. Instead, simply use a good stiff brush and wash your horse’s foot, thoroughly with the water, making sure to do your best to clean down inside his foot without causing him discomfort. The hoof, when you’re finished washing it, should then be wiped off well, with a clean towel, and allowed to air dry for 10-15 minutes. It’s highly suggested that, in order to prevent your horse from getting more dirt packed back into his feet, that you use a piece of plywood for your horse to stand upon, to keep him out of dirt (and help reduce risk of the thrush spreading to others).

Ultimately, you are wanting to apply something to your horse’s foot that will destroy the bacteria and disinfect any wounds that your horse may have suffered. Depending on the severity of the case, many horse owners will suggest things such as hydrogen peroxide or iodine though, throughout most experienced horse-owners, the preference seems to rest with bleach. Plain old household bleach is best when administered with a bulb syringe. The process is very simple, provided you have a cooperative horse that is not in a high degree of pain.

Taking the bulb syringe, start at the back of the heel and clean out the inside of your horse’s foot, allowing the bleach to drain down from the heel and of the toe. Ensure that you flush out any foreign bodies from the inside of the foot before raising it to a horizontal level and applying fresh bleach, supporting your horse’s foot to allow the bleach to thoroughly saturate the sole for several minutes. When this is done, you can then tilt your horse’s foot down once more, allowing the excess to run off the toe, before drying the hoof with a towel and then giving your horse’s foot another ten minutes to air dry.

If the thrush is a severe case, you may wish to speak with your veterinarian or farrier, and see if they suggest a different type of medication or method of treating the condition. Sometimes, special shoes or boots will help or, in severe cases, your veterinarian may treat your horse with prescription-strength medications. However it is treated, it’s very important to maintain proper hoof maintenance and have the farrier examine your horse’s feet on a regular basis, to help prevent further attacks.

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