How to Treat Hoof Thrush

Three Parts:Treating Hoof ThrushIdentifying the Symptoms of ThrushPreventing Hoof Thrush

Thrush is a common bacterial infection that arises when horse hooves have been subjected to a lot of moisture or contact with wastes that contain moisture. Even horses that live in primarily dry conditions sometimes get thrush if their hooves are allowed to collect dirt and debris. Thrush is fairly easy to diagnose based on the telltale dark, black discharge and foul odor.[1] Minor thrush is easy to treat with some basic care, but more advanced cases will require treatment from an equine veterinarian.

Part 1
Treating Hoof Thrush

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    Move your horse to a dry, clean area. The first step in treating thrush is to remove your horse from the environment in which thrush tends to flourish. If you keep your horse in a wet or dirty environment the thrush is likely to return, no matter what treatment options you employ.[2]
    • Thrush is usually developed on damp or dirty ground, whether in a stable or a field.
    • Clean out urine and manure on a daily basis. Bodily wastes can be a big contributing factor in developing thrush.[3]
    • Try spreading gravel on the ground. This will allow your horse to keep its hooves dry, even if the floor of the stable or paddock is damp.
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    Trim the frog of the hoof. Once your horse is in a clean, dry area, you'll need to have the frog trimmed on your horse's hoof or hooves. If you do not know how to trim the frog by yourself, have a trusted farrier or equine veterinarian trim the frog for you. This will get rid of the affected area and permit better air circulation across the hoof, improving the chances that the thrush will not return.[4]
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    Clean out the hoof. Once the affected part of the frog is removed, you're ready to clean the hoof. Cleaning the hoof should become a daily part of your horse maintenance going forward, as it will help prevent injury and reduce the chances of thrush returning in the future. Be careful, though, as the horse may be in considerable pain, and cleaning out its affected hoof may frighten or anger your horse.[5]
    • Use a hoof pick to pick out any larger debris from the affected area.[6]
    • Twist a clean piece of gauze into a rope-like shape and use it to floss out any residual debris lodged in the hoof.
    • Use a mild soap and clean water to scrub the hooves.
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    Use an antiseptic to clean the affected area. Now that you've removed the visible dirt and debris from your horse's hooves, you'll want to clean the affected area(s) with an antiseptic solution.[7] Some horse experts recommend treating thrush with iodine.[8] Others suggest treating thrush with bleach. [9] However, it's worth noting that harsh chemicals can dry out your horse's hooves, which may make them prone to further injuries and afflictions.
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    Consider using thrush medication. Some experts recommend using thrush medication in addition to cleaning the hoof and trimming the frog.[10] This can help give your horse relief from the symptoms of thrush and combat the bacterial infection while your horse heals. If you're unsure about whether or not to try medication, talk to your equine veterinarian about the benefits of adding thrush medication to your treatment plan.
    • If you decide to use thrush medication, squirt it into the sulcus of the hoof.
    • Apply clean gauze or cotton balls to the sulcus to cover the medication. Use a hoof pick to pack the gauze as deeply as possible into the sulcus.
    • Change the packing every day for one to two weeks.[11] The only times you should not have any medication or packing on the sulcus is during exercise or riding sessions.
    • Depending on the severity of the infection, it could potentially take several months for the hoof to completely heal. Be patient and keep the hooves clean and cared for.
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    Use a bar shoe after the thrush has healed. If you were previously using a standard horseshoe or no shoe at all on your horse's hooves, you may want to consider switching to a bar shoe once the affliction has healed. In some cases, using a bar shoe has helped the frog regenerate after being trimmed and treated.[12]
    • A bar shoe is a horseshoe with joined heals. It forms a continuous loop, usually made of either aluminum or steel.[13]
    • Bar shoes can help improve ground contact, protect the hoof, and stabilize the overall foot.

Part 2
Identifying the Symptoms of Thrush

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    Recognize the appearance of thrush. Thrush will appear as a black, tar-like discharge that emerges from your horse's hoof. A horse's hoof afflicted with thrush may appear to have deeper than normal grooves (sulcus) along the sides of the hoof's frog.[14] The affected part of the hoof will most likely have a foul odor, which is one of the most common characteristics of thrush.[15]
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    Look for signs of pain. You can usually tell when a horse has hoof thrush based on the way it walks and reacts when you clean the hoof. A horse afflicted with thrush will show pain whenever pressure is applied to the area, which may result in limping or even lameness in severe cases.[16]
    • In really advanced cases of thrush, the lower limb may swell up in response to the infection. If this happens, you will need to treat the thrush aggressively to ensure that your horse can fully recover.
    • The hind hooves tend to be more afflicted with thrush than the front hooves. However, the front hooves can still contract thrush, and should be thoroughly examined and cleaned any time you suspect there might be a case of thrush.
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    Have an equine veterinarian evaluate your horse. With proper care and environmental changes, most cases of thrush clear up in one to two weeks. However, if the thrush has been a chronic problem, or if the infection has progressed to the deeper tissues in the hoof or leg, there could be permanent damage. The best way to evaluate how extensive your horse's thrush is would be to consult a veterinarian who specializes in horse care.[17]

Part 3
Preventing Hoof Thrush

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    Give your horse some dry footing. Wet and/or dirty footing is one of the leading causes of hoof thrush in horses. If you keep your horse outside in an enclosure and the ground is constantly wet, let your horse come into a barn or stable stall from time to time to allow the hooves to dry out. You should also keep the stable and paddocks clean and as dry as possible.[18]
    • Muck out manure from the stalls and hose down urine on a daily basis.
    • Spread gravel in the paddocks or on the floor of the stable so that your horse can stand on dry footing, even when the ground underneath is wet.
    • You can use wood chips, but make sure you don't use conifers or other highly-acidic wood. As the wood chips from these trees get wet and begin to decompose they can raise the pH of the environment, which may promote bacterial growth.
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    Keep the hooves clean, trimmed, and shod. In addition to keeping a clean, dry environment, you should also make sure your horse's hooves are well-trimmed and shod. This can help prevent long heel conformation from forming, and it will help ensure a healthy frog.[19]
    • If you do not know how to trim a hoof, do not attempt to do it on your own. Hire a reputable farrier or have your equine veterinarian help you with your horse's hooves.
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    Exercise your horse regularly. Regular exercise can help prevent thrush in horses. That's because movement expands and contracts the hooves, which can push debris out of the grooves in the hooves. Even if you can't turn out your horse in an enclosure, hand walking your horse or going for a ride on dry ground can significantly reduce the chances of thrush developing.[20]


  • An old toothbrush is very useful for cleaning the crevices of your horse's hooves. Just be sure to rinse it after use on each hoof to prevent the spread of thrush from one hoof to another.
  • There are many thrush relief products available on the market today. Talk to your vet about which products would work best for your horse.

Things You'll Need

  • Hoof pick
  • Soap
  • Bucket
  • Brush or other related tool
  • Thrush relief medication

Sources and Citations

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Article Info

Categories: Horse Health