The Best Way to Treat Thrush

I have a 13 yr. old thoroughbred with a chronic thrush problem in one front foot. I have tried the bleach/water mixture. A friend with horses says she puts Icthammol ointment on the hoof and covers it to draw out the thrush and dry it out. Is this a good remedy? LB, Nebraska

Dear LB,

The important thing to understand about thrush–an infection of the frog that results in black smelly discharge–is that until the underlying cause is diagnosed and corrected, the infection will keep coming back no matter how it is treated. That’s because thrush isn’t so much a problem of a dirty environment attacking a horse’s hoof as it is a problem of a horse’s hoof not being healthy enough to resist infection.

As long as a horse is sound, trimmed properly, and provided exercise and turnout, the natural cleaning mechanism of his hooves should keep thrush and other conditions at bay. But chronic lameness, improper hoof care, and too much stall time restrict the hoof’s ability to self-clean. The conformation of some horses’ hooves can set them up for thrush too. Deep, narrow grooves (sulci) on either side of the frog are built-in traps for dirt and moisture and do not have much exposure to air—conditions thrush-causing microorganisms thrive in.

I encourage you to work closely with your farrier and veterinarian to diagnose why your horse’s one front hoof is so prone to thrush then come up with a plan to correct it. It may take the better part of a year to grow a healthier shaped hoof, but the results will be worth it: no more thrush and no more daily medicating!

In the meantime, any number of antiseptic or astringent products should keep the thrush at bay while you’re treating the underlying issue. There are many commercial products available such as Thrush-XX, Thrush Buster or Thrush Remedy. Your healthcare team may recommend a homemade recipe that contains ingredients such as iodine, vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. While some farriers and veterinarians use poultice or hoof packing as drawing agents, I have not heard of using ichthammol on the hoof for thrush. However, I don’t think it would hurt anything. Just please don’t use any caustic substances like bleach or formalin because these may do more harm than good near sensitive structures of the hoof.

Lydia Gray, DVM MA, is the Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak. Prior to joining SmartPak, Dr. Gray served as the first-ever Director of Owner Education for the American Association of Equine Practitioners. She has authored numerous articles in publications such as The Horse, Horse Illustrated, Western Horseman and a variety of veterinary journals and magazines. Dr. Gray is also a frequent speaker at horse expos, veterinary conventions and other events. After graduating with honors from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and receiving her Master's Degree in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication, she practiced at the Tremont Veterinary Clinic for several years. Dr. Gray is active in the American Veterinary Medical Association and Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association. She enjoys training and showing her Trakehner, Newman, in both combined driving and dressage, and is a USDF “L” Program Graduate (with distinction). Find Dr. Gray on Google+

Posted in Skin, Coat & Hooves

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2 comments on “The Best Way to Treat Thrush
  1. nina says:

    This is a super old post, but my horse used to have the same issue.
    What I’ve done during the wet season(since that’s when he was known to get thrush and an abcess) I’ve put him on a biotin suppliment, which was recommended by our vet and I go out and clean his feet every day and apply Koppertox to his frog and bottom of his hooves. Thrush XX has the same ingredients as Koppertox, so either one works, I’ve used them both.
    They’re both water resistant, which is nice and has a green color so you can see where you’ve put it.
    I was also told by my farrier that you can get a silicone product to seal the bottom of the hoof for horses that have cronic thrush and abcess issues..though I haven’t tried this since we’ve beat the odds this year and haven’t run into any problems.

  2. Beth says:

    Why is it not okay to use bleach? My trainer uses it a lot…I’ve always used hydrogen peroxide to clear out thrushy/dirty hooves.

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