Classic Equine Connection

Handling A Hoof Abscess

Posted by Classic Equine Equipment Blog on Aug 26, 2020 4:42:35 PM

With the constant changes of weather – warm to cold, wet to dry – it’s a common time for horses to develop a hoof abscess. A hoof abscess is a localized bacterial infection in the sensitive structures of the hoof, typically in the front feet in the sole of the hoof, but can also be found elsewhere.

Classic Equine Blog- AbscessCommon signs of a hoof abscess include:

-Sudden and severe lameness and pain.

-Non weight bearing on infected foot or may walk on its toe.

-Heat and pain in the limb or hoof.

-Increase in digital pulse

-Swollen leg and/or a low-grade fever

-Tendons in affected leg become painful and swollen due to congestion of blood vessels.

-Swelling in the pastern and fetlock.

Purulent fluid (commonly called “pus”) is produced as a reaction to the infection. The pus accumulates between the keratinized and germinal layers of the hoof wall. Since the hoof cannot expand, the increased pressure of pus collecting within the hoof capsule causes significant pain. As the abscess progresses, the infection works its way up the hoof wall and pops out at the coronary band, the bulb of the heel, or drains out the sole.

A hoof abscess can be caused by sharp objects penetrating the sole of the hoof (such as a nail), damage to the corium from decreased blood flow, or bacteria migrating into the defects, fissures and cracks in the white line. Sole penetration by a sharp object is not a very common scenario for a hoof abscess. More often, an abscess is a result of corium or lateral cartilage compression or most frequently due to excess bacteria and moisture in the hoof.

If the abscess is caused by bacteria from the outside, Classic Equine Blog- Horse abscessparticles (dirt, sand) become engrained in the sensitive lamina underneath the hoof wall, causing an infection in the hoof. The infection can travel up the hoof and drain at the coronary band or stay close to the sole of the hoof. An abscess can also occur under the bars of the hoof.

While a hoof abscess can heal on its own, this is not recommended. An abscess can be extremely painful and the healing process will take significantly longer without intervention. It is recommended that you work with your veterinarian and/or farrier to diagnose and treat an abscess. If the horse is shod, the shoe is normally pulled.  The hoof is then thoroughly cleaned and hoof testers can be used to help locate the point of entry and better determine the location of the abscess.

Often a black line is identified and the line is followed to locate the infected area. Using a hoof knife or loop knife, your veterinarian will make a very small hole in the sole of the hoof to allow for drainage and provide relief of the pressurized fluid. When the pressure is released from the hoof capsule, often a black or brown fluid will drain from the site and the horse will experience immediate relief.

farrier- Classic Equine BlogIf the point of origin and the abscess cannot be identified or the infection is too deep in the hoof, (the abscess could be deep in the heel/frog/bars region), no cutting will occur. Cutting too much or going too deep can be more harmful than beneficial. If a drain hole is not able to be made or cannot sufficiently drain the abscess, then most likely the abscess will progress up to the coronary band and the pus will drain there.

It is important to keep the hoof as clean and protected as possible and to apply a poultice. A standard recommended protocol for treatment begins with soaking your horse’s hoof in a shallow pan (bucket or soaking boot) of Epsom salt and water for 15 minutes 2 times/day. The soaking will “draw” the abscess, pulling the bacterial infection from the hoof. If no hole is made, the poultice will help soften the sole. If a drain hole is made in the hoof, then it is imperative that the hole be protected and kept clean while the abscess drains and the hoof heals.

The hoof is then wrapped to ensure dirt and manure cannot come in contact with the hole and sensitive tissues. Creating a “pad” by using a plastic baby diaper and attaching it with duct tape (both waterproof) can help keep the area clean and dry. To help lessen the chances of your horse having a hoof abscess, maintain a regular schedule with your farrier or trim your horse on a regular basis. Often hooves with too much toe or excessive bars are more prone to hoof abscesses.

Hoof abscesses are no fun for you or your horse, but with proper treatment they are usually not dangerous.

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