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Thrush is an anaerobic bacteria that affects the bottom of the horse's hoof, more specifically the frog. If you look at the bottom of a horse's foot, you will see the rounded sole, and at the heel, where the two sides of the hoof wall come to the back of the leg, there is a V-shaped projection from the heel towards the toe. That is known as the frog, and it is rather soft compared to the sole or the hoof wall. Alongside the frog are two deep grooves that naturally collect mud, manure and other debris, making ideal conditions for an anaerobic bacteria to grow.
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The frog of the hoof acts like a cushion for the horse when walking, and is also used in balance and weight distribution. The frog has two separate layers, a protective, harder outer layer and an inside, vascular layer that provides blood supply to the deep cushion that is under the vascular layer. When a horse is stabled in wet conditions, especially those of soiled bedding where manure and urine is present, the bacteria grow rampant in the environment.
The bacteria will immediately attach itself to the outer tissue of the frog. If there are any cracks or cuts in the frog, the bacteria will enter into the vascular layer and then down into the cushion. Since the bacteria are anaerobic, they don't need any oxygen to live, so do best in the dark, moist areas of the foot. If there are no cracks or cuts in the frog the bacteria will slowly eat away at the protective layer until it is able to penetrate through to the vascular layer and cushion.
The first signs of thrush are usually sensitivity in the area of the frog as well as a horrible smell to the feet. In severe cases there will be a dark, bloody or puss-filled thick discharge from the frog when any pressure is applied to the area. Horses will constantly shift their weight off the affected foot or feet. The contact of the infected foot with the bedding will further increase the likelihood that other feet will become infected. Without treatment the bacteria will eat away the frog and up into the hoof, in severe conditions resulting in the need to put the horse down as the damage is so severe.
It is great news to horse owners to know that thrush is easily prevented and relatively easy to cure if noticed in a reasonable amount of time. Horses on pasture may also get thrush, but daily or every other day picking of the feet will allow owners to check for any signs of infection or smell that can indicate a problem. Keeping the area around the frog clean of manure, mud and debris is a simple task with a hoof pick and a few minutes a day. If an infection is present clean the area and soak the foot in water and Espom salts or a Betadine solution. If the infection is deep and is causing bleeding, the foot should be bandaged and the horse kept in soft, dry bedding until the infection is completely eliminated. A farrier or vet can remove any infected tissues and treat the area. In most mild cases complete recovery is noted in less than a week of treatment provided the affected foot or feet are kept clean, disinfected and dry.
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