Treating thrush


This hoof (not Freedom's) is labeled to show where thrush is a problem.

For several years I had Freedom in a barn that had real problems with mud in the spring. It caused some issues with hoof wall quality but never in all those years did he have thrush.

Now he’s in a barn with nice dry conditions and yes, he has thrush. I suspect it occurred because of the heat. For the past couple of weeks it’s been so hot that the horses spend all day in their stalls trying to stay a bit cooler and only venture out at night. Although the stalls are cleaned twice a day, that creates the type of environment where thrush can thrive.

So, after being a way for five days, I found thrush in both front feet. Thrush is most immediately apparent because of it’s smell — something along the lines of stinky, dirty socks. It’s visible signs are black areas around the frog and a crumbly texture or a slimy discharge. It is frequently found in the sulci — the grooves along the side and center of the frog. Horses with thrush are not always lame (Freedom is not) but if it’s left long enough it can spread and often the horse will become lame.

Thrush is a a bacteria that lives in the guts of horses, so it’s generally always present. Although it is generally associated with poor horsekeeping practices, there are some horses that are more prone to thrush than others — maybe because they have contracted heels, or because (as with Freedom) a horse’s hooves are not cleaned daily and they are standing inside on wet shavings. That will teach me to go away!

What’s the best way to treat thrush?

If you read about thrush it’s some times called a bacterial infection and other times a fungal infection. In reality, I suspect it’s both. It starts as a bacterial infection but the conditions are ideal for a fungal infection to feed off of the dead tissue.

So, in treating it you need both an anti-fungal and an anti-bacterial treatment. But first you need to thoroughly clean the hoof. Scrubbing the frog with dish detergent and using a stiff brush helps prepare the hoof for treatment and helps to expose the thrush bacteria to air (thrush bacteria is anaerobic). It is also helpful to have your vet or your farrier come and trim away the dead tissue for the same reason.

Lots of people  use a diluted bleach solution to treat thrush. It should work but it also can cause damage to the living tissue and make it harder for the hoof to heal. I prefer using a method that is less caustic and which preferably doesn’t sting. Horses always remember if it hurts when you apply treatments that hurt and it can make them very shy about having their hooves worked on.

In the past I’ve always just used tea tree oil or Manuka honey oil which both have anti-bacterial/anti-fungal properties. I soak cotton balls and treat the frog, inserting the balls  if a crack develops in the heel bulbs using the tip of a hoof pick.

This time, my magic oils didn’t seem to work. Instead I’ve been using a combination of an anti-fungal cream and an antibiotic cream (mixed 1:1). After it’s mixed together I squirt it into the heel grove. I’ve been doing that twice a day and his feet are looking better.

I’ve also started to apply Desitin (diaper ointment) which contains zinc oxide to protect and soothe the frog after treatment. Apparently because thrush makes a horse’s heel/frog tender and itchy they will seek out cooler, urine soaked shavings to try to make them feel better.

Other treatments to consider:

Thrush is one of those problems where there are lots of solutions out there. Here are a few that I’ve come across:

  • Diluted bleach – as mentioned, sometimes this can be too caustic. But it’s not a bad idea if the thrush is mild and you don’t have to squirt it into the heel groove. Certainly it can be applied preventively.
  • Diluted Lysol – this is a very similar approach to bleach. Some people think it’s less caustic.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide – similar to the above.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar – you can soak the hoof in it or apply it with a spray bottle. ACV makes the hoof area more acidic which should help make it an uninviting place for thrush. I suspect it’s more appropriate for mild cases.
  • Cow Mastitis Treatment – called “Today” or “Tomorrow” this is a very popular approach. I’m pretty sure it contains an antibiotic such as penicillin. Generally this is available at farm supply stores or on line. If I had such a place locally, I would try it but it’s easier for me to get the triple antibiotic and athletes foot cream from Costco.
  • Betadine – applying Betadine to the frog or putting on cotton balls and inserting it into the heel groove can be effective.
  • Sugardyne – this is a mixture of sugar and betadine that has been shown to be very effective at treating bacterial infections. I always have some mixed up at the barn.
  • You most likely have two problems going on, the thrush bacteria and then a fungal infection feeding on the dead frog tissue. Because of that, I would put together a mixture at a 1:1:1 ratio of triple antibiotic, 2 antifungals (antifungals usually come in a .5 oz size, as opposed to the 1 oz triple-ab, so I get two different kinds), and zinc oxide (generic desitin). Coat the frogs daily and make sure you get it fully down into the grooves in the frog.
  • There are certainly many commercial thrush treatments available from your tack store. I’ve steered away from them since most of them are fairly caustic and some, like Koppertox, stain everything within a 10 foot radius. However, lots of people have found them to be successful
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4 responses

  1. Very comprehensive list of thrush treatments. I have also found White Lightning to be an excellent treatment and have heard extremely positive things about Clean Trax. Thrush does not always smell – one sure sign is a deep fissure in the middle of the central sulcus. A very helpful forum focused on natural hoofcare is the Horsecity.com hoof forum.

  2. Thanks for the post .Healthy hooves are key to preventing many diseases in horses that can lead to lesions and injuries. There is a direct linkbetween dietary quality and rapid recovery of hoof wall injuries.Hoof Rite was developed by a veterinarian who specializes in equine hoof care and equine dentistry. Hoof Rite contains the necessary vitamins and minerals that specifically target hoof growth and overall hoof health. The main ingredient, D‐Biotin, when supplied at 15 mg per day, has been shown to increase growth rates and hoof hardness. It is a B‐vitamin necessary for coenzyme function to provide for protein and lipid synthesis. Protein is the major building block used for structural integrity of the horn wall.

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