Nutritional Solutions - White Line and Thrush February 13 2018, 0 Comments
Do you cringe every time you think of your horse standing in mud? Do you wonder why your horse’s hooves are flaky and shelly even though you feed him the best biotin supplement? Do you feel concerned when your horse’s feet stink? If so, this article is for you.
At the root of many equine health issues are nutritional deficiencies and imbalances, and often the only way to truly heal your horse is by addressing the root problem. This article looks at the root causes of some of the most common infections threatening our horse’s hooves: thrush and White Line Disease (WLD).
What Is White Line Disease and Thrush Exactly?
Thrush is a bacterial and fungal disease of the outer and sometimes inner areas of a horse’s frog. Bacteria associated with thrush is anaerobic (cannot survive exposure to oxygen), and can eat away at your horse’s frogs, the collateral grooves, and the central sulcus, and in very bad cases can spread to the entire hoof. There is often a smelly, black discharge associated with thrush and, in very bad cases where thrush has entered the inner hoof tissues, you can see blood when picking your horse’s hooves.
White Line Disease is a mostly fugal infection of the inner hoof wall, although some bacteria can be involved too. It actually doesn’t involve the white line at all. When a horse has WLD, fungus enters the hoof through the whitish area of the hoof where the hoof wall meets the sole. Fungus generally enters when the hoof is structurally compromised, and works its way up the hoof, sometimes causing separations inside the hoof wall. WLD is most commonly diagnosed by visible separations between the hoof wall and the sole at the toe and hoof quarters. These separations often have a powdery white substance in them.
What Causes WLD and Thrush?
Thrush is caused by an unhealthy frog. Frogs are healthy when they receive circulation by contacting the ground with each step and when they are on a level plane with the heels of the hoof capsule, so as to avoid inappropriate loading of the hoof. Anything that creates an uneven frog, whether it be conformation issues (e.g. club feet) or trimming issues, as well as anything that prevents the frog from getting proper circulation by contacting the ground, is generally the root cause of thrush. Healthy frogs, even if exposed to lots of moisture, are not prone to thrush.
The root cause of WLD, on the other hand, is generally very difficult to pinpoint. That said, horses with poor hoof confirmation or quality- club feet, flared hooves, old abscess tracks, quarter cracks- are very susceptible to WLD since they their hooves structurally allow an opening for fungus to enter. Additionally, laminitic horses are at risk, given that their laminae, which hold the layers of the hoof wall together, are already very compromised, making separation of the inner and outer hoof wall much easier. Moreover, fungus can thrive on the heat created by inflammation, and the blood plasma and dead tissue in the laminitic hoof.
How Can Nutrition Help?
At the end of the day, a balanced, solid, and healthy hoof will be nearly impervious to bacterial and fungal infections, regardless of how wet or dry your horse’s environment is. If you are serious about staving off both WLD and thrush, a strong, tight hoof should be your end-goal.
Beyond the obvious- routine and proper hoof care including correct trimming and regular cleanings- nutrition plays a tremendous role in helping your horse grow healthy hooves. Modifying and supporting your horse’s diet with the goal of: 1) improving immune response, 2) lowering inflammation, and 3) strengthening the hoof wall and inner tissues will go a long way in preventing the next onslaught of bacterial and fungal invasions. Also, if your horse already has weak hooves, providing him with a dry place to stand will limit the amount of bacteria and fungus his hooves are exposed to.
If your horse’s immune system is acting at peak performance, it should be able to stave off infection. Making sure your horse gets enough zinc and dietary protein- depending on what you feed him regularly and the mineral content of your hay- will go a long way in making sure his immunities are top-notch. Also, unless your horse has access to fresh forage 24/7, consider supplementing with antioxidants, such as bioflavonoids, Vitamin E and Vitamin C, to help his immune system along. None of these antioxidants are found in hay.
In order for the immune system to stave off infections, however, inflammation must be managed. Feeding your horse a “founder” diet- one low in non-structural carbohydrates and sugars is key. Rice bran, molasses, loads of treats, corn, and “sweet feed” are common offenders that create inflammation. Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids can also reduce inflammation – popular whole food supplements include chia seeds, stabilized flax seeds, and camelina oil, to name a few.
Lastly, minerals, and mineral balance, are key to ensuring your horse can grow strong hooves, which will limit the physical entries for infection. Calcium, zinc, methionine, selenium, and copper all help the hoof build strong exterior and interior tissues. But make sure that the minerals you feed are in balance, as an excess of some of these minerals can inhibit the uptake of others, and in some cases can even be toxic. A few good guidelines include maintaining a 2:1 calcium to phosphorus, a 2:1 calcium to magnesium, and a 4:1 zinc to copper ratio. Additionally, make sure your horse isn’t getting too much vitamin A, D, sulfur, and selenium as these in excess can inhibit uptake of key minerals. Lastly, note that excesses of selenium and copper can be toxic and potentially harmful to hoof growth- so be sure to test your hay and check your existing supplements and feedstuffs prior to adding.
Your horse’s ability to fight off the inevitable exposure to bacterial and fungal hoof invaders is entirely dependent on his overall bodily health and his hooves’ mechanics. Helping him grow and maintain strong healthy hooves require diligent trimmings and cleanings, regular exercise, and proper nutrition.