Thrush’s characteristic foul odor and thick black discharge make it pretty easy to diagnose, but it’s not necessarily that easy to clean up. This bacterial or bacterial-fungal infection usually begins deep in the recesses of the clefts of the frog, and it can easily progress to the heel cleft, especially if you’re not treating it correctly.
If you see thrush, start treatment immediately and enlist the help of your farrier. If you let it go too long, this nasty ailment can go even deeper into the tissues, adding a veterinarian fee as well.
Before You Medicate
The most important part of dealing with thrush has nothing to do with what you pour or pack into the feet. The affected horse must be confined to a clean, dry area, as the thrush organisms thrive in warm moist environments. Remove manure and urine-soaked bedding at least twice a day and avoid mud.
You’ll want to involve your farrier right away so he or she can remove dead/diseased tissue. All excessive bar material should be removed as well. These areas may be tender for a few days if a large amount of tissue must be removed, or if the paring extends deep into the clefts. We’ve found the combination of Tuf-Foot and Hawthorne Sole Pack pads can help reduce the soreness.
Omitting the step with your farrier will make treating thrush more difficult, if not impossible. In addition, begin to use a thrush product as soon as you detect thrush, even before your farrier arrives.
With mild/superficial thrush, the farrier may only need to open up the clefts of the frogs. After that, you can pick and brush out the feet twice a day to make sure no odor or discharge remain.
Don’t dig aggressively at the area with your hoof pick as this will only traumatize the tissue and drive the infection deeper. Pick out what you can gently remove, then use a hoof brush or body brush more vigorously to remove loose surface material. Keep the feet dry and clean. While many cases of mild thrush clear up with just these steps, we’d consider using a mild thrush product for a few days as a precaution.
For moderate thrush, getting the farrier in for a search-and-destroy mission is essential. Again, resist the temptation to dig hard with the hoof pick. Scrubbing the feet with hot soapy water after picking will make it easier to brush loose infected layers. Allow the feet to dry on a clean, dry surface before medicating.
With moderate thrush, you can prolong the effects of your medication by packing the clefts of the frogs loosely with cotton soaked in the product. Don’t force or jam the cotton deep into the clefts, as you may damage the tissue and drive infection deeper. The cotton will probably fall out by the next time you treat the feet, but it remains in long enough for a more prolonged medication effect, so don’t worry about it.
Severe thrush is a challenge, especially if the infection has extended into the tissues. It may take your farrier several trims to get out all the damaged tissue and then time for the infection to clear and normal frog grow back. You just have to keep at it.
Severe cases almost always have deep frog clefts and often an infected crack up between the heel bulbs. Flush out these areas daily. You can make your own flushing agent by using either hot soapy water or a half-peroxide-half-water solution. You can also purchase Thrush-Less Gel, which is a syringe full of cleansing gel, complete with its own irrigating tip.
You’ll need some kind of irrigating tip, no matter what you choose. At your farm/dairy-supply store, get rubber teat cannulas, which are flexible tips about an inch long that fit over the end of a syringe. They can be gently positioned between the bulbs or deep into the frog for irrigation.
Use volume rather than excessive force to loosen debris. Several flushes of plain water should follow the soap or peroxide, then use a few splurts of air to help dry the deep tissues. Try to be gentle. The tissue is fragile and can be easily damaged further.
Use the syringe/teat cannula assembly to treat deeper spots, then hold the foot up for a minute or two to let the thrush medication sink in. Again, loose cotton packing in the clefts is a good idea, but we don’t recommend packing any cotton into a heel crack/cleft as this spreads the tissue apart too forcefully. If healing doesn’t progress well, your veterinarian may have to insert a thin layer of sterile gauze as a “drain”/wick to guide medications down into the tissues.
We had good results with Hawthorne’s Sole Pack pad to top off freshly cleaned and treated feet. The pads provide a soothing cushion and form a good barrier between the tender tissues and the environment, holding other medications and packing in place.
Creams, ointments and thick liquids are easier to work with and adhere better than liquids. However, these thicker products don’t easily get into deep cracks and fissures in diseased areas as well as liquids and tend to just sit on top of diseased tissues rather than penetrate them.
For severe thrush problems or a foot with deep nooks and crannies, we recommend using a liquid rather than traumatizing the tissues trying to force the thick creams into the area.
If your farrier removes infected tissue and opens up the areas, plus you keep the horse in a dry environment for a few days, we believe mild cases of thrush will respond to any of the products we field tested.
However, we prefer not to overdo it when treating mild cases and especially like Cut-Heal’s Hoof Heal and Hawthorne’s Sole Pack liquid dressing for superficial thrush. These products combine effective antimicrobial action with conditioning for the sole and frog. They will also do double-duty as an effective general hoof conditioner.
Of the cream products, ISP Ointment, Silvadex SR Matrix, Tea Tree ADE and ThrushCrusher all have good antimicrobial activity while being gentle on the tissues and are good choices for mild thrush. They will also do well on moderate thrush, at least after the farrier finishes.
Before the farrier arrives, however, you might need something with a little more caustic effect, especially if there is a large amount of black discharge. We especially like MycAseptic and Absorbine’s Thrush Remedy because they are highly effective even if you are only able to clean and treat the feet once a day.
Farrier’s Hoof, Fungisan and Hoof Mate also are effective, but they need to be applied several times daily for best results. For continued organism control and a better conditioning effect, switch to Hoof Heal, Hawthorne’s Sole Pack dressing or one of the cream products once healing is well underway.
For severe thrush, especially in the initial treatment phases, we feel it’s best not to pull any punches. Farnam’s Thrush-XX takes the time-honored approach and uses a concentrated copper solution. You’ll want to use gloves with this product as it will stain and must be kept off the horse’s hair and skin. However, we found nothing more effective. When you’re picking out, be especially careful not to traumatize the tissues when using Thrush-XX.
Thrush Remedy also worked well on infections involving the frog clefts, but we found the black discharge persisted a few days longer, especially from deep, infected heel cracks and in one deep frog cleft. The heavier propylene glycol base did result in less tissue drying, but it may have also sealed out air too well in these deep areas.
Once the disease has been well pared out by the farrier and the black discharge has ceased, switch to a liquid from the moderate-thrush list until deep recesses have filled in with normal tissue and heel cracks are healed.
We also recommend Hawthorne’s Sole Pack pad packing, used either on top of liquid medications or as the only treatment in later stages for its antimicrobial effect. It provides a physical barrier to further invasion of tissue or tissue trauma, to cushion tender areas and as an overall tissue conditioner. Apply either a paddy or a generous “ball” of the packing material, pressing this firmly into the area of the frog, frog clefts and sole. When applied to a clean, dry foot it will stay in place well, even on turn out.
Our top choice for mild thrush, and to treat all degrees of thrush by holding medicines in and providing cushioning, is Hawthorne’s Sole Pack in the solid form (individual paddies or tub form). However, your best bet is to use Hawthorne’s Sole Pack in combination, allowing the liquid to work into all the nooks and crannies, while the paddies provide cushion and protection.
While other products might be better choices in specific circumstances, only Sole Pack offers the combination of antimicrobial activity, protection from further contamination, soothing effects and tissue conditioning all in one.
Cut-Heal’s Hoof Heal is a close runner-up, however, for all the same reasons, lacking only the benefit of the cushioning effect found in the Sole Pack pad. This liquid is also effective in combating the organisms and conditioning the feet.
Also With This Article
Click here to view “Causes Of Thrush.”
Click here to view “Pick Your Power.”
Click here to view “Thrush Product Ingredients And Comments.”
Click here to view “Recurrent Thrush Problems.”
Click here to view “Stop Spread.”