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Does My Horse Have Thrush?

It's very possible that the answer is "yes"!

While it's true that thrush is most often seen during wet conditions, we're still seeing horses with it even during this often rainless Wisconsin summer. Wet conditions certainly promote the environment for thrush, but they are not the only cause. An unhealthy hoof can also cause thrush formation. Several studies have claimed that up to 90% of domestic horses have an active thrush infection -- some mild and some severe.

Take heart! The dryer conditions we've been experiencing this summer make this a PERFECT time to eradicate thrush from your horse's life!

How do you know if your horse has thrush? Thrush doesn't always present itself with the worst-case scenario of black oozing goo and that horrible smell that's known as "trench foot".

In the early stages, thrush can begin as a flaky sole with shiny black areas along the wall/sole connection. It can affect the frog grooves, the white line, and even the sole.

How to detect thrush in your horse:

1. Look at your horse's hooves. When you're cleaning them, do they look healthy with a clear distinction between the parts? A horse's hoof should have wide, thick, calloused, uniform frogs that blend into wide, smooth, shiny soles and clear white line connections. Warning signs of thrush include a chalky, flakey sole; a tattered, black frog; deep crevices that trap manure and bedding. There is often a cleft formed in the center of the frog. That cleft does not dry out, which is why thrush can continue despite drought conditions.

2. Feel your horse's hooves. Are you able to clean them easily? Does your horse's hoof feel soft and shiny or chalky and sticky? Is there soft black material in deep cracks and grooves? When you press on your horse's frog, is it strong and very firm, or is it weak? Does it give easily to pressure like raw meat?

3. Smell your horse's hooves. Yep, that's what I said. Smell them! Naturally kept and trimmed horses' hooves should not have an odor other than perhaps a mild manure odor or a damp earth/grassy odor.

What can you do to prevent thrush?

Thrush is not something your horse can "catch" -- it's a symptom of something else. Several factors may contribute to predisposing your horse to thrush.

1. Practice good hoof care. Regular visits from your farrier can help promote a balanced and supportive hoof. If your horse's hooves are overgrown or poorly trimmed, they are more likely to develop thrush due to the unnatural hoof shape and poor circulation. A good trim promotes blood flow and function, which helps to prevent or eradicate thrush.

2. Watch your horse's diet. A high sugar or concentrated diet encourages the growth of thrush -- sort of like acne of the hoof! Too many horses are fed processed feeds and grains that are over-supplemented and have too many additives. Feeding a diet of free-choice grass hays can improve your horse's health and strengthen its immune system. Ask Dr. Suzanne about the best feed choice for your horse!

3. Make sure your horse is moving! Horses that spend a great deal of time in stalls or in small turnouts are at a much higher risk of developing thrush. Urine and manure-soaked bedding is a prime breeding ground for thrush bacteria. Additionally, horses that are standing in stalls for long periods and are not moving as they would naturally, and extended standing does not promote good blood flow to their hoof.

Treating Thrush

The best treatment for thrush is prevention! Get a good trim. Be diligent about picking out your horse's hooves and removing debris daily. If your horse lives at least part of the time in a stall, keep the bedding clean and dry. If your horse lives mostly outside, remove manure regularly and make sure he has dry places to stand such as a 3-sided shelter with rubber mats on the ground. Ask Dr. Suzanne to show you how to examine your horse's hooves during your next visit if you're unsure of what to look for.

Dr. Suzanne or your farrier may trim away any frog or hoof that is unhealthy or areas that allow the trapping of bacteria.

If the thrush is mild, treatment may consist of daily hoof cleaning and the application of a commercial, over-the-counter topical treatment such as Kopertox. Dr. Suzanne recommends injecting Kopertox into the clefts of the frog until it oozes out. This treatment should be continued daily (or at least every other day) until there is no cleft remaining. Mild cases of thrush show improvement within a week of daily cleaning and treatment.

A moderate to severe case of thrush, or a case that is not responding to the treatment described above, may require more advanced treatment by Dr. Suzanne. This may mean cutting more of the affected area away and using antibiotics or other prescription medications. Moderate to severe cases of thrush could take several months for the frog and hoof to grow out new, healthy tissue.

Ask Dr. Suzanne about the best thrush treatment to use for your horse. Most thrush cases are usually mild and will resolve with over-the-counter thrush products like Kopertox and good hoof care. If left untreated, thrush can become a serious issue and lead to lameness.

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