Never a day goes by but I don’t have a conversation with a customer about Thrush or Whiteline Disease or....well the names go on. Whatever name you give it we are talking about a fungal infection that attacks the soft tissue in a horse’s hoof. And when we talk about the soft tissue the easiest soft tissue for the fungus to attack is the laminae attaching the hoof wall to the hoof capsule, which we call the whiteline(despite it usually being a creamy color). The other soft tissue in the hoof that the fungus likes is the frog but more often first signs will be seen at the whiteline.
FOOT FULL OF WHITELINE FUNGUS
SAME FOOT 2 MONTHS LATER
WITH WHITELINE ON THE MEND
Indications of fungus are a blackness where the whiteline was previously creamy colored and a separation of the hoof wall from the main hoof capsule(the main central part of the foot). There is usually a nasty smell, but then there can often be nasty smells around a horse’s foot. This should be an unusual smell.
You can almost guarantee that if your horse has a crack in its front hoof there is fungal infection behind the crack and that fungus has weakened and detached the hoof wall from the hoof capsule enough to allow the wall to crack. When the hoof is healthy it is pretty well impossible to put a crack in a hoof wall (without letting the hoof overgrow without trimming for long period). If you attend to the whiteline disease the crack will grow out. There is no point in just putting shoes in the feet if you don’t correct the cause of the crack.
What causes this fungal hoof infection? It was always referred to in old textbooks as a product of poor stable management but I don’t think that is really true. It can appear in the best managed barns. Here on Vancouver Island the fungal problem seems much worse than anywhere I’ve ever been. You only have to speak to anyone who has moved their horse here from the B.C. Interior or Alberta and seen it’s feet deteriorate to realize that the fungus problem is not so wide spread on the mainland.
Is it climate related and because of the damp Pacific North West weather? Well I used to live on the coast of England as it does rain a fair bit in England but we never used to see fungal infection on the scale it is here on Vancouver Island. There are some scientific theories that the rain and snow that comes off the Pacific is full of harmful bacterias. Maybe they effect horses feet more than we know. My own experience has been that horses kept in coastal barns (along the West Coast Trail, in Metchosin Beach area, in the Deep Cove area or anywhere that gets that sea mist) seem to get fungus much worse than horses more inland or on higher ground. Nothing scientific here....this is just an observation, but maybe a seafront property isn’t such a good idea after all.
Pea Gravel Paddocks
Another factor is what kind of ground your horse is living on. Horses on hog fuel (chopped up bark and wood) seem to generally do much worse with fungus and again comparing Island horses to life in England we never used hog fuel where I was either keeping them on clay or gravel. Here on Vancouver Island there is a swing to keeping horses on pea gravel paddocks. The advantage of the pea gravel is it lets the horses urine drain through so the horses are not standing on it. The hog fuel on the other hand absorbs the urine and then the horses are standing in it all day. The small rounded gravel called Torpedo is the gravel of choice. It doesn’t seem to break up and chip into small sharp bits like road base gravel does. Customers tell me the cost of pea gravel and hog fuel are comparative and the types of gravel are all about the same price so replacing the hog fuel might be a good option when it needs renewing. Just bear in mind like hog fuel, gravel will need to be renewed now and again. Hog fuel in a ring seems fine but I wouldn’t recommend it as a home for your horse. Again this is all based on observations and no science is involved here.
While on the subject of the ground the horse is on, drainage is another big factor. If your paddocks are not draining and the horse’s urine is pooling up for them to stand in you will be getting pretty bad fungal problems. I know this is an expensive fix but I do see this quite often and all the medications won’t fix a horse in this situation. I have also seen leaking cesspool tanks or cesspool fields (even a neighbors leaking cesspool tanks) draining into the horse paddocks and creating hoof fungus. Have a good look at how your paddocks lie and think if any of these things could be a factor.
While checking the layout of your field there is another aspect to what causes this fungus. I do believe at the end of the day some horses have better personal hygiene habits than others. There are some who will take themselves to the far end of the field to relieve themselves and then there are those who do it in their stalls and stand in it all day. In a field you may have a patch of trees or a shelter that the horses frequent to get shade at the height of the summer or shelter from the rain the rest of the year. If you have a horse that uses that area for its toilet then all the horses will be standing in it. Going back to what I said previously about drainage, if the pooling is under that shelter then again they will be standing in it more often. You really have to watch your horses and see how they act in order to get a picture of whether there is something that can be done to help solve any fungal problem. Some horses can’t be helped because they are just too dirty.
Another theory relates to the horse’s diet. Here on Vancouver Island it is fairly common knowledge that the ground is selenium deficient, which leads to all of us including the horses being selenium deficient. While diet may be a factor it doesn’t explain why one horse at a barn has fungus while the others don’t when they are all one the same feed. It could be that the particular horse is not metabolizing his feed as well as the others but that is a whole other problem. If a horse is on a healthy diet it should not be a factor in hoof fungus.
Fungus loves to grow in a dark damp confined space, such as under a horseshoe. If you have shoes on your horse you probably have a bit of fungus under the shoes. Part of the price of having the shoes I’m afraid. I usually tell customers to consider giving their horses a rest from shoes if they ever have a period when the horse is being rested such as during the winter months or if they are going out of town for a while. Just a few weeks without shoes can make a difference to regrowing a damaged hoofwall.
Having said that about horseshoes if you use hoofboots they can be another source of fungus as they do not let the horse’s feet breathe properly. Invest in some Gold Bond Athletes Foot Powder from your local pharmacy and put some in your hoofboots every time you use them. It will work as a great preventative against fungus.
So how to treat and cure this fungal infection. Well the best treatment is to have your horse on a regular trimming or shoeing schedule. By seeing your horse regularly your farrier can trim away the fungus and keep it in check. Left to its own devices hoof fungus will eat up into the hoof wall or take off the whole frog leaving your horse quite lame. Regular hoof care can go a long way to avoiding this. That does sound like something a farrier would say but it is true.
As to what the horse owner can do to treat hoof fungus there are so many claims made for miracle cures I can only try to list some of them here.
I remember a veterinarian at a seminar telling us that by soaking a horse’s feet in a mild solution of borax (one half cup to a bucket of water) only once the solution caused a chemical reaction and stopped the fungus dead in it’s tracks.In practice I have seen this work on some horses and on some to have no real effect.
Many claim that repeatedly soaking in a mild bleach solution will kill the fungus and it probably has the same effect as the borax. Again this seems to be successful for many horses.
There are various over the counter remedies available at your local tack or feed store, in fact probably a whole shelf full. I won’t go into trade names but they mainly fall into two categories.
Those with a copper sulphate solution of some sort in them usually have the word Copper or Kopper in the name and are a green liquid. These work well at curing all sorts of hoof fungus but they are fairly toxic and corrosive. Back in Europe they were labelled as only use with gloves and avoid contact with skin as they could be absorbed and cause you kidney damage. Here in Canada they don’t seem to need to label them with a warning but I would still treat these liquids with respect just in case. I have sat through a veterinarian at a seminar who claimed that copper sulphate treatments do make horses feet painful and they end up with sore frogs as a result of this treatment. At least that was his findings and they may well be true. It does seem to kill the fungus though.
The other main over the counter treatments are those with some sort of iodine solution usually a dark or purple liquid. These are more an antibiotic treatment and while they work on the bacterial part of the fungus they are not terribly fungicidal. They do sometimes work but often they don’t.