Thrush in Horses

So what is thrush? Simply put, thrush is a fungal infection in a horses hoof. It erodes the tissues of the frog which leaves a black ooze on the surface. This infection thrives in areas where horses are confined to corrals or a very small pasture.

What is Thrush

Thrush itself is a fungal infection in a horses hoof that slowly erodes the tissues of the frog. This leaves a blackish ooze on the surface. Thrush thrives much more in areas where horses are kept in a corral or a very small pasture. A horse who normally stands in urine soaked, manure filled mud will be more susceptible to thrush than a horse who stands in a corral with dry, clean ground. Also, horses who wear pads have over-grown hooves, or who get little exercise tend to me more susceptible to thrush. In other words, if your horse is standing in a moist or damp corral it can help thrush develop. Hooves need to be cleaned and picked out on a regular basis to ensure there is nothing lodged or rubbing against the frog. Even if a horse is in a spotless environment they can still get thrush. Keeping the hoof clean can help keep them healthy and strong.

What are the symptoms of thrush

There can be a number of symptoms that will help you identify if your horse has thrush. These can include:

  • Reaction to probing around the area indicating the hoof is tender.
  • Dark or black ooze showing up on the underside of their hoof.
  • Severe infection may eventually cause lameness in some horses.
  • Rotting odor emanating from the bottom of the hoof.
  • Very strong pungent smelling feet
  • Pasty discharge from the hoof.

If your horse is showing any of these symptoms there is a chance that thrush is present in the hoof. Don’t worry though, thrush is common in horses who live in moist conditions. Horses with poor conformation of the hoof (i.e. long narrow feet) are more likely to develop thrush. Because of the different shape of the foot it causes the animal to move more awkward than other horses. This allows sand and debris to get lodged in the hoof which can allow bacteria to enter.

How do you get rid of thrush in horses

Once you have found that your horse has thrush you can take measures to clean your horse’s environment. You want to make sure that their stall is cleaned out twice per day, replace any wet bedding and keep them away from pastures with high moisture. You will also want to pick their feet every day to help keep the infection from getting any worse. In some cases, a vet or farrier will need to come out to trim away the infected tissues. Sometimes, a topical treatment or disinfectant will be prescribed that you will need to apply per your vet’s instructions to allow the hoof to heal properly.

If severe thrush is found, antibiotics may also be prescribed. Until the thrush is dealt with and removed you will want to limit how often you ride because the feet can be tender and your horse may not be as sure-footed as normal. This can make riding more dangerous for you and your horse. Some treatments can be picked up at your local feed store such as Kopertox and Thrush buster, which work well for treating thrush. Also some Iodine-based products such as Povidone are also very effective treatments.

Is thrush in horses contagious

Because thrush is an anaerobic bacteria, it is not contagious. However, chances are your other horses are probably in the same type of conditions which can lead to them contracting thrush.

Will bleach kill thrush in horses

Absolutely bleach will kill thrush in horses. Bleach is a super treatment for thrush or as a general disinfectant for the bottom of your horse’s hoof. You will want to dilute it though to about 1 cup of bleach per 1 gallon of water. Clean your horse’s hoof out very well then pour on some of the mixed bleach solution. Usually a couple applications is enough to kill all the bacteria that form thrush.

Are there any homemade thrush treatments for horses?

There are some such as bacon grease, bleach, or turpentine, but these types of treatments are generally highly discouraged by vets due to the other issues they can cause.

Avoid Caustic Chemicals

There are treatments you can do at home such as bleach but many vets discourage the use of these types of chemicals for a number of reasons. Bleach for example, can cause discomfort if the deeper sensitive tissue of the frog is affected from moderate to severe thrush. In time many horses will begin to associate any kind of chemical treatment with pain which can cause your horse to become more of a handful during regular hoof maintenance and create unneeded problems for you or your farrier. In some cases your horse may just refuse to even pick up their feet at all. Many horse owners may associate this as “bad behavior”, when the truth is it is not bad behavior at all but merely a fear of pain. To avoid causing unnecessary pain, the rule of thumb is to never put anything on your horse’s hooves that you would not put on your own skin.

Examples of unsafe Caustic Chemicals: Copper Sulfate, Bleach, Turpentine, Formaldehyde

Don’t use Oxygen Blocking Materials

I quickly mentioned that caustic chemicals will damage the proteins of the hoof and reduce the ability of the hoof to breathe. Oxygen can also be blocked to the hoof from packed debris or the application of grease and various oils to the sole and the frog. The microbes that cause thrush tend to thrive in areas with very low oxygen. To prevent and treat thrush, we want to make sure that we are not giving it a better area to thrive in by cutting off the supply of oxygen. This is why it is so important to ensure that you are picking your horse’s feet every day and make sure you are maintaining a clean environment for your horse to live in. Many of the greases and oils that are “home remedies” will restrict the amount of oxygen to the tissue, which creates a perfect environment for thrush and other hoof related diseases. Because the low oxygen environment not only creates a perfect place for thrush, it also encourages “hoof eating” microbes to invade defects in the hoof wall which can lead to additional defects and even collapsing of the hoof horn.

Examples of Oxygen Blocking Chemicals: Petroleum Based Tar, Motor Oil, Axle Grease, Pine Tar, bacon Grease

Bacon grease not only blocks the oxygen flow to the hoof but the salt causes the sole and hoof wall to decrease in flexibility due to the high amount of salt. This can increase the chances of cracks and other defects occurring. Also note that wrapping a foot with plastic wrap or other non-breathable materials has the same effect.

So how do I find the right treatment?

I encourage you to avoid “home remedies” as much as possible since many of them are caustic, will block the oxygen flow to the hoof, are untested, or just flat out have no impact on the health of the hoof. There are a ton of remedies and treatments for thrush on the market but many of them are still using the harmful ingredients I mentioned above. When you are looking for the right treatment for your horse, pay attention to the ingredients and ensure they do not contain any material that could be harmful to your horses hoof. Make sure that it is safe to use on your own skin and contains natural ingredients. Here are a few tips to help you find the best and safest treatment for your horse:

  • Contains non-caustic ingredients
  • Does not block oxygen flow to the hoof
  • Contains safe anti-microbial ingredients such as tea-tree oil and/or low levels of iodine
  • Contains anti-microbial ingredients that penetrate into tissue
  • A product that stays in the sulci for extended periods of time

Thrush can lead to some serious issue for your horse and finding the right treatment can be hard. If you begin to see signs of thrush make sure you address it immediately using the correct treatments before it leads to lameness.

Can thrush make a horse lame?

Usually thrush will not lame a horse as long as the disease stays in the external and non-sensitive area of the frog. However, if not treated promptly or correctly, the disease can extend into the sensitive tissue of the frog and make them quite sore. Thrush can progress to a severe lameness that can be seen at a walk, much like an abscess. The infection itself leads to degradation of the frog and can cause enough damage that portions of the structure have to be removed by your vet or farrier.

How can I prevent thrush?

Simply put, keep your horse’s feet clean. Every time you groom your horse or before every ride, you should always pick their feet. Remember to clean the frog and the sulci. Don’t just remove the shavings or dirt that are trapped inside the sole. This is a good habit to get into not only for checking thrush but also for checking to ensure that no objects have found their way into your horse’s hoof such as nails or rocks. A single picking of the hoof can help prevent several possible problems.

You also want to keep your horse’s corral as clean and as dry as you possibly can. In some situations you are unable to make sure that no mud is in the corral. In these cases make sure you clean their feet daily to help minimize the chances of thrush growing.

If you do find signs of thrush in your horse’s feet then you will want to begin by cleaning the feet. Make sure you have removed as much of the black discharge as you possibly can. Then, allow their feet to dry. Use products such as the ones listed above (Kopertox, Thrush buster, etc) to begin treatment of the affected hoof.

Does my horse have thrush or canker?

This is a question that really hits home for me. My wife’s thoroughbred has canker and originally we thought it was thrush and abscesses. Canker is another disease of the hoof that causes the tissue in and around the frog to grow excessively. The cause is unknown and unfortunately there is no known cure at the present time. Although there are some treatments that can make the horse much more comfortable. I am currently working on a series just on canker since it is something that really hits home for me.

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