The Black Plague - How to Treat Thrush in Horses’ Hooves

You’ll probably smell it before you see it. That overpowering aroma of noxious rotting cheese that is the unmistakable signature of thrush in your horse’s hooves. Thrush might not be as damaging to horse health as laminitis. However, it can be a major recurring annoyance and still do some mischief if not treated promptly.

As already indicated, the foul stench is your first sign of this nasty bacterial infection, which is accompanied by an utterly unappetizing black discharge from the central and collateral sulci beside the frog. In all but the most serious of cases, you’re unlikely to notice much if any change in your horse’s behavior or gait. However, this is no cause for complacency. If left too long, the infection can eat away at the frog, penetrate the sole and attack vital equine foot structures, such as the digital cushion, heel bulbs and hoof wall.

How Do Horses Get Thrush?

Common wisdom has it that thrush is caused by poor stable hygiene and extended time standing on wet, muddy ground. Keratolytic bacteria (a fancy way of saying that they like keratin, the stuff from which hooves, nails and hair are made) such as the rather ominous sounding Fusobacterium Necrophorum and it pals love wet, urine and manure soaked mud or bedding and will soon find their way into the hoof. Sounds simple, right? Well it turns out that it it’s not quite that straightforward. Some horses can loiter around in manure all day long and never suffer an infection. Others can frolic on dry ground and bedding, yet still end up with the telltale foul odour that makes it difficult for them to win friends and influence people (or horses, for that matter). Like most things equine, it’s a little bit more nuanced than the prevailing wisdom would dictate. That’s not to say that damp, soiled surfaces underfoot are not the primary cause; they certainly are. However, there are numerous additional factors at play:

  • Individual Predisposition:
  • Some horses have a built-in, genetic predisposition to acquiring the infection, while others enjoy a certain level of natural resistance. Chronically lame animals seem to be at particularly high risk of recurring infection. This could be due to pre-occurring damage to the frog causing it to be naturally more susceptible to secondary infection, or the horse being somewhat immuno-compromised due to previous injury or illness and therefore less able to fight off the bacteria naturally.

  • Foot Conformation
  • The natural shape of horses’ feet can predispose them to thrush. A longer, narrower foot that is prone to contracted heels will frequently have a deeper, narrower frog with compressed grooves that trap bacteria-laden dirt or sand and are harder to clean out with ordinary foot care. Such feet are a happy breeding ground for the bacteria. The same could occur if the animal has suffered an injury that has resulted in a deformity of the frog.

  • Poor Shoeing
  • Shoes are notorious for trapping dirt and bacteria beneath the hoof, which means party time for our good friends Necrophorum and its mates. In particular, if you’re shoeing with a heart-bar shoe and are not careful to properly align the frog plate, you can easily damage the frog and leave it highly susceptible to infection. Regular shoes can also pose risks if nailed too far back, as this will impede the natural expansion and contraction of the heel, with flow-on impact on the frog, which can shrink or rot away. Lastly, shoeing with full pads traps moisture between the pad and the foot and impedes the natural airflow that would otherwise assist to fight the build-up of bacteria. On a more fundamental level; even when done perfectly, nailing a shoe into a hoof creates an opening for microscopic organisms to infiltrate the foot structure and get to work in an environment that is ideal for them. With all this in mind, you’re probably not surprised that we are such staunch proponents of transitioning your horse to barefoot, and there is little question that doing so can make a significant contribution to keeping thrush at bay

  • Poor Foot Care
  • If you’re not cleaning and picking out your horse’s feet regularly and thoroughly, there should be little surprise if thrush develops. Such fundamental foot care is one of your primary defences against this pernicious invader and neglecting it or taking shortcuts is asking for trouble.

    How to Prevent Thrush in Horses

    Irrespective of whether your trusty steed appears to be thrush free, maintaining good stable or shelter hygiene and avoiding having him or her standing around for excessive periods in wet, soiled ground is your safest bet. Pair this up with a thorough and conscientious foot care regime, and you will give yourself the best chance of banishing the dreaded pong.

    How to Treat Thrush in Horses Hooves

    Sometimes thrush can rear its smelly head despite the best of care. If your horse is infected, it’s crucial to ensure that you do the following:

    • Pare away all the damaged frog tissue until you expose the healthy portion to oxygen.
    • Apply common anti-thrush treatments such as formalin, chlorine bleach, phenol, povidone iodine or other caustic solution topically to the affected area.
    • Apply an anti-biotic spray.
    • Provide the cleanest, driest environment possible. If stabling, supply plenty of clean, fresh bedding. If turning out, try to keep the horse in the area with the best drainage.
    • Thoroughly clean and pick the feet every day.
    • Speak to your vet or farrier about any homoeopathic remedies that they might recommend.

    With common sense and a bit of work, thrush is usually fairly quick and easy to clear up. In severe cases, or if it lingers, you may need to treat it with antibiotics or more aggressive trimming, which may then require bandaging.

    Can Hoof Boots Assist in Preventing or Curing Thrush?

    Oxygen is Bacterial Enemy Number One and will kill it on contact. Logically, then, anything that increases airflow to the foot is going to assist in preventing the onset of thrush or helping to clear it up. As indicated above, taking your horse barefoot is clearly at the top of this list. If you’re putting your horse in boots, then you need to ensure that you’re using the highest-quality products available. Scoot Boots provide outstanding ventilation and breathability, brilliant drainage, are incredibly easy to clean and will not get soggy, heavy or wet when riding through muddy terrain. These are all the qualities you need to have peace of mind that those hooves are well looked after, even when they’re in a boot.

    Hoof boots alone are not a magic pill for thrush. However, when used as part of a comprehensive prevention or treatment regime, they can certainly make a substantial contribution. Contact us today to find out how Scoot Boots can make the difference to the health of your horses’ hooves.


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