Feet First – dealing with thrush this Autumn

The wet weather has descended upon us and the conditions out in the fields are less than inviting.  This can make for the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, which may lead to your horse showing signs of thrush.  Thrush can occur when your horses hooves are subjected to a lot of moisture or contact with wastes that contain moisture.

What is thrush in horses?

Thrush is a very common bacterial infection that occurs in the hoof of the horse around the frog, bars of the frog and sometimes even the heel area.  It is a foul smelling fungal infection that characteristically has a black discharge from the frog area.  Wet muddy fields or soiled damp beds (deep litter style bedding being amongst the worst) are the usual catalysts.  Although it is worth mentioning that poorly trimmed feet can also lead to thrush.  Thrush, on the whole, is much more common in winter than summer.  Lack of oxygen to the hoof area accelerates bacterial growth, this results in softening and damage to soft tissue structures of the horse’s foot.  The main bacterial aggressor is the Fusobacterium necrophorum strain.  Horses with deep clefts, or narrow or contracted heels are more at risk of developing thrush.

How do i know if my horse has thrush?

A horse with thrush may show some signs of being lame or at least uncomfortable.  The unmistakable smelly, slimy black discharge around the frog area is also a clear sign.  Pressing on the frog with your thumb often causes pain as well.

What can i do to treat it?

Keep the feet as clean and dry as possible.  Regularly pick the horses feet out to allow airflow to the area.  Keep the bedding dry and clean if they are stabled.  You may want to restrict turn out if the conditions are particularly wet and muddy.  Regular visits by your farrier should be in place, with the frogs trimmed and toes kept short.

There are a number of antibacterial and fungicidal ointments and treatments available on the market these days to maintain good hoof health.  It is important to remember that the anaerobic bacteria responsible for thrush, hate oxygen most of all.  Keeping the area clean and letting the air circulate is very important.  A healthy frog helps the foot to function more effectively.

How can i prevent it?

It’s not usually a serious condition, and minor cases can be easily treated. But, if allowed to develop, it can penetrate and destroy the deeper, sensitive tissues of the foot. Depending on the extent of the infection, thrush can cause varying levels of lameness and, at its worst, permanent damage.  Catch it earlier and you have a better chance of managing and treating it.

Make sure your horse has dry footing conditions and pick out the feet as much as possible.  Use a metal ended hoof pick and be sure to thoroughly clean the hoof, especially the bars and grooves around the central frog area.  There are many modern day lotions and fluids available on the market to help treat thrush or keep it at bay.  Examples of such products include Equimins hoof disinfectant spray, Leovet Frog Medic, Keratex frog disinfectant or Life Data’s Farriers Finish.


What can my farrier do to help?

Initially, your farrier will also treat the thrush much like a dirty wound, trimming away the loose, diseased frog tissue.  They may apply an iodine based solution if they feel it is required.  In severe cases they can pack the heels or bars with iodine soaked gauze.

Good hoof hygiene and day to day maintenance and cleanliness of the hoof, stable and field will always be of utmost importance in dealing with bacterial issues such as thrush in horses.



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