Thrush is a bacterial infection. It occurs within the tissues of the “frog,” which is the structure that is shaped liked the letter “V” between the walls, sole, and bars in the hoof heal. When the bacteria are able to get through the outer horn of the frog, it will begin to cause the tissues there to begin to degrade.
Once the infection sets in, thrush will cause the frog to appear ragged and uneven. As the tissues deteriorate, a very smelly discharge can be experienced. When the thrush is severe, it can cause pain, lameness, and begin to affect the sensitive tissues that are beneath the frog. You may even see blood on hoof picks when cleaning the frog when severe thrush is present.
The good news is that thrush is something that can be treated at home. Mild-to-moderate cases may not even need veterinarian supervision, though severe cases should at least be evaluated before treatment begins. If you want to know how to get rid of thrush in horses, then here is what you’re going to need to do.
Step #1: Solve the Hoof-Capsule Abnormality
An unhealthy frog will always become recessed, which changes the angle/plane of the hoof. Genetic abnormalities can contribute to this development as well. This contributes to the risks of thrush development.
Thrush typically develops because the heels of the hoof capsule and the frog are no longer on the same plane or angle. To help make sure the thrush is being treated, this abnormality will need to be corrected. It could be something as simple as rasping down the heal. When the frog is level with the hoof-capsule, the restored function will begin to promote healing on its own.
Step #2: Clean Out the Affected Area
Once thrush has been identified, the best solution is to treat the affected area as if it were a dirty wound. You will want to trim away any of the frog tissue that has become loose or appears to be diseased. Depending on the level of infection that is present, you may also want to apply dilute bleach to the affected area.
Not every horse owner likes the idea of a dilute bleach cleansing, so there are alternative solutions that can be used to make sure the affected area is thoroughly clean. A Lysol dilution used as a foot bath can also work, as can a standard dish-washing detergent with a strong scrubbing brush.
There are also some natural products that may be used with horses that are sensitive to detergents and disinfectants. Grapefruit seed extract that is mixed with water is a highly recommended method to help clean out mild cases of thrush on sensitive horses. You’ll need to apply two drops of extract for every ounce of water.
Apple cider vinegar, Tea Tree Oil, or Oregano Oil also have been reported to be natural alternatives that horse owners have successfully applied.
If you have trouble getting into the cracks of a hoof where thrush may be lingering, you can inject the cleansing agents directly into the location. Using antibiotic creams or antifungal creams may help to aid the healing process after cleansing out the foot before applying the next step.
Step #3: Apply a Mild Astringent
Once you’ve cleaned out the area, it is usually beneficial to apply an anti-thrush astringent to the affected tissues. Common astringents like Betadine or Desitin are useful for this step. If you are using a different solution or a homemade option, make sure that you keep the iodine within the solution to levels that are less than 2% to avoid creating a caustic environment.
Sometimes there will be deep cracks in the hoof where a standard cleaning method will not be able to reach places where thrush may be lurking. In this situation, you’ll need to take a more aggressive approach with the hoof. A scrub brush can get into those cracks to keep the hoof clean and then you can stuff cotton soaked in your preferred astringent into them to promote the healing process.
Once you’ve applied the astringent, it is important to make sure that the hoof has a chance to dry completely before allowing the horse to continue with the daily routine.
Step #4: Change the Bedding
If the horse has straw in the stall, then it is useful to change it out for either sawdust or shavings. Straw tends to retain moisture better, which can give the thrush the environment it needs to continue surviving even though you are treating it.
This is an important step to consider because horses that are affected by thrush will usually end up standing in their urine since they’ve been stalled. That wetness will allow the thrush to continue thriving. Just putting on an ointment like Desitin to protect the hoof from wetness is not always enough to stop the moisture exposure.
Step #5: Keep Repeating
You will need to keep cleaning out the affected hoof on a daily basis at minimum. If there is substantial discharge, you may need to clean the hoof 2-4 times per day to help promote the healing process. If you do not keep the affected hoof clean every day and do so very thoroughly, then your treatments will wind up being a waste of time and could drag the treatment process out by several months.
Some horses may develop a scab-like covering on the frog. This may not be an indication of healing as the thrush can survive under the scab. Make sure you’re using a product that kills more than superficial thrush for best results. Always follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer for the successful application of any product.
Step #6: Talk to Your Veterinarian
Some cases of thrush can be very stubborn and stay active even though you’ve done everything right. In this circumstance, it is best to speak with your veterinarian about the possibility of an antibiotic. This will cause the bacteria in the hoof to die off so the healing process can begin, but may also require you to handle additional health issues with the horse over the course of treatment.
Knowing how to get rid of thrush in horses begins with trimming the hoof. If the frog and hoof-capsule are not on the same plane, then no treatment will be 100% effective against thrush. Apply harsh agents as a last-ditch effort to kill off the thrush may also cause more damage to the frog, which can cause healing times to be increased even further.
Once you have the frog back where it is supposed to be, the hoof should heal quickly and restore the health of the horse. Get the first step right and the other steps will be much easier to complete.