what is seedy toe

Many of us have heard the term seedy toe – but what is it, really?

There are so many different terms for things in the horse world that it can be challenging to know when something belongs in its own category – or is simply another name for a single disease/condition. Seedy toe is the more commonly heard term for white line disease, a microscopic bacterial infection that enters the hoof wall/laminae junction via cracks, injuries or separation of the hoof wall, and then propagates very quickly in the non-oxygenated environment.

Early detection can be difficult because there are often no external signs visible on the hoof wall. You may only be aware that the horse is experiencing short periods of unexplained lameness during work. And as many veterinarians or farriers will confirm, those symptoms can mean almost anything.

Seedy toe can be a minor issue that requires virtually no maintenance beyond proper attention to trimming methods… or it can be a serious problem affecting the vast majority of the white line.

Cause and Effect

Essentially anything that affects the natural mechanical action of the hoof will affect growth structure and proper hoof function. Toe clips on metal horseshoes have often been implicated as a factor in seedy toe, as have imbalanced feet and/or long toes, whether shod or barefoot.

The added stress applied by the length of the toe interferes with the smooth break-over action of the foot, and the toe clip of a horseshoe tends to apply excess pressure in the toe region of the foot. This can cause the lamina to be stressed in this area, weakening it to the point where it becomes vulnerable to environmental microbes (specifically an anaerobic bacteria) that then begin to multiply and feed off the compromised lamina.

seedy toe
Hoof with white lines.

The opposite hoof conformation can also cause the same problem. Heels left too high in effect cause the coffin bone inside the foot to eventually tip forward from its natural, almost ground parallel position, and create pressure on the sole corium in the toe region, damaging that internal vascular structure. Once again, this creates a weakened area where opportunistic bacteria may take hold and do damage.

Another factor often implicated in the weakening of the walllaminar connection is of dietary and/or metabolic origin, most often an overactive case of Candida yeast. When the horse’s immune system becomes overtaxed, the yeast can become prolific. This can affect individual horses in different ways, one of which is the chronic issue of seedy toe where anaerobic bacteria feeds on the yeast fungi.

Hide and Seek

Seedy toe is initially identified by a careful examination of any small crack on the solar surface of the hoof along the lamina, where sole meets wall. A quick pass with the mild side of a farrier’s rasp can help ascertain if the crack merits further attention, and some skilled probing with a hoof pick or hoof knife may expose some soft chalky material. That’s the beginning. This bacterial infection can happen anywhere along the sole/wall juncture: toes, quarters and/or heels.

What To Do About It

One simple and fairly effective way to address and manage the initial stages of seedy toe in a healthy horse is to simply trim with a more aggressive roll on the outer wall to remove any mechanical forces (fl ares, long toes, etc.). Essentially the hoof will need to outgrow the rate of bacterial feeding.

In more serious cases, treatment of seedy toe requires the hoof wall to be pared away to expose the affected areas to the air (remember the bacteria are anaerobic), thus causing the infection to die off. Care should be taken to remove all the unhealthy material back to good, clean hoof wall laminae. Keep the horse in as dry an area as possible while this section of the hoof wall is open. While some external treatments have merited positive results, it is best to use non-caustic topical solutions such as apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil or basic unpasteurized honey. These agents address and attack the harmful bacteria, while not affecting healthy cells and tissue required for re-growth.

At times however, even the most diligent horse owner and skillful farrier can’t clear up a stubborn seedy toe case. These situations tend to be seen in horses that are immuno-suppressed and require a dietary change to improve their metabolism. Until the yeast issue is resolved, the seedy toe tends to come and go intermittently and never really goes away completely. It is worth reviewing this possibility with a veterinarian, equine nutritionist or other horse health care professional.

Timely Treatment is Key

Seedy toe can often be kept in check by simply maintaining a good, well-balanced trim that allows the weight of the horse to land on the back of the center of the foot, as nature intended. Proper hoof function allows for proper growth and circulation within the hoof, and a healthy hoof rarely succumbs to minor bacterial infections. Combined with a healthy diet and an awareness of the horse’s overall immune system condition, seedy toe need not be a major concern. Early detection of the mechanical breakdown of the hoof wall and lamina juncture is key. As with many equine ailments, treatment is easy if attended to quickly.

Johanna Neuteboom is a professional barefoot trimmer and certified equine sports massage therapist. Her company, barnboots.ca offers services dedicated to holistic horse care, resources and networking, educational exploration and select equine adventures. She shares her life with her five-year-old Friesian mare, the half brother of the same age and his owner, and lives in the Muskoka region of Ontario. For more information on her services and other clinics and workshops, please visit the website: barnboots.ca