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Care for Horse Hooves-Treat Equine Thrush
Equestrian 101:

Equestrian 101:



Care for Horse Hooves--Treat Equine Thrush

What Is That Awful Smell?

You have just cleaned out your horse's hooves and notice a pungent, offensive odor. It is much stronger than the normal earthy smell of hoof grunge.

Upon closer inspection of the foul smelling hoof or hooves, you also see an ooze - a blackish discharge around the frog area and in the frog itself. That is equine thrush. You need to treat it at once and continue treatment in order to prevent the condition from attacking surrounding tissue, manifesting itself in the foot and eventually also spreading to the other feet - and worse case scenario - causing lameness.

Your veterinarian can tell you the technical terms and, of course, treat your horse for thrush. However, if your horse's thrush has not progressed too far and you are willing to commit to the every-day care and treatment required to eliminate it, you can successfully treat the condition with the guidance of your farrier and by using available medications.

What Is Equine Thrush?

In lay-person language, thrush is a fungal infection - caused by bacteria that thrive in moist, soiled conditions. It occurs most frequently in stalls that are not regularly mucked out, that retain moisture, or that have the combination of moisture and dirty conditions.

As you can see, therefore, thrush can infect your horse's feet if your stall management is a bit sloppy. Your horse may also contract thrush if you don't regularly clean out his feet so that moisture, feces, urine and dirt are retained in the hoof, allowing bacteria to thrive. Finally, a horse with super sensitivity may be unusually susceptible to the bacteria that causes thrush.

Generally, the condition affects the frog and the surrounding tissues. It presents as a moist, black discharge with a truly nasty odor. You will find there is no mistaking that odor -  it just plain stinks.

Cure Thrush with Daily Treatment

The treatment for thrush is not difficult, but it does require your daily commitment. It is important to immediately change your stall management and grooming routines. Read The Old Gray Mare's discussion ("Care for Horse Hooves - Inspect and Clean"); it can be found on www.DressYourHorse.com under The Old Gray Mare Articles.

Basic Steps to Treat Equine Thrush

1. Enlist the immediate help of your farrier. He or she will trim the hooves, angle them correctly and remove much of the infected tissue. If possible, let your horse go barefoot. You can also discuss packing the feet and adding pads at the next shoeing, once the thrush is gone. Be careful if you choose pack & pad: use this method only with an experienced farrier.

  • Hoof-packing can combat thrush. Best to get rid of the thrust first though.
  • Hoof-packing treatments consist of thick tar or putty packed around the frog and covered with a leather pad, then the horse is shod (not unlike shoeing the show horse but without a weighted shoe).
  • Packing remedies have the benefit of helping to seal out debris. This is especially helpful if you are not able to treat the hoof daily.

2. Move the horse to a dry area. If the horse is stabled, maintain a clean, dry, well-bedded stall. If your horse is confined in wet, soiled conditions or excessively muddy pasture, you will need to relocate him into a drier environment to eliminate the constant exposure to moisture.

3. Attack the thrush with your farrier's recommended medication - there are several excellent choices on the market. Get the thrush "where it lives." That means in the tough places, especially in the frog and the heel. The Old Gray Mare recommends using a syringe. Liberally squirt the liquid or soft salve into the deepest crevices of the frog, paying particular attention to the heel. Insert the syringe deeply into the tissue and plunge in the medication.

One very effective medication for thrush is not made specifically for horses - it is made for treating fungal infections in cow teats and udders. It is sold in a syringe and can be squirted directly into the frog as already described above. The Old Gray Mare has seen it used at a large show stable with superior results after just a week or two of treatment, in conjunction with one of the popular thrush ointments.

You can also try iodine or full strength bleach. Both work well for a very short repetitive cycle. Never use these liquids for a prolonged period of time because they have a severe drying effect on hoof tissue and are too harsh to be used routinely.

You can also try undiluted Apple Cider Vinegar or Hydrogen Peroxide for mild cases of thrush.

4. Apply the thrush medicine with a small stiff brush or use lots of clean swabs, forcing the bristles or swabs into the cracks and crevices. Saturate the underside of the hoof as well as the hoof walls. You want to pay close attention to the difficult-to-reach spaces.

5. After application of the medicine, hold the foot upside down for a minute to create a sort of "bowl" to keep most of the healing fluid or ointment cupped in the hoof.

6. Treat the horse on a daily basis and once you get the condition under control, cut the medication back to every other day and so on until you can maintain with daily cleanings and an occasional application of hoof conditioner.

7. Finally, The Old Gray Mare recommends you keep tabs on hoof dryness during treatment. Treating thrush can be fairly aggressive and may excessively dry out the hoof over time. Do not forget to apply hoof conditioner every few days along the coronet band all the way around the hoof, but especially at the heel above the frog.

8. If your horse is prone to recurrent episodes of thrush even though you meticulously maintain his stall, you will need to institute a preventative care regimen that controls the problem. Clean your horse's hooves daily. Every few days, along with hoof conditioner, use diluted bleach, a thrush product, hydrogen peroxide or diluted apple cider vinegar.

Finally, develop your game plan to prevent thrush in the first place!

This article and articles on horse care, hints and various other topics are written by The Old Gray Mare™ and can be found at www.DressYourHorse.com™.