Hoof infections and thrush
Article provided by Rohan Fox an Equine Podiatrist based in North Wales, covering North & Mid Wales, Cheshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and the Midlands. http://www.hoofworks.co.uk
What is thrush?
Thrush is a problem for many horses at this time of year. Bacteria and fungus feed on damaged tissues on the sole and frog, creating a black, foul-smelling coating. At worst, thrush can track up into the soft tissues of the foot and cause lameness.
How can we treat it?
Old-fashioned thrush treatments like bleach, Stockholm Tar, hydrogen peroxide and iodine are efficient at killing infection, but they also kill healthy hoof tissue, providing a tasty layer of damaged horn that encourages thrush bugs to recolonise and reinfect the hoof.
Instead, try soaking your horse's feet with a simple Milton solution of 1 capful to a gallon of water for 10 minutes three times a week. This will kill the thrush bugs without harming the hoof. Very stubborn infections will benefit from a smothering of Sudocreme after soaking. If however the thrush infection is so severe that it’s causing tenderness or not responding to any other treatment, contact an Equine Podiatrist to see if using CleanTrax solution would be appropriate for your horse.
A disclaimer about topical treatments: There seems to be a large variance in the bugs actually present in thrush. Whether it's a bacterial difference, or a fungal difference, it's very hard to be exactly sure which treatment is going to work differently depending on the part of the country. For example, Wiltshire appears to respond very well to Sudocreme, whereas North Wales seems to respond more favourably to Borax or Milton. The Midlands seems to respond very well to White Lightning Gel, but less well to Sudocreme. Which means that it's a little bit of trial and error to find out what works best; which is why I generally suggest using Milton and Sudocreme over trying other products such as White Lightning or any of the Red Horse products since they're cheaper and generally as effective anyway!
A more long term approach: Diet.
Thrush infections thrive on damaged hoof tissue. Now, poor quality hoof horn is much more easily damaged and infected than strong hoof growth, so it makes sense to take steps to grow strong hoof tissue. A common cause of poor hoof quality is inflammation of the coria that manufacture the horn. In the photo on the right here, you can see that there's pockets of thrush that have eaten their way into the frog. Not only that though, you can clearly see that the frog and parts of the sole, have blood products in them. This is where the thrush is going for! This can often be reversed by drastically reducing the overall sugar and starch content of the horse's diet, and addressing mineral balance.
Typically, most horses with chronic thrush problems that I've had on my books were fed on high starch mollassed grain feeds like coarse mix, turned out on too rich/too much grass or were often being fed on a collection of supplements that contained too much of certain minerals and too little of others. The general diet I suggest for horse owners who have a thrush problem is to first change their horse's feed to a low sugar chaff (such as Hi-Fi Lite), a unmollassed sugarbeet (such as Kwik-Beet) while supplementing the horses RDA of Magnesium Oxide (about 12.5g of Magnesium or a 15ml spoon for a 500kg horse) as well as a small quantity of salt, which I typically supplement at 15g per day.
This is the feed I suggest owners give to their laminitic horses as well, because of the low sugar content of all the component feeds. Ideally feeds should have a combined sugar and starch content of less than 10%-- you might have to ask the feed manufacturers for their actual analysis because it's not something they're legally obliged to publish. Beware hidden sugars in grass and ryegrass hay or haylage too--rye forages need to be soaked for at least an hour if a stalky late cut meadow hay is not available. I also suggest all supplements are removed for a while, so that we can begin to isolate the problem. In most cases, the thrush--and the feet--will improve. If they don't, you might want to consider contacting an EP or an equine nutirionist to arrange a grass or forage analysis to see exactly what is missing in your horse's diet. Supplementing the minerals and vitamins that are missing is always a better idea than feeding a general broad spectrum supplement.
A more long term approach: Environment.
The most common belief that people have, is that muddy fields cause thrush. This however, is completely false! If the horse has damaged tissue in the foot already, then standing in a muddy field won’t help – because it provides a perfect way for the outside bacteria to track up into the frog. The only way that standing in a muddy field can cause thrush in a healthy foot, is if the horse is standing in the mud 24 hours a day, and is letting the feet get waterlogged, which will in turn cause damage and thrush.
In fact, the one major environmental factor that I see contributing to thrush on a regular basis is choice of stable bedding. Shavings and hemcore are the best types of bedding for feet, since they dry the hoof out nicely. Straw and newspaper however, are incredibly damaging. While I have no official research to back me up, I can say that I’ve seen some very strange things in horses frogs when they’re stabled for long periods of time on either surface. I suspect that, for some reason, there’s a chemical reaction between the ammonia and the bedding that’s causing physical damage to the frog itself. The one rule that should always be followed when a horse is stabled for long periods, however, is that the box should be skipped out regularly and that any faeces that have collected in the feet should be picked out – because research from Sue Kempson in Scotland has proved that one of the most damaging organic substances to hoof horn is horse poo, and as we know, any damage to the horn can allow infection and thrush in!
As always, please feel free to drop me an email and ask any questions that this article has caused to arise!
If you're at all worried about thrush in your horse's feet, don't hesitate to contact your trimmer, vet or farrier and have a discussion with them about it if none of the interventions listed here work!
Rohan Fox is an Equine Podiatrist based in North Wales, covering North & Mid Wales, Cheshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and the Midlands.
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