White Line Disease – Diagnosis, Treatment, & Prevention
White line disease is a laymans term used to indicate a condition of the horse´s foot involving separation of parts of the hoof wall. It´s always useful to have a reference guide to better understand the anatomy of the horse´s foot and which parts are affected in the structural make-up of the hoof.
It is a problem that is still being investigated by vets and farriers to further and more completely understand how it comes about. Simply put, parts of the horn or wall of the hoof start to lift up and away from the mainframe of the foot and in these areas soft, infected horn and pus is often found.
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How is White line disease diagnosed
Owners usually notice significant white line disease on picking out their horse´s feet. Often horses with this condition are only seen by a veterinarian in very severe cases, mostly the farrier is used to dealing with mild to moderate cases that are picked up by owners or identified at trimming and which can be managed with foot care and regular farriery.
The owner often notices areas of the sole where the white line looks thicker, or parts of the hoof wall that are thickening, breaking off or lifting up. On further cleaning and inspection of the horn near the white line in affected areas, the characteristic crumbly texture is seen. Sometimes a black discharge can be identified where the wall is weakened and has become infected. In very severe cases where large areas of horn are affected or and infection has been allowed to progress extensively, the horse will indeed be lame because of the pain induced on loading the foot and sometimes rotation of the distal phalanx due to loss of its stabilizing attachment to the hoof wall through the delicate interwoven laminae. In these sorts of cases, a lameness examination is often performed and the veterinarian might recommend radiographs are taken to assess the integrity of the underlying structures.
Treating and preventing white line disease
Once the condition has been identified in most cases the farrier will be the first port of call, in many instances they will be the first to identify it, they will often use hoof testers to check for any sensitivity and will follow any abnormal discharge by paring back the horn with a hoof knife. In mild cases treatment is relatively straightforward with trimming back affected hoof to normal healthy horn and subsequent cleaning and disinfection being the mainstays of treatment. Often in cases with significant infection, the horse will require repeated debridement and sometimes application of a disinfectant. In horses that have had significant sections of the hoof wall removed to drain any infected tracts and those that have evidence of rotation of the pedal bone, supportive shoes will need to be applied that help weight bearing without stressing the damaged hoof wall. Sometimes in thoroughly debrided regions with extensive hoof wall loss, a type of filler can be applied to allow a normal hoof wall shape to be obtained by covering the defect up, however, these should be used very carefully and only by the vet or farrier dealing with the case.
Although some cases are horses that have good stable or management conditions, most affected horses tend to be standing in moist environments which soften the feet, or they have suffered a crack in the hoof wall. As such it´s important to appreciate the horse as an individual and treat it appropriately, for example trying to soften the foot of a horse with excessively dry feet that have cracked isn´t an appropriate treatment for a horse with soft, damp feet that need dring out and improved air circulation. Other horses will suffer the condition because of abnormal force being placed on the foot due to improper conformation, allowing the white line region to weaken. This is another reason why regular examination by a qualified farrier is so important in the maintenance of proper foot care and balance.
Some horses will require little treatment to get on top of the condition. In the initial stages of treatment paring back affected horn and disinfection are often enough, then just waiting for the hoof to grow out and the hoof to be trimmed back to normal. Others – particularly those with accompanying poor conformation needing corrective farriery and shoeing – will need regular visits from the farrier, veterinarian and more intensive management over several months to control the disease, treat any accompanying infection and restore both the normal healthy junction between the horn and the white line region, and a normal foot balance.