No horse owner wants to pick up the hoof of their horse to find the signs of thrush staring back at them. Seeing that blackish discharge associated with thrush or even catching a whiff of its unpleasant odor can ruin anyone’s day. We do a lot to maintain the health of our horse’s hooves, and fighting thrush can sometimes seem like a never-ending battle. There are many tips and home hoof remedies that claim to be the answer to curing thrush, but many of these “remedies” only allow the infection to spread or kills the microbes only on the surface. As equine science has progressed over the years, many of these “remedies” are now red flagged and known to cause more harm than help. Unfortunately, many of these substances that were once deemed “safe” are still being used today to treat equine thrush. Much of this is to do to a misinformed public or even due to the tradition of use. In this article, we will discuss many of these unsafe or ineffective practices, and what to look for when finding a proper answer to thrush.
Caustic Chemicals Are Harmful to the Sole and Frog
It is important to remember that, as tough as the hoof capsule may seem, it’s approximately 95% protein. This is the same as your own hair and skin and is likewise susceptible to damage. Application of a caustic chemical to the frog and sole essentially “chemically cooks” the exposed proteins. Yes, you may be killing many of the microbes causing the infection, but you are doing so at a cost to good sole and frog tissue. The resulting necrotic tissue not only becomes a food source for additional microbes, but the damage to the proteins seals off oxygen therefore reducing the tissue’s ability to breathe. The surviving deeper-seated microbes have a low oxygen environment to divide with subsequent re-eruption weeks later. Chemically cooking the surface proteins to create a deeper low oxygen environment hasn’t solved the problem but has counter-productively created a recurring problem. Many horse owners who use caustic materials to fight thrush will find themselves fighting the problem repeatedly as the microbial invasion returns over time.
Caustic Chemicals can Create Fear of Treatment
Caustic materials can induce discomfort if the deeper sensitive tissue of the frog is affected from moderate to severe thrush. Many horses will begin associating the chemical treatment with pain. This can cause the horse to become uneasy during regular hoof maintenance and create unnecessary problems for you or your farrier. In some instances, the horse may even begin to refuse to pick up their hooves entirely. Some horse owners may associate this as “bad behavior,” when in truth it is not bad behavior. It is a fear of pain. To avoid creating pain, a good rule of thumb is to never apply anything onto your horse’s hooves that you would not apply to your own skin.
Examples of Unsafe Caustic Chemicals: Copper Sulfate, Bleach, Turpentine, Formaldehyde
Don’t Use Materials that Block Oxygen
We briefly mentioned that caustic chemicals will denature proteins of the hoof and reduce the hoof’s ability to breathe. Oxygen can also be blocked to the hoof from packed debris or from the application of grease and oils to the sole and frog. The microbes that cause thrush thrive in areas with little to no oxygen. To prevent or treat thrush we must ensure that we are not nurturing the microbes by cutting off the supply of oxygen. This is why it is also important to clean and pick the hoof every day and maintain a clean environment for your horse. Many of these oils and greases that are “home remedies” will restrict the amount of oxygen to the tissue, creating a perfect environment for thrush and other hoof related diseases. The low oxygen environment not only creates an ideal site for the organisms of thrush, but also encourages “hoof eating” microbes to invade defects of the hoof wall structure leading to additional defects and collapsing hoof horn.
Examples of Oxygen Blocking Chemicals: Petroleum Based Tar, Motor Oil, Axel Grease, Pine Tar, Bacon Grease
Bacon grease not only blocks oxygen from the tissues, but the salt also overly hardens the sole and hoof wall to decrease elasticity and increase the likelihood of cracks and other defects occurring.
Also note that wrapping a foot capsule with plastic wrap and other non-breathable materials creates an ideal environment for the microbes of thrush to divide.
Finding the Right Treatment for Thrush
We encourage you to stay away from “home hoof remedies” because many of these items are caustic, will block oxygen, are untested, or simply have no impact on the health of the hoof. There are many remedies and treatments for thrush on the market, but many are still using the harmful ingredients we mentioned above. When looking for the right treatment, pay attention to the ingredients and ensure they do not contain any material that could be harmful. Make sure it is safe to use on your own skin and contains natural ingredients. Here are a few other tips to finding the correct treatment:
- Contains non-caustic ingredients
- Does not block oxygen
- Contains safe anti-microbial ingredients such as Tea-Tree oil and/or low levels of iodine
- Contains anti-microbial ingredients that penetrate into tissue
- A product that stays in the sulci for extended periods of time
Thrush can lead to serious problems for your horse and finding the correct treatment can be difficult. If you begin to see signs of thrush it is important to tackle the issue efficiently and correctly before it leads to lameness. To treat and prevent thrush we strongly encourage the use of a non-caustic antimicrobial hoof clay that will stay in place for extended periods. The same product can fill and protect hoof defects, nail holes, and wall separations.
You can visit our website to find further information on the causes, treatment, and prevention of thrush. Always consult your farrier and veterinarian on any hoof related issues. If you have any questions, feel free to call us at 1-800-624-1873.