Preventing hoof diseases: Thrush in horses

Preventing thrush in horses is down to your stable management and your bedding selection

We’re heading towards spring, thankfully, but even in summer most horse owners will keep their horses in their stables for around 12 hours out of every 24. It’s during these long hours when your horse is most vulnerable to stable health problems, and one of the most serious is hoof disease, including the dreaded thrush. In all our Equine Health Surveys, hoof problems and disease rank second only to respiratory problems in the league table of equine health issues that vets confirm are linked directly to your stable environment.

Thrush is high on the list of hoof problems because the majority of horses spend most of their time in their stables standing or moving around on and in their bedding. Periodically, of course, they will also pee and poo in it, so during those long hours their hooves will be in direct contact with warm, moist organic material that provides the perfect breeding conditions for harmful bacteria and fungi. This is the Bluecross definition of thrush in horses…

Thrush is caused by continuous exposure to a damp environment without sufficient care and attention to the feet, such as poor stable management, wet or damp bedding, and wet, muddy fields. It is a bacterial infection and if left untreated, it can move to the sensitive, internal structures in the foot. Symptoms are a black, smelly discharge around the frog, and possibly lameness if severe.

…and how to prevent it…

To prevent thrush, keep the feet clean, scrub them out and apply eucalyptus oil at least once a week during the winter, and when necessary in the summer. Make sure that there is a dry area in the field, for example hard standing, if the horse is out all the time. Make sure bedding is kept clean and dry.

In winter, that bold advice is critical, but it’s difficult to keep bedding clean and dry during the night. No matter how conscientious you are in your stable management, there are likely to be at least eight hours during the night when you are not mucking out, and that’s when the quality of the bedding itself can make all the difference.

When we were researching how to make the healthiest possible bedding back in 1998, we consulted leading equine vets and farriers to find what they thought was most important for healthy hooves. The priorities they identified helped us come up with the formula for making Bedmax. Hooves need lots of firm support, especially under the frog. They need a dry bedding but not so dry that it can cause cracks in the hoof wall where bacteria can cause infection. Above all, they need a bedding that offers hygienic protection from the harmful bacteria and fungi that cause diseases like thrush.

We’ve tried hard to tick all those boxes to help you keep your horses’ hooves in good condition, and we have always made our shavings mostly from pine, because that has a unique level of natural antibacterial resistance, scientifically proven to eradicate harmful bacteria and fungi.

You are the keeper of your horse’s health and wellbeing, and how you manage their stable environment is the most important factor in protecting them from diseases like thrush. But in the constant battle to keep them fit and well, a high quality bedding is your horse’s second best friend.

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