The two most common fungal maladies affecting horses’ hooves occur in the hoof wall and the frog. Although infection in the wall is referred to as “white line disease,” it is misnamed in that it attacks the inner layer of the hoof wall rather than the white line. This infection is believed to be caused by a variety of opportunistic fungal and bacterial agents. Infection of the frog is either thrush or a less recognized infection in the central sulcus of the frog. Unhealthy and poorly shaped feet can have frogs with a deep central crevice in the back region which harbors anaerobic bacteria and fungi. The infection thrives in the deep, moist, closed environment and can often cause pain if it reaches soft tissue structures.
If you and your hoof-care provider discover white line disease and/or frog infection, many treatment options are available, including commercially available products and home remedies. Whatever treatment method you choose, it is important to be consistent. Daily cleaning and use of the chosen treatment is often a key to success. Keeping the feet trimmed regularly so that the hoof walls do not become physically stressed and weakened is also essential. If the infection is in the hoof wall, it is important to have your farrier remove as much of the undermined hoof wall as possible to allow air to contact the area and to enable treatment products to reach the infected site. If the infection is in the frog, the farrier should carefully remove any dead frog tissue so that treatment is more effective. Foot wraps or boots may be needed to protect the sensitive areas while they heal.
It is worth examining environmental factors that may be contributing to the problem. Wet, muddy, manure-laden areas are especially linked to the problem of hoof infections. Horses need clean, dry ground to stand on. Pea gravel is especially helpful in creating a supportive footing that dra ins well and is easy to pick out.
Consider any systemic influences that may be contributing to the problem. Metabolic and immune system problems can contribute to hoof fungal infections. Laminitis can be a primary factor that may lead to white line disease as a secondary problem. When the damaged white line is stretched and more porous, it is easy for foreign material, dirt, fungus and bacteria to invade and create compounding problems.
- Commercial products (i.e., White Lightning or Clean Trax) – the basic idea is mixing the product with white vinegar to create an off-gassing treatment that is contained in a close bag around the hoof.
- Apple cider vinegar mixed with water (50/50 ratio) for hoof soaking or for squirt-bottle irrigation. This is a mild solution that can be used as a concentrated daily treatment for tough problems and for routine hoof health management. Soaking feet every week is helpful to counter developing fungus.
- Lysol – 2 oz diluted in one gallon of water for hoof soaking – used similarly to the ACV/water.
- Borax – dissolved in gallon of water for hoof soaking – used similarly to the ACV/water.
- Bleach – diluted (roughly a 1/10 ratio) in bucket of water for hoof soaking or for squirt-bottle irrigation
For frog infections deep in the central sulcus, it is important to treat this area gently and to nurture healing. Harsh chemical products and rough cleaning can damage already sensitive tissue. Consider:
- Raw honey – gently placed with cotton balls into crevice and changed daily
- Calendula cream – gently placed with cotton balls into crevice and changed daily
- A mixture of 50% triple antibiotic cream with 50% athlete’s foot cream applied with syringe into the central sulcus.
Of course, lots of natural movement and regular exercise encourage good circulation in the feet and help maintain optimum hoof function. Good overall health is the best defense against the troubles of hoof fungus.
Pete Ramey, www.hoofrehab.com
Laura Florence is an American Farriers Association Certified Farrier serving a wide variety of clients, from backyard companions to competitive sport horses. As a Resident Farrier for seven years with the University of Pennsylvania, New Bolton Center Farrier Service, Laura honed her skills working alongside veterinary surgeons in the operating room, assisting clinicians during lameness evaluations, and treating a variety of hoof diseases. In 2007, Laura began a private practice in southeastern Pennsylvania, dedicated to the rehabilitation and maintenance of the horse’s hoof through a holistic approach. Contact Laura through www.holistichoofcare.com , or 484-868-3715.