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Thrush and Other Hoof Maladies

By Ashley Gasky, AF of Precision Hoofcare

You know that telltale smell, you have felt that sinking feeling when your farrier stands up and says your horse has it. Thrush. Also known as White Line Disease or Seedy Toe. These conditions are unsightly as well as painful. If your horse is suffering from any type of hoof malady, his gait may be altered, often resulting in toe-first landings that are unnatural to the horse and uncomfortable to ride. Infected hooves commonly have trouble holding shoes. Depending on the severity of the infection, lameness can result as well. The list of hoof complications is endless. Luckily, the treatments and methods for prevention are similar.

The two areas of the hoof most susceptible to disease are the frog and the white line. The frog is the triangular pad in the center of the hoof. It should be tough and leathery, and it should be free from crevices or flaps. The central sulcus of the frog should be a slight depression, not a crevice. Thrush usually congregates on the frog and surrounding areas. This rear portion of the foot can become quite painful, and the horse will be reluctant to bear weight. A veterinarian could diagnose this as caudal heel pain, which can contribute to navicular issues if not resolved.

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This image shows how rapidly a thrush infection can progress from an external problem to a painful condition affecting sensitive structures of the hoof.

The white line is the junction of the hoof wall and sole and should be tightly connected along the entire circumference of the hoof. White Line Disease (WLD) gets its name as it degrades the white line connection. The crumbling hoof is not painful in and of itself, as it takes a long time to reach sensitive structures. Most commonly, WLD creates issues when attempting to nail shoes to the hoof.

The most common factor influencing hoof health is environment. Wet, dirty spaces harbor bacteria and fungus, including those that cause Thrush and WLD. The easiest thing to do is to change and clean the environment. The hoof’s environment can be improved by simply picking feet, or it may require something as involved as re-surfacing a pasture to eliminate mud holes.

This is a good example of a healthy environment for your horse's hooves. It is a Pea Gravel dry lot in Broadalbin, NY.

This is a good example of a healthy environment for your horse’s hooves. It is a Pea Gravel dry lot in Broadalbin, NY.

Unfortunately, once an infection has set in, treatment beyond basic care is required. Your vet and hoof care professional may make the decision to remove the infected tissue to promote air circulation and healthy growth. This practice requires regular treatments to allow healing.

This is an example of removing the infected tissue in a case of White Line Disease.

This is an example of removing the infected tissue in a case of White Line Disease.

Additionally shoe removal, even temporarily, can be beneficial. This makes the hoof easier to treat, and it eliminates new nail holes as opportunity for infection. This is not a bare vs. shod debate, but a shoe can make a Thrush-prone horse sound by removing a stimulus to painful structures while doing nothing to treat the cause of the discomfort.

My personal hoof health routine includes picking, then scrubbing with a wire brush, and application of a liquid topical and barrier cream to block excess moisture. There are many topical treatments that can be applied to the affected hoof, including liquid, powder, and paste applications:

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Liquid soaking is also a great treatment and preventative measure. I personally do semi-annual hoof soaks. They require time and patience but pay dividends in terms of cleansing infected tissue and overall hoof health.

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The Cheshire Horse carries these CleanTrax products, which are ideal for executing effective and easy hoof soaks:

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Hoof diseases are not entirely environmental, and while you cannot expect a horse to live in squalor and have stellar hooves, some do, while their herdmates’ feet practically biodegrade. Why? I believe the difference is partly genetic, part hoof form, and also diet-related.  If you have worked with your hoof care professional to improve hoof form, reduce the hooves’ exposure to excess moisture, and you are still plagued by Thrush or WLD the answer may be in the horse’s nutrition. Mineral imbalances, especially copper and zinc, which can be deficient in North Eastern soils, can predispose the hoof to infection. Coat bleaching and red tips on the ends of black manes and tails are also clues to an imbalanced diet.

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An ounce of prevention in the form of clean, balanced hooves can be worth a pound of labor-intensive cure. Being able to recognize the signs of hoof disease will enable you as a horse owner to be proactive with treatment, and involve your vet and hoof care practitioner as required.

This hoof has Thrush and a severely degraded frog as a result. The central sulcus has become a cavern between the heel bulbs.

This hoof has Thrush and a severely degraded frog as a result. The central sulcus has become a cavern between the heel bulbs.

This frog is healthy, lacking large crevices of infection.

This frog is healthy, lacking large crevices of infection.

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