What is Hoof Abscess?
Equine hoof abscess is the inflammation of the corium (a sensitive structure of the hoof). Hoof problems such as a hoof abscess can occur in both shod as well as unshod horses. Pus is produced as the natural reaction of the horse’s body to fight off infection.
The pus accumulates, and since it cannot escape through the hoof, great pressure builds, causing much pain and discomfort for a horse. To relieve the pressure (if left untreated), this pus then works its way up the hoof wall, breaking out at the coronary band or the bulbs of the heel. Most abscesses are found in the sole of the hoof, but an abscess can be found elsewhere.
What Causes Hoof Abscess?
A hoof abscess is caused when a localized bacterial infection occurs in the hoof structure. This may occur as a result of:
- A badly placed shoeing nail (punctures the sole)
- A bad shoeing (lack of blood circulation)
- Solar bruising or corn
- Bacteria migrating in to the defects, fissures and cracks in the white line (too much moisture and sand grains drawn into the hoof)
Note: Horses that have been shod and then go barefoot tend to have an increased chance of developing a hoof abscess until the hoof becomes stronger.
Diagnosing Hoof Abscess
It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with your horse’s hooves. If your horse’s foot is warmer than normal to the touch, or if the pulse is stronger, the cause could be an abscess inside the hoof. This self-check can alert you to problems and if you find your horse shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, call your veterinarian immediately.
Typical signs of a hoof abscess include:
- Sudden and severe lameness and pain
- Your horse bears little to no weight on a leg
- Your horse walks on its toe
- Swelling in the pastern and fetlock
- Heat in the limb or hoof
- Low-grade fever
Help for Hoof Abscess
If the horse is shod, the shoe is firstly removed and the hoof cleaned. Hoof testers are often used to test the horses’ sensitivity to pressure in specific areas of the hoof to locate the point of origin of the abscess. Draining the infection is one way of treating an abscess. A veterinarian should do this.
You should never try to drain an abscess on the sole of the hoof as this may lead to greater infections of the bone. Using a hoof knife or loop knife, a very small hole is made at the point of the abscess to allow for drainage and provide relief of the pressurized fluid. Antibiotics may be administered to ease some of the pain of a hoof abscess and your veterinarian will probably also give the horse a tetanus shot.
The hoof is then gently wrapped up and placed in a special treatment boot to help cushion and protect the hoof. This also ensures that dirt and manure cannot come in contact with the hole and sensitive tissues.
There are many herbal and homeopathic remedies that can help to nourish the hoof from the inside out. Linseed Oil and Wintergreen Oil are rich sources of the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, which is a biologic precursor to omega-3 fatty acids. These oils contain soothing properties, and can provide a protective barrier against water absorption when applied topically to the hoof.
Herbs such as Horsetail and Comfrey can aid healing and support the health and strength of the hoof. Marigold, Lavender and St John’s Wort have been shown to promote the repair of damaged tissues within, while Arnica has been extensively researched for healing properties on the exterior, helping to combat pain, inflammation and bruising which are often symptoms of equine hoof abscess.
More Information on Hoof Abscess
Tips related to Horse Hoof Abscess
Remember that hoof abscesses can be prevented! Here are some tips:
- Maintain a regular schedule with your farrier
- Trim your horse on a regular basis (hooves with too much toe or excessive bars are more prone to hoof abscesses)
- Know your horse’s hooves and check them regularly!
- Ensure proper care is taking when trimming
- Guard against too much moisture(proper foot dressing is key)
A note for healthy hooves while traveling:
Without protective covering for your horse’s heels, he/she can easily step on the edge of a shoe and pull it partially loose. This means that for the remainder of the journey, your horse may stand on nails of the sprung or shifted shoe. The coronet band is also vulnerable: if your horse steps on another foot while struggling to keep balance in a moving trailer it can cause great harm.
A great tip: try old-fashioned shipping bandages and bell boots (large enough to cover the bulbs of your horse’s heels and the backs of his shoes) or good quality full-coverage Velcro-fastened shipping boots.