Thrush in horses is a common infection that most, if not all, owners will experience at some time in their equestrian lives. You head into the stable to pick out your horses feet, you get their foot in the air and a foul smell hits you! You pick out the foot and notice that he has a blackish discharge and that his feet seem a bit soft when you use the hoof pick......you’ve probably got thrush. Whilst it might not seem like much it is important to treat this as soon as you find it, remember the old saying – No Foot, No Horse.
Now for the sciencey bit - Thrush is a bacterial or fungal infection that targets the soft tissue structures of the horses’ hooves causing the tissues to rot away. Whilst there are a number of bacteria and fungi that are implicated in thrush, fusobacterium necrophorum is quite a common thrush causing bacteria that is particularly aggressive.
Like any other infection there are degrees of severity. In many cases your horse will not show any signs of pain, discomfort or lameness and you will only notice the clinical signs as you pick the horses feet out. In more severe cases the infection can spread into the deeper structures of the horses’ foot, it is often then that you will see lameness, pain and discomfort.
So, why has this happened? Often horse owners are very sheepish when talking about thrush, there is a common misconception that thrush is only caused by poor husbandry but this is not the case. Obviously poor husbandry is a contributing factor, if you do not pick out the horses feet then mud, dirt, and poo gets lodged in the horses feet, this combined with the warm, wet environment it creates can easily lead to thrush. Stable husbandry is also very important, wet, dirty stables are a breeding ground for bacteria and allow thrush to flourish. Stables that are deep littered are also frequent culprits. Thrush is more commonly seen in the winter months as the wet, muddy conditions in fields are a contributing factor and this extremely wet weather that we have had recently has not helped at all!
In recent years foot conformation has been considered to play a big part in whether your horse will get thrush. It can be more difficult to get all of the dirt out of horses with very deep cleft; long narrow feet which are predisposed to a narrow frog with a involuted central groove or horses with sheared heels which have lead to a gap between the bulbs of the heels. It is also important to keep an eye on your horses’ feet towards the end of their shoeing period as the frogs grow and dirt can become trapped underneath.
So how do you treat it? Well to begin with, like many things catching it early is the key! If at all possible, once you have noticed that your horse has funky smelling feet, you should move your horse to a clean, dry environment. A paper or shavings bed may be a better choice as they are easier to keep clean and dry. It is a MUST that feet should be picked out daily to prevent the infection getting worse. Fusobacterium necrophorum is an anaerobe (which means that it does not like oxygen rich environments) so when you pick out your horses feet the oxygen that this lets in will help to kill the bacteria.
There are several remedies that you can purchase from your local tack shop to help you but the most effective treatment is dilute iodine solution. It is important to work the solution into the cracks of the horses’ feet as it is in these cracks and crevices that the bacteria live!
Should the infection persist you should seek advice from your vet and / or your farrier. All dead and/or damaged tissue may need to be removed until healthy tissue is reached. If your horse is now presenting as lame the vet may be able to prescribe you pain killers to keep him comfortable whilst you treat the infection.
I hope that this has helped! Do you have any other tips for your fellow horse people? Have you had experience of thrush? Let us know, we love to hear from you!