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What is Hoof Disease?
There is an old saying, "no hoof, no horse" which harshly sums up a very true fact. The hoof is one area of the horse that really needs to be kept in top health with a balanced diet, daily hoof care and regular visits to a reputable farrier.
Because of the sensitive nature of the hoof’s anatomy and the daily wear and tear it has to endure, it becomes very susceptible to a number of conditions. Once a hoof problem sets in; it can be incredibly painful and debilitating for you horse, not to mention very difficult to heal.
Hoof disease is an umbrella term used to describe a variety of conditions affecting the hoof, which may include some of the following:
- Brittle Hoof is characterized by abnormally dry hooves, which are more prone to cracking and splitting. When splitting occurs, it happens in the direction corn fibers and may run dangerously close to sensitive structures. If not seen too, brittle hoof may result in lameness.
- Spongy Hoof is quite the opposite to brittle hoof and occurs when the hoof becomes too moist or soft. This can be just as dangerous as a dry hoof as a moist hoof can be damaged very easily and it also makes the hoof more prone to bacterial and fungal infections.
- Hoof Canker is an infectious condition caused by bacteria or fungi that generally affects the frog and adjacent areas of the hoof. Hoof canker results in the growth of soft, moist horn tissue which is cauliflower-like in appearance.
- Thrush usually settles in the frog of the hoof, and is most commonly caused by exposure to wet or unhygienic conditions. This condition is characterized by a black and gooey substance and a very foul smelling odor.
- Laminitis or founder is a particularly painful hoof disease that causes inflammation of the foot. This occurs when blood flow is disrupted to certain sensitive areas within the hoof and in serious cases the bone and hoof wall can actually separate. Symptoms vary but the most noticeable are difficultly or hesitation walking, tendency to lie down and trembling. Common causes of this condition include overeating, foot injury, colic or prolonged use of certain steroid medications.
- Navicular disease is known as an inflammation or degeneration of the navicular bone (the small bone inside the foot and the tendon which passes over it). This is a serious condition that can lead to debilitating lameness. Common causes include genetics, poor conformation, improper nutrition and the continual impact of the toe on hard surfaces. Signs of Navicular disease include progressive lameness, a tiptoe gait, and in severe cases, the affected foot may even change shape.
- White Line is a condition described as separation of the hoof wall at the white line in the toe area. The inside of the hoof starts disintegrating and becomes crumbly even though the outside appears to be healthy – this crumbly dry state of the hoof is referred to as seedy toe. Common causes include poor foot care, excessive wetness or dryness of the hoof, and laminitis.
What Causes Hoof Disease?
Horse hoof disease is caused by a number of factors and in many cases it occurs in healthy, well cared for horses, without explanation. Some hoof diseases are contagious, while others are caused by certain environmental factors such as excessive wetness, or dryness. In other cases, hoof disease is the result of poor nutrition, poor hygiene and poor hoof care.
Diagnosing Hoof Disease
Your horse’s vet will need a detailed description of the presenting symptoms as well as a thorough history of your horse. After this, depending on the symptoms and suspected condition, a number of diagnostic tests may be necessary before an accurate diagnosis can be made. Test your veterinarian may run include, hoof tests, nerve blocks, x-rays, stress tests, and bone scans.
Help for Hoof Disease
Treatment of equine hoof disease will depend on the underlying condition and cause. Good stall management, optimal nutrition and rest are also essential aspects of any treatment plan.
There are a number of things that can greatly help with the treatment and prevention of a number of diseases of the hoof. In many cases, horse hoof disease can be prevented with the right nutrition, proper hoof care and necessary stall management. There are a number of things you can do to prevent hoof disease and promote swift recovery.
- Make sure your horse is fed an all natural diet free from preservatives, additives and colorants.
- Learn the ways in which your horse communicates that something isn’t feeling right. By becoming in tuned with your horse’s behavior you will notice subtle changes in mood, stride, or eating habits, all of which can be clues that your horse is not well.
- Keep educated and aware of possible hoof problems so that you can pick up on any problems and symptoms early on.
- Exercise your horse regularly to ensure overall fitness and health, and also to prevent dry hoof.
- Visit a reputable farrier. This is an essential aspect of hoof care as he will be able to recommend the proper shoes depending on where he was stabled and he is ridden and will inspect your horse’s hooves and check for any concerns.
- Get your horse’s hooves trimmed every six weeks by a skilled farrier and be sure to pick the hooves out daily using a hoof pick.
- When inspecting your horse’s hooves, place your back to the horse’s hooves so that you can get the best possible view of the hoof.
- Keep all areas where your horse stands on dry and clean. Avoid wet footing as it can cause thrush and soft hoofs.
- Make sure the horse’s feet are fitted properly with shoes and pads.
- Incorporate a biotin supplement to your horse’s diet to promote the growth and development of healthy hooves.
- Keep pastures and paddocks free of manure build up and mud. If mud and excess water are a problem then you may want to improve drainage.