How to Treat Thrush in Horses
Most horse owners will be well aware of the signs to look out for that indicate their horse is suffering from thrush, primarily because of its foul smell! Put simply thrush is a term used to describe the clinical signs associated with a foot infection caused by bacteria that thrive without ai. The bacteria invade the tissues of the hoof, largely the frog, and causes the tissue to become necrotic. The dead tissue and bacteria combine to create a black, putrid smelling discharge, the frog and the horn beneath are soft and easily removed. Thankfully most cases of thrush are only mild, with the discharge and smell being the only signs. However, in very severe cases the infection can cause lameness and occasionally permanent damage to the feet.
Although thrush is associated with a bacterial infection, other factors are generally required for it to take hold. Albeit that some horses are predisposed to the infection regardless of their environment, these are more the exception than the rule. Their tendency to develop the infection may be down to poor quality hooves or abnormal hoof structure, horses which have del sulci that are difficult to clean inside can also suffer it more.
In the majority of cases environmental factors play a very important part in the development of thrush. Wet and muddy environments provide ideal conditions for the bacteria to thrive. Horses that are out in wet, muddy fields for long periods of time, or those kept stabled with damp bedding understandably tend to develop the condition. In these instances it is very difficult for fresh air to circulate around the hooves and the bacteria easily take hold. Most horses that develop thrush tend to live with wet or damp conditions underfoot, hence why it´s often seen not just over winter, but in where poor stable management and field conditions prevail.
How Do You Know If Your Horse Has Thrush?
Normally the feet will start to show variable amounts of black discharge, later on this becomes more voluminous and the smell starts to take over. As mentioned above in severe cases your horse might actually be lame or it might have bounding digital pulses. Because of its characteristic appearance most cases are actually identified by owners but in some instances a veterinary examination is required, this is particularly important if your horse is lame and appears to have thrush as well.
How Is Thrush Treated?
Treating thrush requires some knowledge of the horse´s foot. Good hoof care starts with examining the horse´s foot from a distance before you even pick it up. It´s useful to have a good reference guide to get familiar with the normal anatomy of the hoof. More important still is getting to know your own horse´s feet, hence why regular picking out and examination of the feet is so key. It can also be useful to have a few photos of what your horse´s feet look like normally. Subtle changes are easily overlooked but having an idea in your minds eye of what´s normal for your horse can help you detect subtle changes as quickly as possible.
For all but the most mild thrush your horse will need a visit from the farrier and (or) vet. It´s important to check your horse is up to date with his tetanus vaccinations (hopefully you keep a careful horsey calendar to record these things) and if not then a call to your vet is in order to get advice on whether he needs further attention. The farrier can pare out all of the infection and the diseased, necrotic frog and any affected horn to expose healthy horn underneath. This is a very important part of treating thrush and the farrier will often open up the sulci, not only to remove the infection but to then allow better air circulation to the horn and frog here. The hooves should be scrubbed with an antiseptic iodine wash, paying particular attention to the frogs and soles, and this repeated twice per day until the infection has resolved.
It should be clear by now that one of the main factors to address is the horse´s environment. Small changes can make a big difference. Improving the management of the horse´s bed to allow removal of all damp material and replacing it with fresh clean bedding and, if possible, exposing the underlying flooring to enable it to dry out, are both steps that can help to keep the hooves dry and clean. If the horse is permanently turned out in muddy conditions and it´s not an option to move him somewhere else, then his feet should be cleaned thoroughly and allowed to dry before being turned back out. This should be done at least daily.
Preventing Thrust From Coming Back
In some cases thrush can be very stubborn to go. To help prevent it from recurring proper hoof care is a must, but changes in management outlined above should not be forgotten – to recap these were careful stable management and daily cleaning of the feet. The importance of regular visits from the farrier should also not be overlooked.
Implementing a thorough foot care regime is very important. The horse´s feet should be picked out at least once daily, more so if it lives in a particularly wet environment, or is prone to developing thrush. A good quality hoof pick will enable you to do this and the newer styles with rubber grips help to spare your hands. After picking out the feet they should be brushed well with a stiff bristled brush to get rid of any surface dirt. Horses living in wet, muddy environments should have their feet washed off and dried as well as possible before being turned back out. Most cases can be managed well with these steps but sometimes your veterinarian will recommend additional treatment. Usually implementing management changes whilst the ground conditions improve or the horse once again can be turned out is enough to keep the infection at bay, but it can be tough to shift completely where the hooves can´t be maintained in optimal conditions. Unfortunately some horses will still develop the condition despite good management and hoof care.