WHITE LINE DISEASE: THE HOOF EATING HORROR
Infection of this narrow band is a thing of dread for horse owners – leading to a progressive condition known as white line disease, or seedy toe. The difficulty is that in its early stages the horse will not appear lame, but left untreated white line disease can lead to widespread damage in the supportive structures of the hoof. The worst case scenario that results is separation of the wall from the hoof tissue, and even rotation of the coffin bone.
White Line disease can strike any horse at any time, in one or more feet (though it’s most commonly seen in the front feet), and the cause is not clear. It is best described as an invasion into the middle hoof tissue of infectious organisms like bacteria and fungi.
No particular organism has been pinned down as being the hoof tissue devouring culprit for White Line Disease, but some contributing dietary and environmental factors and hoof problems, including trauma, have been identified as pre-disposing a horse to developing the infection. (More about these later.)
It used to be believed that bad stable management – horses kept in dirty conditions – allowed the bacteria to infect the hoof, but now it is accepted that even horses kept in pristine stables can fall victim.
SYMPTOMS OF WHITE LINE DISEASE
The early stages are difficult to spot because the horse won’t appear to be lame or in pain.
Usually it will be the farrier who first notices white line disease during routine trimming or shoeing. The white line becomes irregular and thickened, and the hoof wall may become concave alongside the affected area, bulging above it. The tissue at the white line may have turned powdery and grey in colour.
When the damaged hoof horn is pared away there will be a separation of the hoof layers.
If the early signs aren’t noticed the hoof will become hollow, and the outer hoof wall will eventually start to break away.
TREATMENT OF WHITE LINE DISEASE
Treating this damaging and incapacitating blight on horse hoofs is a long, involved process that will need the assistance of both a vet and farrier. Eradicating it can take many months of patient effort.
Treatment usually starts by the farrier debriding (scraping off) all infected tissue, and, if the condition has become advanced, even removing the hoof wall over the infected area. Debridement has to be ongoing on a regular weekly basis, until there is no sign of infected tissue left.
In between debridement sessions, anantibacterial or antifungal product needs to be applied, and the hoof needs to be kept dry and aerated. You could use iodine or tea tree oil, for example, or an anti-bacterial hoof putty that packs the hoof and fills hoof wall separations and defects. The idea is to keep moisture and hoof eating microbes out, but allow oxygen in.
Even when there is no more sign of infection, care must be taken to ensure there is no re-infection, especially while new horn is growing, which could take several months. Shoes have been shown to help support the hoof, but the farrier may recommend using heart bar shoes, or shoes with extra clips.
PREVENTION OF WHITE LINE DISEASE
Because there is no definitive reason for the onslaught of White Line disease, it is extremely difficult to know what to do to prevent it.
All the experts can do is “suggest” that stress on the hoof – caused by one or more of numerous factors ranging from faulty hoof conformation and concussion on hard ground, to an overweight horse with small hoofs – makes the laminae tear and bleed, allowing bacteria and fungi from the soil to enter the hoof. There are also said to be connections to lack of exercise, too-small shoes, wet ground and bad stable hygiene. For each theory postulated, though, there are cases that don’t fit the picture.
Two things that everyone seems to agree on, however, is that diet plays a role, and regular trimming and resetting of shoes (at least every six weeks) by a farrier will protect the hoof and pick up early signs of any problems.
Essentially you need to ensure that you keep your horse’s hoofs as healthy as possible. Any seasoned horse owner knows the old maxim: “no hoof, no horse”! A balanced diet is crucial for this, aided and abetted by hoof supplements that provide extra biotin, methionine, zinc and iodine – all nutrients needed for maintaining strong hoofs.
Keep a close check on your horse’s feet, and keep them clean, trimmed and picked out. At the first sign of any cracks, punctures, damage or other faults, call in the professionals.
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