THRUSH - what it is and how to deal with it

Thrush is a problem which can easily be avoided. Here's why it happens, what you need to do if your horse has it, and how to prevent it occuring.
 
Most horse owners at some point encounter thrush in their horse's feet.  It is a bacterial infection affecting the frog which becomes soft, there's a blackish discharge and a foul smell.  It should not be confused with canker, which is an altogether more serious infection. Canker is fortunately rare and is very difficult to cure.  Thrush on the other hand, if caught early, can be resolved very quickly with correct management. 
 
Prevention is better than cure 

There are positive steps you can take to avoid thrush.

* The horse should be kept on clean, dry bedding at all times.
* Bacteria are killed by oxygen so feet must be picked out at least twice a day.  Being meticulous about frequently picking out feet, especially of the stabled horse, is key to managing this condition.  

Tip 1:  Leave a hoof pick and skip outside the stable so it is always at hand.
Tip 2: Make sure you clean down the sides of the frog, leaving no debris trapped.  This will also allow air to the foot and will help kill the bacteria

* Some horses are more susceptible to this condition than others. Feet which are not balanced through poor or irregular trimming and foot conformation can lead to a predisposition to thrush.  For example, a deep cleft in the frog may become packed with sand after working in an arena. If not carefully cleaned, this could lead to irritation and allow bacteria to enter. 
* In a large percentage of cases hygiene is the main cause.standing in droppings and urine.  Damp and dirty conditions provide the perfect environment for the anaerobic bacteria, (those needing a low-oxygen environment) allowing them to breed and thrush to flourish. 

Thrush in_foot
 Diagnosis and treatment 
 
The most obvious sign of thrush is a foul-smelling, black discharge from the frog. The frog may have softer spots and appear irregular in shape. The horse is unlikely to be lame unless the decay has invaded the sensitive inner tissues.  Some horses are sensitive to having their hooves picked out.
If a horse has thrush the underlying cause needs to be identified and removed. The horse should be moved to a clean, dry environment and the feet cleaned at least twice daily. 
The blacksmith or vet will need to remove the decayed tissue.  Depending on the severity of the condition, this may need to be done over more than one visit. The feet may need to be bandaged or dressed with topical medication. The vet or blacksmith will advise on what treatment is required.
Thrush will only deteriorate if hoof hygiene is not good.

Take Note!

If left untreated thrush can become a very serious condition and leave permanent lameness!
A damaged frog is the perfect entry point for the bacteria that cause tetanus, so ensure that the horse has adequate protection against this. 
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