White Line Disease

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Q: Any remedies for the "white line disease"? We raise TB/Draft crosses and some of these guys seem more susceptible. Tried bleach, iodine, now using ThrushBuster. Our farrier likes to dig it all out, the other day totally laming our purebred Belgian mare for three weeks. Needless to say, he won't be working on her again. Thanks.

A: Your question was brief but it did make my eyebrows raise. White line disease. The first thing we have to do is to determine whether we do in fact have white line disease. If you have a wall separation and you clean it out and put a shoe over it or use acrylics to cover it up, and you come back in 6 weeks time and the fissure is enlarged, then you probably do have white line disease. To be positive requires a biopsy which may take  90 days and a couple hundred dollars, but a qualified farrier will normally make a decision based on previous experience and act upon it.

You said your farrier likes to dig things out. If your farrier dug it out by removing the wall and all diseased and foreign matter, thereby exposing the unhealthy area to sunlight and fresh air, he did exactly what he should have done. Digging it out from below, merely creating a cavity, does absolutely no good because the anaerobic organisms will flourish and more foreign matter will pack up into the cavity, making any horse lame.

If your farrier "dug it out" right, you better give him a raise instead of chastising him. In that case your farrier did exactly what he should have done. I hope that he has a computer and reads my column because he probably won't get any other pats on the back over this incident other than the one I give him. I have to say the equine world should be grateful that there are farriers like him out there that have the knowledge, experience and guts to do what is right. Three cheers to you, farrier, whoever you are.

Any time I talk to veterinarians about white line disease, they shrug their shoulders. They don't know. I read virtually all books, magazines, and sites on the internet dealing with hoof care, and I can tell you that there is little to no information on white line disease. The "experts" on the subject are the working farriers. My knowledge of white line disease comes from 2 sources: working farriers and my own experience.

If I suspect white line disease, I dig it out and cut it out, using half-round nippers, knives, scalpels, Dremel tool, and a rasp. This is called a HOOF WALL RESECTION. All traces of the invading organism must be removed and the diseased hoof must be opened to fresh air and sunlight and protected from dirt, manure, mud, rocks and bumps and bangs. Topical medications may help. If you are lucky, new disease-free healthy hoof will grow down.

If it appears that a large portion of the hoof is involved I will call in a good veterinarian to take radiographs (x-rays) and for consultation before beginning a resection.

Bleach and the things that you have tried are definitely not going to cure white line disease. There are a host of medications on the market making extravagant claims about their effectiveness on white line disease. I have tried them all and no one product has led me to believe that it is the magic cure. What will help on one horse won't work at all on another. What will work on one horse at the onset might not work clear through to the end. They only work at all in conjunction with opening up the diseased area to air and removing all traces of the invading organism.

When your farrier suspects white line disease, have him cut it out and remove the wall in that area while it is just getting started. If this is done early on there will just be a little place in the foot missing. Most horse owners will put the minor resection off and keep trying magical medications until half or two thirds of the foot is involved. At this point the resection is a major job both in expense to you and trauma to the horse. Try to get up the courage to let your farrier work on it while it is a small problem.

Most horses will not show clinical lameness with white line disease even as it becomes quite advanced because white line disease does not attack the sensitive tissues. However, it is just a matter of time before the wall separation becomes so extreme that the horse will not be supported by his hoof and will no longer be usable. To say there is no problem because he is not lame is the same as saying that there is no problem when your dentist finds a cavity before it hurts or the doctor finds cancer before it is painful. You may be in pain for a while after the filling is put in or after the cancer surgery, but if all goes well there will be no more problem other than this short-term pain.

In the same way a horse will probably not be lame until after the hoof wall resection, but it is the beginning of healing. The lameness should be short lived and the healing will preserve the horse's usefulness, and thus his life in most cases.

Geronimo Bayard
The American Blacksmith
Oakland, Oregon

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This entire web site is copyright protected.  1996-2001 Geronimo & Mary Bayard,  2001-2008 Mary Fitzpatrick
All rights reserved. Contact Mary for reproduction information & permission.