Your horse galloping in the distance doesn’t just make for a really nice Insta post--that motion as your horse pounds their hooves on the ground makes for an excellent self cleaning process that scours the bottom of the hoof and cleans any debris collected there. But if your horse isn’t moving and grooving regularly, they can be subject to a fungal infection known as thrush.
Here we at Fauna Care go through:
- Definition of thrush
- Causes and diagnosis of thrush
- Prevention of thrush
- What to do if your horse develops thrush
Thrush... What is it?
Thrush invades the frog of the hoof and lives on necrotic tissue. You can identify it by the very unpleasant smell and oily black discharge in the grooves on either side of the frog. It grows by going deeper into the frog rather than growing superficially on the hoof. Thrush eats away at the tissue of the frog; it doesn’t usually cause lameness, but it can in some cases cause severe pain and damage to the tissue in the hooves.
Is it a symptom of a hoof infection? There is actually debate on whether it is a fungus or a bacteria. Most equine science texts blame a bacterium called sphaerophorus necrophorus as the main culprit. However, because thrush can appear in the mucous membrane in humans in a yeast-like microscopic fungal form (gross, right?), some are saying that the fungus Candida albican may play a greater role than originally thought.
Whatever the cause, one constant issue remains--prevention.
Conditions Conductive to Thrush
Situations that are conductive to the growth of thrush include:
- Anaerobic (no oxygen) conditions such as filthy stalls or persistently muddy paddock
- Extremely wet weather
- Absence of or infrequent cleaning of hooves
- Abnormal hoof shape of deep central sulcus (groove) in the frog of the hoof
- Horses who wear hoof pads
- Horses who get very little exercise
- Horses who are chronically lame can develop thrush in the affected leg
- Chronically urine soaked bedding
Why do these conditions leave a horse susceptible to thrush? Because thrush thrives on filthy and confining conditions. Horses that are unable to go through the natural hoof cleaning process when they are exercised are prime candidates for thrush. And obviously horses that are left in chronically dirty conditions are more likely to develop thrush.
So, how do you minimize the likelihood of your horse developing this condition?
Preventing the Plague
Okay, thrush isn’t actually the plague, but it is black and smelly, sort of like the plague. Even in the best conditions, some horses are predisposed to thrush; however, you can improve living conditions to minimize this risk.
Here are our best tips and tricks for reducing the risk of thrush in your furry friends.
Improving Stall Conditions
Clean living conditions are crucial to reducing the incidence of this infection. Doing these things often (some daily) will help to prevent thrush and a myriad of other infectious conditions:
- Daily mucking of stalls and paddocks to reduce bacteria in mud that horses are standing in
- Resolving to keep stalls drier to mitigate risk
- Replacement of urine soaked mud with “clean” mud
- Making sure all areas have good drainage to flush out cesspools of bacteria
Horses in Florida are way more likely to have thrush than horses in, say, Arizona. The drier conditions are better for horses, while wet conditions are perfect for the multiplication of thrush causing bacteria and fungus. Striving to keep dry, clean stalls will help to minimize risk.
Horses are so dependant physiologically on motion to circulate blood through their limbs--which makes regular exercise so important. Confined living conditions leave horses so susceptible to diseases life thrush. Do the following to maintain good exercise habits for your horses:
- Regular turnout on grassy areas is great for natural hoof cleaning
- Letting your horse get regular exercise has many benefits, including reduction of thrush incidence
- Even just regular movement at a walk or trot is beneficial, especially for horses with injuries
Maintenance: Trimming and Cleaning
Even after doing everything above, some horses are just susceptible to thrush, especially in moist environments. Here are some tips for maintaining healthy hooves to reduce the likelihood of your horse developing thrush:
- A daily preventative swab of the frog using a gentler preparation of half bleach half glycerin-based hand lotion goes a long way
- Pick out your horse’s hooves daily (but use common sense when picking; if you’re causing your horse to bleed, you’re picking too aggressively) to leave the clefts open for horses to self clean as they are exercised
- As you pick out your horse’s hooves, look for any abnormal changes: the frogs should be trimmed in a way that as clefts remain somewhat deep, the frog isn’t growing in a way in that it is overlapping
- Horses with abnormally deep clefts should be treated with an anti-fungal spray to help keep the area clean and prevent infection
Oh Boy, my Horse Got Thrush Anyway
Okay, so you tried everything, but you still find yourself needing to Google what to do when your horse gets thrush. Well, Google no more, Fauna Care has got you covered!
We wish you the best on your thrush treatment. Management, maintenance and cleaning are key though, so be sure to take these tips and tricks out to the stalls with you.