Thrush in Horses: Symptoms, Causes, and Remedies

Sometimes, there’s no mistaking the bacterial infection known as thrush in a horse’s hoof.  It appears as a black, mushy area in and around the frog and it STINKS!  But did you know that at other times, thrush may be odorless and may not be too noticeable at all?

We often think of thrush as occuring in horses that are kept in muddy or unsanitary environments, but the condition can occur in nearly any horse and in any type of environment.  It may seem like more of a nuisance than a serious problem, but if left unchecked, thrush can result in permanant damage to internal hoof structures.  It can cause heel pain and lameness, and it can even be misdiagnosed as navicular disease.

So if thush doesn’t always look like typical thrush, how do you know if your horse may have it in one or more of his feet?  Here are some symptoms that people wouldn’t typically associate with thrush in horses:

  • heel pain
  • small, ratty-appearing frog
  • deep crevice in central sulcus of frog
  • contracted heels
  • toe-first landing
  • resistance to having feet picked up or cleaned

Notice the small size and ratty appearance of this frog.  It also has a deep crevice in the center.

Thrush can be attributed to a variety of factors including inadequate hoof care, dietary imbalance, lack of exercise, a wet or unsanitary environment, or a pre-existing lameness.  It is often associated with poor hoof circulation.  The frog’s function is that of a shock absorber–it is meant to be in contact with the ground to help pump blood out of the hoof and back into the limb.  When horses are shod, hoof walls are allowed to overgrow, or a horse isn’t moving with a heel-first landing, hoof circulation is compromised and thrush is more likely to invade the frog.

The good news is that most cases of thrush are treatable.  First and foremost, proper hoof care is needed.  Aside from proper trimming of the hoof, the diseased frog should be trimmed away, the hoof should be kept clean, and the thrush should be treated with a topical or soak of some sort.  I prefer to use Pete Ramey’s ‘goo’ which is a 50/50 mixture of triple antibiotic cream and athlete’s foot cream.  I just mix the creams together, put them in a syringe, and squirt the ‘goo’ in the cleaned crevice.

Some other treatments I’ve used include:

Linda Cowle’s website gives the specifics on using some of these treatments and is a great all-around resource for natural trimming and hoof care.

Another important factor is diet–so that should be evaluated as well.  A copper and/or zinc deficiency and diets high in carbohydrates (too much grain, alfalfa, rich grass, etc.) are also linked with thrush in horses.  If the dietary imbalance isn’t corrected, it may be difficult to get rid of the thrush once and for all.



8 thoughts on “Thrush in Horses: Symptoms, Causes, and Remedies

  1. Hi,
    I would just like to add a side note for emphasis if you don’t mind. While I strongly agree with everything that you say here, I find that a great number of horse owners are just willing to treat the symptoms without ever fixing the cause, especially when that cause is dietary. Being a Natural Hoof Care Professional, I see horses from all walks of life and with all sorts of hoof ailments, but most of these have thrush free frogs, unless of course the diet is off. My personal opinion is that a healthy immune system is able to battle off thrush despite, improper hoof form, damp unsanitary conditions, or even insufficient movement and I feel that the starting place for a healthy immune system is in the diet. Now, am not discrediting the other thrush causing factors or trying to make them seem less important, I am just saying that I feel the healing process should start with the diet and a balanced trim.
    Thank you for letting me add my 2 cents :)

    p.s. I have also noticed a strong correlation between rain rot and scratches with high starch/high sugar feeds especially ones containing a lot of molasses.

    1. Thank you, Jenipher, and yes, I agree! Diet is crucial for not just for hooves, but for our horses’ overall health.

    2. I live in SW Louisiana & I’ve been fighting thrush in my TWH (7yrs) & my Mustang (18yrs) for @ a year. We have a good barefoot practitioner & I feed the recommended amt. of “Total Equine”. We get a lot of rain here, but there are 2 other horses in our pasture who don’t have the constant struggle with it we do. I’ve used “Koppertox”, but after a while it seemed to irritate their feet. I switched back to “No Thrush” & it makes a difference but it will not GO WAY! I have never had it keep popping up like this. Could it be the feed?

      1. Hi DebbVe, It sounds like you very well could be dealing with a mineral imbalance. Cutting out any sweet feeds or feed with added molasses is important as well as feeding a supplement with adequate levels of copper and zinc. You might want to check into a supplement called California Trace. Good luck!

  2. I have used a squirt/spray bottle filled with white vinegar at times to get rid of Thrush. It works well, and is natural. Wet paddocks where the horses gather most often are often a problem. Even if you have a shelter that is not cleaned everyday, it can build up areas that can cause hoof problems.

  3. Two of my four horses have this thrush problem which seems very difficult to get rid of. They live mainly on hay and some grass (not much), no grains, no molasses, they are out 24/7, you name it… They get natural hoofcare regularly.
    About a month ago we started with adding a mixture of magnesium, copper, zinc and now also selenium as it seems the hay in our country (Italy) seems to lack these in general.
    I hope it will go better because it seems like the only thing we can still try…

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