Thrush in your horse’s hooves!
Thrush is a pretty gross bacterial infection of the hoof, most commonly seen in the sulci (or grooves) and frog area.
- The bacteria are anaerobic, so it lives without oxygen, perfect under a hoof, right? Advanced cases can extend to the sole and white line, and when thrush affects the sensitive areas, horses can become lame.
- New research tells us that thrush is not discriminatory, it can affect horses that live in pristine “poop never hits the ground” stalls, while rarely infecting some horses that live in mud.
- Researchers have found that it’s more often the horse not “self-cleaning” the hoof by walking. A walking horse that flexes and contracts the hoof anatomy helps to prevent thrush.
You can barely see the black stuff in the grooves. This is thrush! I smelled it before I saw it.
What we see during a case of thrush is typically a black paste.
- However, it’s likely that you will smell it before you see it! The distinct, rancid odor of rotting flesh is a sure-fire sign of thrush.
How to treat thrush in horses
- Most over-the-counter topical applications are affordable and easy to use. Make sure the hoof is clean and dry before you apply!
- Begin by cleaning away the blackened, diseased tissue. You may want to have your farrier or vet help you with this. For advanced cases, or instances when you can’t clear it up in two or three days, get your vet out.
Clean the hoof before you treat for thrush!
- Think of thrush like a wound, no amount of neosporine and bandaids will help if you don’t clean the wound first. It will stay infected.
- The best place to start is the wash rack. Put your sprayer on jet setting, and rinse out the bottom of the hoof for about a minute.
- A minute or so of water picking can get out all the gunk deep in the cracks that no hoof pick can get to!
Clean the thrush out! Then your treatment of choice.
- Then treatment with mild betadine solution with a good scrub, rinse and repeat a few times before you let the hoof dry and apply your medication of choice.
- Keep at this and you can get some really good healthy hoof growth, and you can dial it back and just do a maintenance routine.
- After the hoof has dried, apply your topical treatment. A mild case should clear up quickly (under 3 days.)
- For cases that don’t clear up quickly, or have gone deeper, please consult your Veterinarian.
- Lameness is a very real possibility. Your veterinarian can help you with stronger and sometimes systemic options.
- A very good option available from your vet is a tube of antibiotic ointment typically used for mastitis in cows.
- If you pick up some colored thrush meds at the tack store, they can be messy. I have found the easiest way to apply them is with a spray bottle or ketchup bottle from a kitchen supply store. The tiny nozzle contains most of the drips and you can better control the application.
A ketchup bottle is a great place for thrush meds. Pointy applicators make application easy.
Please don’t use bleach or hydrogen peroxide
- The hoof is living tissue that is damaged and wounded by thrush. Bleach doesn’t belong in a wound.
- Research tells us that bleach and hydrogen peroxide and alcohol actually lengthen the healing time and can cause significant pain.
Skip the purple gentian violet compounds, too?
- Canada released a call to action about gentian violet in early 2019. According to the official report, “All manufacturers have voluntarily stopped marketing these products, their product licenses have been canceled, and any products that were on the Canadian market have been recalled.” There’s a link between gentian violet and cancer. You can read the whole thing here!
- The state of CA has also released a report, which contains details about studies done (not really enough data on people) and other helpful things. There are a couple of cases where humans developed leukemia after contact with gentian violet, but there is no clear evidence of causation and little actual data (see page 11 of this report).
Keep everything clean and dry.
- There are some great over-the-hoof boots that can be used temporarily to help the healing process. The bottom line is to be super diligent about picking and inspecting your horse’s hooves. If you see (or smell) something funky, start to treat it right away!
This easy, temp boot keeps things clean and dry, and can be used with a horseshoe.
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