Hoof Abscesses in Horses: How to Recognize, Treat, and Prevent

The horse consists of the external hoof wall, visible to the naked eye, and the laminae, a tissue layer connecting the hoof wall to the skeleton's bone.

The horse consists of the external hoof wall, visible to the naked eye, and the laminae, a tissue layer connecting the hoof wall to the skeleton’s bone. Once germs remain inside the hoof, an abscess can develop. When a spot develops, pus-filled pockets of exudate form by bacteria that become caught between the laminae and the hoof wall. Subjects horses to severe pain due to the pressure created behind the sole or hoof wall.

Due to the significant slowness it can cause, which can appear to develop quickly, a foot abscess can look troubling to a horse owner. An anxious owner can discover a horse or pony with three lame legs in a pasture, which can appear alarming.

One of the most common causes of sudden disability in horses is hoof abscesses. Within 24 hours, a spot can make a horse unable to bear weight while its look is entirely every day. 

Hoof Patterns

A hoof abscess may be best described by drawing a comparison to a whitehead pimple. The little pus-filled bubble under the skin might cause moderate discomfort or excruciating agony. You may experience pain in that area long before the spot appears, or it may appear suddenly and in full force. Someone breaks it and lets it drain to quickly get rid of it, thus rapidly alleviating the pressure and providing pain relief.

This is similar to how a hoof abscess causes pain in a horse; it usually starts with a specific, walled-off disease that the body fights with white blood cells and inflammatory substances. Infection, inflammation, and white blood cell buildup grow, increasing pressure, mainly because the hard hoof wall cannot expand to relieve stress. The onset of lameness and the degree of the foot will vary. Some horses may never become lame until the abscess cracks or the lameness may be brief and ignored, mainly if the horse is out in the land and not watched frequently.

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Horses’ Hoof Abscess Causes

Hoof abscesses can grow for some causes, although they are most common in the spring and fall. Changing weather from wet to dry or dry to wet may weaken a horse’s foot and make it more vulnerable to cracks and holes where bacteria can enter. Internal hoof injuries (such as bruising) and poor hoof wall/sole integrity increase the chance of bacterial invasion and can lead to abscesses. 

Wet and dry environmental conditions: The hoof will shrink due to drying out in a dry environment. This can lead the sole-wall junction to develop small tears and breaks. Wet weather makes it possible for germs to enter the hoof and result in an abscess, contrary to dry conditions.

Piercing injuries: A horse can puncture the sole of its foot when it steps on a sharp object such as a rock, nail, or piece of broken glass, allowing germs to collect and form a seal. Usually, 2-4 days later, an abscess develops itself.

“Close” the nails: Someone can drive a horseshoe nail too profoundly or too closely to the soft inner structures, causing an abscess.

Thin sole hot shoe: Pairing a heated shoe with a thin sole is dangerous. Heat damage to delicate cells may result from placing a hot shoe on one with a thin sole.

Poor conformation and hooves: Stress on the foot can result from inadequate confirmation. Applying bending stress to the sole-wall junction will crack and dirty it. 

Cleanliness: Numerous germs are present in moist, dusty areas or stalls. This can enter the foot and result in an abscess.

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How Veterinarians Detect Horse Hoof Abscess?

The hoof, like your fingernail, has little capacity for swelling. When the pressure builds up, it produces significant pain and disability. Because of these severe symptoms, owners frequently fret about a broken bone. Usually, there are no visible wounds or swelling.

Severe infections can cause inflammation and infection up the leg. Someone may enlarge the pastern or heel bulbs and the cardiac band. Someone frequently feels pulses around the pastern, which can warm the hoof wall.

Remove any nails or other objects found in the hoof. Contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Tell a vet where the thing enters the foot and at what angle.

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Treatment of Hoof Abscess in Horses

Medical care aims to empty the abscess and keep the infection from spreading. It is inhumane to wait for the abscess to rupture on its own due to its level of discomfort.

Finding the source of the pain

Your veterinarian will review your horse’s medical history and perform a lameness exam. A lameness exam is to verify that no broken bones or other injuries have occurred. They will utilise hoof tests to pinch different regions of the foot to determine the cause of the pain. They may discover a crack or drain track after washing the hoof and removing the old sole.

If your veterinarian cannot locate a drain track, they may perform a radiography to look for gas (made by bacteria) within the hoof. This will also help rule out other options.

Drainage of the abscess

They can use a paring knife to make a hole large enough to release pus once they’ve located the abscess. Some horses may require painkillers (pain medications) or local nerve blocks. When the infection drains, the horse usually experiences quick pain relief.

Bandaging the abscess

Your veterinarian will place a medicated bandage to keep the abscess draining for 48 hours. Ordinary antiseptic dressings are those with iodine or medication on them. After that, you or your veterinarian may then put a waterproof covering, such as a hoof boot or diaper. Keep this covering clean to stop the illness from spreading or the drain hole from becoming clogged.

  • Preserve a clean, dry environment for your horse, such as a well-bedded stall or small fields.
  • Every day, remove and replace the bandage.
  • Continue using the hoof bandage until the flow stops, the hole is dry, and the lameness has disappeared.

Multiple daily warm waters and Epsom salt absorbs may be more harmful than beneficial. Soaking the hoof repeatedly can weaken and damage it. Washing the sole in tap water can assist in hydrating it. Your veterinarian may advise you to wet the foot now and then to get it emptied. They can prescribe bute (phenylbutazone), firocoxib, or Banamine to control pain or swelling.

Dress the hooves

“If your horse doesn’t have a good-quality hoof or periople, there are many great hoof dressings out there that you can apply daily or several times a week,” Carson said.

“There are also a lot of great supplements out there that can help enhance the quality of the horny layers that make up the hoof shell, like those that contain niacin and other trace elements.”

“Petroleum products are commonly inferior to products containing natural substances such as fir tar and turpentine,” he said. “I’ve used products with lanolin or honey, which are superior.” Petroleum has a risk of being more painful and drying.”

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Prescription medications for Hoof Abscess 

To help with pain and inflammation, your veterinarian will most likely give a neutral anti-inflammatory prescription drug such as phenylbutazone (bute), flunixin meglumine (Banamine), or Equioxx. In addition to reducing inflammation, these drugs relieve pain, allowing your horse to put weight on the damaged hoof. Medications also aid in the flow of an abscess. 

Prescription medications
  • Give your horse a clean, dry environment to live in. Manure should be routinely removed from paddocks and stalls cleaned.
  • Apply hoof hardeners before severe weather changes. Hoof hardeners shield the hoof wall from too much water. You can apply pine tar or another covering during a drought to keep moisture.
  • Trim your horse’s hooves regularly.
  • Remove any nails, tools, metal items, and glass from your horse’s area to reduce the danger of harm.

Pay careful attention to horses which could be less safe:

Horses who suffer from chronic laminitis, have substandard hooves, or even have white claws may be at a higher risk of developing foot abscesses, especially if they live in an area known to cause pimples. Fallon said, “You can learn how to handle those horses.” “There are benefits to vitamins, hoof treatments, and shoes. You can do several simple things to improve your horse’s long-term health and lessen pus or the likelihood that they may develop abscesses, even if their foot condition is average to poor. 

Treating the coronet band is crucial if they blow out a large abscess. Because lanolin is an ingredient in dressings like Corona, I even go back to using something as simple as Bag Balm. You must defend their building systems.”

Time to recover from an abscess

Horses suffering from a minor infection can return to work in less than a week. Deep conditions can take many weeks to cure and, if not treated, can lead to laminitis.

If this occurs, contact a veterinarian:

  • After 48 hours, the infection continues to drain or drains more.
  • The horse is in pain or requires analgesics (painkillers) for more than one to two days.
  • The horse wants to eat.
  • The horse routinely transfers its weight, rests its good leg, or lies down more than usual.
  • Tissue (proud tissue) flows from the drain hole.

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