Nutrition’s Role in White Line Disease Prevention

Equine Nutrition and White Line Disease
Properly balanced nutrition and quality hoof supplements strengthen and increase the density of the hoof wall, reducing the likelihood or severity of White Line Disease.

Burney Chapman, a world-renowned farrier from Lubbock, Texas, became one of the foremost authorities on White Line Disease back in the late eighties and early nineties. At that time, he began to see an alarming increase in the numbers of white line cases he encountered in his shoeing practice both in the U.S. and U.K. Burney determined that it was not a disease of the white line, but rather the result of a fungal invasion of the middle hoof wall. Burney named the condition “Onychomycosis”, or ONC. The disease is also known as Stall Rot, Seedy Toe, Hollow Foot and Wall Thrush. At first blush almost everyone, including Burney, thought White Line Disease was found in environments that were poorly maintained. However, the more he encountered it, he began to realize the disease occurred more often in clean, well-managed stables and barns. He also observed that there was no correlation to breed, color, or front versus back feet; and that the initial stages were non-painful and usually detected by the farrier during routine hoof care.

Today, we know a bit more about White Line Disease and recognize that all horses are exposed. The medial (middle) hoof wall is the structure affected. The damage is caused by organisms commonly found in the environment, both bacterial and fungal. These organisms require a nutrient-rich environment that is lacking oxygen to flourish. The outer hoof wall is more resistant to invasion due to its higher density and exposure to environmental oxygen compared to the low density and lack of oxygen in the middle hoof wall. The third section of hoof wall, the inner hoof wall, is more resistant to invasion due to the proximity of live tissue in this area. The live tissue is not only oxygen rich, thereby inhibiting these opportunist anaerobic organisms, but also has infection fighting abilities.

Due to this, many horse owners approach White Line Disease as an external battle, but White Line Disease prevention begins with internally healthy hooves. For example, picture a castle protected by a strong exterior wall. If the people inside are healthy and thriving, the outside wall can be maintained and kept strong from outside invaders. If the castle is unable to maintain the wall, over time the outside wall will begin to deteriorate, weaken, and crumble; making it easier for outside invaders to penetrate. We can take this same example and apply it to our horse’s hooves. If we are not properly providing for the hoof internally, the outside integrity of the hoof will reflect the same. As the external protection begins to deteriorate, the hoof becomes less resilient to infections such as White Line Disease. Maintaining a healthy hoof internally begins with proper nutrition.

Proper nutrition and hoof quality are directly correlated. In fact, poor hoof quality is one of the first signs of poor nutrition. Developing a balanced diet and feeding a quality hoof supplement can provide the nutrients needed to support stronger and healthier hooves. It may also help promote regrowth and recovery for hooves suffering or damaged from white line disease.

Feeding your horse an unbalanced diet can have the reverse effect. For example, as mentioned in previous articles, excessive selenium supplementation and excessive bran in the horse’s diet are nutritional factors that can increase the risk of White Line Disease or other hoof related issues.

Although proper nutrition alone may not resolve White Line Disease, it is a vital step in building more resilient, stronger and healthier hooves. Protecting hooves externally utilizing a non-caustic topical product while also providing a quality hoof supplement is the most effective way to prevent and treat White Line Disease. Consult with your veterinarian and farrier if your horse is suffering from White Line Disease. If you have any questions, feel free to visit our website or contact us at 1-800-624-1873 or cservice@lifedatalabs.com.

Learn More About White Line Disease 

Learn More About Feeding for Hoof Health.

Overly Dry Hooves

Dry Hooves

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of summer? Lemonade stands? Swimming or summer vacations? Sunscreen or the intense heat? Maybe it is something else entirely. Here at Life Data® the first thing that comes to mind is dry hooves. Although the idea of a “dry hoof” is usually positive, there is a point where dry can become too dry. During the summer, we see a rise in dry hooves due to moisture imbalance resulting from environmental conditions that are too hot and dry.  In this blog, we discuss the problems that can develop with overly dry hooves, and methods to maintain moisture balance.

Consider your own skin. When our skin becomes excessively dry it can begin to flake, crack, or even split. Our skin loses elasticity and weakens. The same occurs to a horse’s hoof. When hooves become excessively dry they lose integrity. Once the hoof integrity begins to deteriorate, several other issues can develop.

 Hoof Quality and Structure

  • Low moisture balance in the hooves can lead to loss of elasticity and a brittle hoof that is more likely to crack, chip, split and crumble. The compromised hoof quality can impede your horse’s ability to work, train, or hold a shoe.

Bacterial and Fungal Infections

  • Your horse’s external hoof wall acts as a barrier against the germ-laden environment. Cracks and chips create a passage way for bacteria to enter the hoof capsule. This presents an opportunity for “hoof-eating” microbes to gain access to the nutrient-rich middle hoof wall. These organisms multiply and further weaken the hoof wall, leading to additional defects and a collapsing hoof horn. Microbial invasions also promote hoof wall separations and the development of White Line Disease.

Maintaining moisture balance is the main objective when attempting to prevent overly dry hooves. Unfortunately, adding moisture to the environment won’t necessarily solve the problem. Just like human skin and nails, your horse’s hooves are composed of dermal tissue. This tissue contains phospholipids that control moisture balance within the hoof. These phospholipids can become overwhelmed in environments that are excessively wet or dry. In other words, rapid changes in moisture from wet to dry can adversely affect the integrity of the hoof. Frequent bathing, pop-up thunderstorms and soaking hooves can all negatively impact the hoof during the summer, especially if the hoof is not properly cleaned and dried afterward. The best way to maintain moisture balance within the hoof is to assist the phospholipids in doing their job. You can do that two ways:

1. Keep Moisture changes to a minimum

  • Restrict your horse’s exposure to excess moisture.
  • Keep your horse in a clean and dry environment.

2. Use a proven hoof conditioner regularly

  • Regularly apply a hoof conditioner that contains phospholipids to promote correct moisture balance.
  • Ensure the conditioner does not contain harmful ingredients and does not block oxygen.
  • A hoof conditioner with antimicrobial properties may help control cracks and crumbling horn.

3. Phospholipid supplementation

  • Feeding a hoof supplement that contains fatty acids and phospholipids will help assist the hoof in regulating moisture balance.
  • Other nutrients provided in the hoof supplement such as amino acids, vitamins and minerals will help build a stronger and healthier hoof that is less prone to crack, chip, split, and crumble.

Moisture balance is a key factor in controlling the environmental conditions that will affect overall hoof health. If not controlled, your horse can develop several issues that will negatively impact its hooves. Maintaining a regular farrier schedule and feeding a quality hoof supplement also assist in managing healthy hooves. Consult your farrier and veterinarian if you have any questions. You may also call us at 1-800-624-1873.

Suggested Hoof Topical for moisture control: Farrier’s Finish®

Suggested Hoof Supplement: Farrier’s Formula® Double Strength

Download Our Life Data® Hoof Care Booklet

Understanding the Horse’s Digestive System

Horse Digestion

Whether it is an animal, plant or other living organism, all living things must have a genetic code and chemical process to maintain life. All living organisms have nutrient requirements that are basically the same at the metabolic level. The difference is how these requirements are absorbed to provide nutrients and energy to live. For example, plants can manufacture the nutrients and energy they need by staying in one place. They can do this by using the energy from sunlight, along with water, oxygen and nutrients from the soil. In essence, they are self-sufficient.  Unlike animal life, plants do not depend on other living things to survive except for the soil microbiome at their roots.

Although horses belong to the same animal class as humans and other mammals, they are metabolically smarter than most other mammals. The nutrient requirements between horses and other mammals are the same at the metabolic level; however the horse’s ability to manufacture nutrients is far more advanced. Humans, for example, must obtain most nutrients they need directly from what they consume. The food and nutrients are delivered to the digestive tract, broken down, and provided to the rest of the body. A horse’s digestion process is much more complex than this. This is in large part due to the hindgut (including cecum and large intestine) of the horse.

The cecum is a large organ within the digestive tract that houses microorganisms. These microorganisms break down the fiber and cellulose the horse consumes and converts the cellulose into additional nutrients and energy that the horse needs to survive. So unlike humans and other monogastric mammals which eat and drink to consume nutrients that are ultimately absorbed, horses not only eat and drink to absorb nutrients but also to feed the microorganism factory within their cecum.

To simplify this process, we can think of the cecum as a “garden” for the horse. This garden enables horses to be mobile in order to consume the nutrients they need. Horses fertilize the garden with the energy and nutrients needed to thrive by providing it with the cellulose of the plants consumed. The garden then produces the “fruits”, or additional nutrients, the horse requires.

Before the domestication of horses they were naturally roamers. They would roam, graze, and find the proper nutrition they needed to fully provide for the hindgut microorganisms. Today, we have restricted the horse’s ability to do this by enclosing them in pastures, paddocks, and barns. We have also increased their natural calorie needs by demanding more of them through riding, training, athletics, and work. Modern feeding practices have altered the natural diet of the horse.  Many complete feeds contain excess fats and sugars (molasses), and are also fortified with additional nutrients. This “all-in-one” concept tethers calories and nutrients together; therefore hard keepers and working horses must consume large amounts of the fortified feed to maintain body weight. This often results in over-supplementation of nutrients, and a diet too rich in fats and carbohydrates. On the other hand, easy keepers are often under-supplemented using this method of feeding. Also note that horses do not have gallbladders. Without a gallbladder the horse is unable to break down and digest the excess fat in many of the modern complete feeds, leading to diarrhea, gas and digestive upset.

Chewing is instrumental to the horse’s digestion because the grinding serves two purposes, to grind the feed down to small particles and to generate salivation. In a horse, salivation is not initiated from smell or taste, but by the physical action of grinding the teeth. For proper digestion and utilization by the hindgut microbes the feedstuffs must be properly chewed and ground down into fine particles. For the horse to achieve suitable grinding dental health must be maintained with proper floating. “Over floating” the teeth will inhibit the horse’s ability to grind. The teeth must have rough opposing surfaces for the horse to be capable of proper grinding – if the teeth are too smooth it would be like trying to grind feedstuffs between two pieces of glass.

The horse’s salivation is also important because it coats and moisturizes the food particles in digestive enzymes to kick start the digestive process and help deliver the particles to the GI tract. Most compound and textured feeds that we are using to replace the natural diet of the horse are “pre-chewed”, meaning that the feed has been ground already. The reduced chewing time restricts the amount of salivation, thus interfering with and bypassing an important part of the horse’s digestion.

Horse Eating

If you do not properly care and provide for your garden at home it will not produce healthy fruit, but only weeds and grass. The same goes for your horse. If you do not feed your horse naturally, the garden within your horse will not provide the proper nutrition your horse needs. This can create health issues for your horse. But, like your garden at home, these weeds can be picked. It is never too late to provide your horse with a natural diet. Remove the fatty foods, the complete feeds, and provide your horse with the diet nature intended it to have. Natural grazing and feeding hay will provide the horse with most of the calories and nutrients the horse needs. Any additional calories needed to maintain body condition should be separated from any additional nutrient intake.  If additional calories are needed, oats, beet pulp, or copra can be fed to meet these increased demands. Proper supplementation with a hay and pasture balancer is also important to replace the nutrients the horse may not be finding in the modern restrained lifestyle. If you have any questions regarding your horse’s diet contact your veterinarian or feel free to contact us at 1-800-624-1873.

Frank Gravlee, DVM, MS, CNS

Scott Gravlee, DVM, CNS

Life Data Labs, Inc.

Makers of Farrier’s Formula® and Barn Bag® Pasture and Hay Balancer

www.lifedatalabs.com