The signs of thrush are unmistakable and likely to hit your nose first. Thrush has a very strong odor that comes from dead, rotting tissue. You will usually also see a dark-colored slimy substance along the edge of the frog. A case of thrush is not life-threatening, but left untreated the infection can spread to under the sole and penetrate the soft tissue of the hoof, including the laminae. Even certain types of footing like shredded wood can cause problems – as the wood breaks down, its acidity mixes with the pH of the soil and that can encourage bacteria to grow. Add water and you have a recipe for thrush.
Thrush loves to live in the most airless clefts of a horse’s frog and other tissue. Winter is one of thrush’s favorite times of year because it thrives in wet, dirty bedding and areas where mud, mixed with manure, is found. So obviously the best way to prevent thrush is to try to keep your horse on dry, clean ground as much as possible. One way is to use Classic Equine Equipment's stall mats under your bedding to help keep the stall dry. Stall mats can also be used in paddocks or in entry areas to the barn or stall. Instead of walking in the mud, your horse can step on the clean and dry stall mat.
Creating mud free turnouts is also important. Despite the weather, horses seem to be happiest when outside so will spend time in their paddocks even in the rain and snow. This leads to mud and manure becoming mixed – a perfect breeding ground for thrush. Consider using Classic Equine Equipment’s Stable-ity Grid, an interlocking grid like flooring system. Adding your gravel or other material on top of the Stable-ity Grid keeps it from mixing with the dirt below and ultimately becoming a wet dirt-gravel (and sometimes manure) mess.
Many people who have a horse with thrush are embarrassed about the condition as they may feel they aren’t taking proper care of their horse. But thrush is also associated with chronic lameness, hoof imbalance due to poor conformation, a complication of an illness or an after-effect of a hoof abscess.
It doesn’t take long for a case of thrush to go from benign to severe so attack it as soon as it’s discovered. You treat thrush by removing as much dead tissue as possible, kill the organisms that are causing the infection, and reduce the horse’s contact with wet bedding or ground. Your farrier or veterinarian is best equipped to pare away the dead and dying tissue. They can also help you determine how severe the thrush is and this can help you make a decision as to what thrush treatment product to use. Many of the products have the same ingredients, but one brand may be better at treating your horse’s particular organism that another. Use the solution liberally, but carefully as it can stain your hands and clothing.
Your veterinarian may also suggest that you soak the hoof daily in a mixture of warm water and Epsom salts to open and drain deeper pockets of infection. Keeping the hoof clean between soakings is important so applying a protective boot or by wrapping it. Your veterinarian may also prescribe antibiotics and possibly a tetanus booster.
Prevention is the key to avoiding thrush this season, but quick treatment can get your horse “back on his feet” as soon as possible.