For humans, thrush occurs in the mouth. It creates a white, sticky paste that sits on your tongue and creates sores that seem to take forever to go away. In horses, thrush doesn’t occur in the mouth – it occurs in the hoof.
You can tell if a horse has thrush because the fungal infection will cause an overwhelming rotting odor to come from the hoof. The fungus, called spherophorus neaophrous, will actually feed on the tissues of the hoof. The end result is a very smelly, black ooze that comes out from the foot.
Now here’s some good news: thrush rarely causes a health hazard. It rarely even causes lameness. You’ll just need to know how to treat thrush in horses and likely revise your management routine to repeat an outbreak from occurring.
Why Does Thrush Occur in Horses?
Thrush will thrive when a horse is kept confined in unsanitary conditions. A horse who stands in clean mud is likely not going to develop this fungal infection. A horse who is standing in their own urine or manure all day, however, will very likely develop the infection.
There are additional risk factors that may encourage thrush development as well: overgrown hooves, contract hooves, little exercise, and hoof pads are all believed to contribute. Horses who are also chronically lame will also tend to develop thrush within the hoof of the leg that is bothering them.
What Products Are Used to Remove Thrush?
There are several commercial products available that will take care of a thrush problem in a relatively short amount of time. Yet in many ways, the horse’s hoof is your best option for taking care of a thrush infection. If a horse is having too much stall time or the hoof care is improper, then the hoof cannot perform its ability to self-clean.
Yet many horses develop thrush despite plenty of exercise and a clean stall. When this happens, the best option will always be to work with your veterinarian first. You can look at the shape of the hoof, create a treatment plan to correct the thrush issue, and be 100% confident that you and your horse are on a path toward fungus removal.
When it comes to the actual treatment of the infection itself, there are several common products that are recommended. This may include Thrush Remedy, Thrush XX, or Thrush Buster.
Some veterinarians may recommend using homemade treatments for thrush instead of a commercial product. The advantages of using this option are that you’ll save money – commercial thrush products can be $300 or more. You’ll also not need to worry about the side effects of exposure to the medication.
Good homemade treatments for thrush include using vinegar, iodine, or hydrogen peroxide. Vinegar is quite effective at removing thrush, but keep in mind that some types of vinegar may stain the hoof while being applied. That may change how you visually see the infection and could limit the effectiveness of your swabbing.
Despite what some websites might advise, you should never use formalin or bleach on the hoof of a horse.
Caustic agents will potentially do more harm than good in removing a thrush infection because they can harm or kill the sensitive tissues and structures of the hoof.
How Do You Get Rid of Thrush in Horses?
In order to get rid of the fungal infection, you’ll need to attack the thrush from two different directions. You’re going to need to kill the infection that is in the hoof and then you’re going to need to change the living conditions for the horse.
There are products that tell you to pack the hoof of the horse to treat the fungal infection. These should be avoided. Packing hooves with any sort of product on your own is dangerous because excessive pressure on the foot can kill the tissues down there, creating an even larger problem for you to correct.
Veterinarians may sometimes advice using a poultice or hoof packing products to draw out the infection from deep within the hoof. This should only be completed under the direct supervision of the veterinarian.
Some products say that you can just splash the hoof of the horse with a liquid and it will kill the infection. This may not be true either. If a horse has hooves that have cracks or unique crevices in them, then there’s a good chance the fungus is going to be living in there and the liquid will never reach it.
For that reason, we highly recommend you take these four steps in the treatment of thrush in horses so that you can ensure the needed medication is applied to all affected areas. You will want to follow these steps on a daily basis until the infection has been removed.
Step #1: Create a cotton swab. You can do this by wrapping cotton ball wisps around the end of a hoof pick. This will allow you to access areas of the hoof that other cotton products may not be able to reach.
Step #2: Soak the cotton swab in your preferred treatment solution. For most horses, a commercial solution or a homemade solution will work to eliminate the thrush. Thoroughly soak the cotton swab with your preferred treatment so that there are no dry areas remaining.
Step #3a: Swab the hoof as if you were picking it out. You’ll want to move down the sides of the frog, making sure that you get into every crack or crevice the hoof happens to have. You may need to apply some pressure when applying your preferred treatment to make sure it reaches all infected areas.
Step #3b: If the hoof has shelves or flaps because the frog has already been compromised, then you’re going to need your farrier to remove them. You’ll find that it will be much easier to reach the infection when this step is taken. They don’t necessarily need to be pared away, but the infection may persist if it is not done. Some farriers might recommend packing or using a poultice instead of removing the shelves or flaps – consult with a veterinarian before taking action against the thrush if this is the case.
Step #4: Take the swab and run it over any other crevices that are remaining on the hoof. You’ll also want to make sure that you are swabbing the cleft of the frog as well.
As you follow these steps, you will begin to notice that the cotton swab will turn a very dark color. This is a good sign because it means you are cleaning away dead tissues and removing surface components of the infection. Repeat the cleaning steps on each affected hoof until your homemade cotton swab comes away from the hoof about as clean as you had it when you started the latest set of cleaning steps.
How to Care for a Horse’s Environment to Stop Thrush
One of the best ways to prevent thrush from developing in horses is to turn them out into a clean field on a regular basis. This will allow them to get the level of exercise they want, get them out of the stable, and the experience can even assist with the thrush treatment efforts you are using.
Thrush thrives in a damp environment, so it will also be necessary to keep the horse in a stall that is drier and cleaner than it was previously. You will also need to give your horse extra exercise if you don’t have a field where you can turn them out.
If you can keep up with these efforts, then you will also be taking proactive measures to prevent another case of thrush from occurring in the future.
No Matter What I Do, the Thrush Still Returns...
Some horses just seem to be more prone to thrush infections than others. You can keep them in the cleanest, driest stable and they’ll still get the infection. You can have them on a continuous turn out and they’ll still pick up thrush. No matter how many proactive steps you take, you come in during your morning chores to that awful thrush odor. It happens.
For horses that really struggle with recurrent thrush infections, the best course of action to take is preventative cleaning. Swab down the hooves every day using the four steps above and that will do a good job of controlling the problem.
You will want to make one adjustment: daily home treatments or commercial products can dry out the hoof if you are applying them every day. Try cutting down the preparation in half to prevent this from happening. Use one-part of your preferred treatment and one-part glycerin and swab the hoof with it to prevent an infection from developing.
Thrush can be a headache, but it doesn’t have to be a health issue when it is properly treated and the horse is properly maintained. Follow these steps and you’ll be able to know how to treat thrush in horses.