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Preventing Thrush in Horses

horse hooves
What Is a Farrier?

Farriers are skilled craftspeople who practice the profession of caring for the hooves of equines, including horses and donkeys. While the word “farrier” comes from the Latin “ferrarius” (meaning “of iron,” or “blacksmith”), there is a difference between a farrier and blacksmith. A farrier does receive training in blacksmithing in order to fabricate a horseshoe, but a blacksmith who works with iron might not ever work with horses.

Farriers possess full knowledge of the physiology and anatomy of a horse’s lower limb and are also trained in the creating and proper fitting of shoes. They also keep horses’ hooves trimmed to maintain the proper shape and length that are essential for maintaining balance. They use nippers to cut away sections of dead frog and sole and clean the feet to ensure a hygienic, thrush-free environment.

Thrush is a bacterial infection, and one of the most common diseases, affecting horses’ hooves. You will likely know it when you see — and smell — it. The pungent, tar-like black discharge collects in the sulci, or grooves, along the sides of the frog, the triangular structure that covers about 25 percent of the hoof’s bottom.

If thrush is left untreated and progresses into the sensitive tissues, the infection can move into the deeper grooves, causing the frog to deteriorate and resulting in great pain for the horse. In severe cases, lameness is possible if the thrush penetrates the sole and starts to erode vital structures in the foot. Sometimes, portions of the diseased frog will need to be removed by an equine veterinarian or farrier.

Prevention Tips

If thrush is diagnosed early, it is easy to treat and will heal properly.  In addition, there are precautions you can take to help prevent the condition, given that it is most commonly associated with poor living conditions. For instance, horses that often stand on damp and dirty surfaces are more prone to developing thrush, because the bacteria that cause the condition thrive in this type of environment.

To help prevent thrush:

  • Provide your horse with a clean and dry environment that does not encourage the growth of the organisms that cause thrush. Bedded stalls are preferable; standing on rubber mats is another option for avoiding wet conditions.
  • Regularly exercise your horse to ensure consistent and healthy circulation in the hooves.
  • Pick the hooves every day and be sure to thoroughly clean out the frog and the sulci. Inspect the hooves for foreign objects, such as rocks or nails, at the same time.
  • Adhere to a regular shoeing cycle to prevent the flaps of the frog from growing over the sulci and trapping dirt and moisture.
  • Have your farrier examine your horse's hooves and trim the frog if it is overgrown. Removing the infected portions will encourage better air circulation around the frog and expedite the healing process.

If you have any questions about how to prevent thrush or if your horse is exhibiting thrush symptoms, contact our office for help. 

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