Have you noticed your horse having a problem with their gait? Maybe you’ve also have smelled an odd unpleasant, rotting odor coming from your horse that lingered even after a wash. By taking a look at their feet, you will find the culprit—thrush.
Thrush is an unpleasant fungal infection that largely can be avoidable given the right maintenance and environmental modifications to your horse’s daily living.
In this article, we will touch on this common horse problem and how you can remedy the issue easily to eliminate the stink and get your horse’s hoofs back in healthy condition.
What Is Thrush?
Thrush is a fungal bacterial infection of the horse’s frog or the triangle part of the horse’s hoof that comes in contact with the ground. It can also infect the sulci in the center of the hoof. The bacterial organism, Spherophorous neaophorus, among other organisms, infest the frog and begins to break down the frog tissues, leaving behind a black oozing substance on the hoof that carries a foul smell.
While you may not notice it right away unless you take a close look at your horse’s feet, they can be made obvious by a grey crust forming around the hoof.
Can Thrush Make a Horse Lame?
Horses do feel a considerable amount of pain when the thrush-infected area is touched or pressure is applied. If the infection becomes severe and intervention does not occur to relieve your horse, they can experience lower-leg swelling and lameness. The hind feet are more often affected over the front feet, though it is possible that all feet can become infected by thrush.
Because of the tissue breakdown, thrush compromises the hoof and interferes with the hydrostatic function for the foot and hinders the foot’s ability to pump blood around the foot to allow the foot to mechanically function correctly.
How does a horse get thrush?
Thrush occurs usually from the excess of moisture, dirt, debris and unsanitary conditions that the horse is around. This filth and moisture tends to get trapped around the frog and makes for a perfect environment for a bacterial infection to take hold.
There are different bacterial organisms that exist in the environment, especially around where horses frequent such as in the soil, in muds, in horse manure, and in horse stalls. A lot of the bacteria that causes thrush are anaerobic or free or open air. If your horse’s feet don’t get to air out and are just stuck in damp, wet ground conditions for long periods of time, it won’t take long for thrush to develop.
Thrush can also occur in horses that do not get enough activity or exercise because when they are kept idle and passive, there is less circulation of blood and can result in thrush conditions.
Another way a horse can get thrush is simply from a horse owner not routinely picking their hooves and clearing them out.
How do you treat severe thrush in horses?
Move the horse to a dry environment. Regardless of the severity of thrush on your horse, it is important to first move your horse out of the conducive conditions where thrush and bacteria thrive. Get your horse immediately out of moisture and damp conditions and moved to a clean, sanitized environment that is dry so their hooves can air out and dry off.
Using a hoof pick, pick out any dirt and debris that has accumulated on your horse’s hoof and following that, you should scrub the horse’s frog using a stiff brush, some antibacterial soap and water. Allow for the horse’s frog to completely dry before proceeding.
Trim away infected areas. If you find any loose flaps hanging from the frog, trim them with the help of a hoof knife in order to get rid of the infected dead tissue and allow for the hoof to get air to circulate to the foot.
Use a wire brush to scrape into the deep crevices.
Apply a topical anti-thrust treatment. If the thrush is not making your horse feel overly sensitive or unfortunately, you can treat the thrush with a topical treatment product. There are a variety of products out there that can work but try to get an opinion from your farrier or veterinarian as to what would be best for your horse.
Depending on the product, the anti-thrush treatment often contains active ingredients such as copper naphthenate, iodine and gentian violet.
The way you apply the anti-thrush treatment product can vary. Some you can simply squirt from the container into the crevices and cracks so the product comes in contact with the infected areas. Other products come in spray form which can be difficult to apply if your horse is very sensitive. Other techniques that could help is putting the product in a small syringe plunger so you can more precisely apply the product without worrying about making a mess.
How Long Does It Take for Thrush To Heal In Horses?
If you continue with practices like regular hoof picking, keeping your horse clean, maintaining a sanitary and dry environment for your horse and applying regular anti-thrush treatment product, you should see thrush completely heal on your horse in as quickly as a week or two.
Consistency is key however as wet, mushy environments or forgetting a day of hoof picking could slow down progress.
Don’t delay in calling your veterinarian or your selected farrier to give you guidance in treating your horse’s thrush, especially if you are unsure of a routine to maintain or how often you should apply the over-the-counter products or home remedies you choose to use. They can also assist you if you aren’t comfortable with trimming the dead tissue from your horse yourself or if you see complications from the thrush treatment such as excessive discharge or signs of bleeding.
How to Prevent Horse Thrush
It’s easier to prevent horse thrush from occurring on your horse to being with than dealing with trying to cure the thrush when your horse is infected. Here are the following things you can do to keep your horse healthy and ensure that thrush does not make a return.
- Promote a dry, sanitary environment for your horse. If your stalls and horse turnout areas are regularly wet and icky, do what you can to keep areas dry by addressing moisture issues, reducing manure and wet dirt and debris. If there are cases where the wetness is out of your control, for example, if your area is receiving regular rainfall that is making the grazing area wet, make sure that your horses get a lot of dry time in sheds or spreading gravel in wet areas so your horses are not walking around with soggy feet.
- Maintain a Clean Stall and Sleeping quarters. Good stall management is essential to preventing thrush. Horse manure and urine in stalls are an invitation for bacterial pathogens so make sure you clear out stalls daily and replace bedding that is soaked with urine. This is especially true if your horse is spending a lot of their time in the stalls.
- Pick out or check your horses feet daily. At least one time a day you should do a detailed picking of your horse’s hooves, making sure to focus your attention on the sulci. Keeping this sort of routine not only promotes foot health by giving your horse’s frog some air, but it also helps you to monitor the foot health of your horse to check if thrush is redeveloping. Bear in mind though that you shouldn’t be too rough in using your hoof pick because this may cause little scrapes and abrasions in the frog and can be discomforting and can end up doing more harm than good and even promote a return of thrush.
- Keep up with regular visits to the farrier. If your horse has a hoof imbalance or other foot problem, they may be at risk of redeveloping thrush. Having your horse seen routinely by your farrier will keep your horse’s feet healthy and in tip-top shape.
- Avoid acidic footing. Common bedding options for your horse are chipped or shredded wood shavings, but some trees, such as conifers, can be particularly acidic. When these materials begin to decompose, they alter the acidity of the soil and create conditions where bacteria can grow and thrive. If you choose to use these materials, you will need to be watchful in monitoring your horse’s foot health.
- Establish regular exercise for horses. Horses that get very little exercise, as we mentioned earlier, are more susceptible to being infected by thrush. An active horse takes a lot of steps and with each step, the flexing of his hooves naturally push out dirt and debris. So make sure your horse isn’t still in one spot for long periods of time to discourage the redevelopment of thrush. Make sure that if you are letting them exercise they are in dry areas.
There are times where, no matter your efforts, the conditions and circumstances result in your horse being infected by thrush. Don’t view this as a failure on your part. As long as you regularly monitor your horse and when recognizing thrush, engage in remedies that we mentioned, it won’t be a serious problem for you to overcome.