What You Need to Know About Horse Hoof Abscess

A hoof abscess can develop after deep bruising or from penetration by a foreign body. Learn how to identify and treat a hoof abscess.

Why did my horse get a hoof abscess?

A hoof abscess can develop after deep bruising from a rock or impact, or from penetration by a foreign body like a nail or piece of sharp metal. Separation of the white line or cracks in the sole or hoof wall allow for the entrance of bacteria and set up conditions for an infection that forms an abscess.

How to diagnose a hoof abscess

Because the hoof wall is unable to expand, any pressure buildup in the hoof is quite painful. A horse often “points” a painful foot or shifts weight from leg to leg, in general appearing uncomfortable. Many horses will be considerably lame with a hoof abscess. It is not uncommon for the horse to be fine and then a few hours later be unwilling to weight bear on that limb as pressure builds within the hoof. Some deep-seated abscesses break out at the coronary band or heel bulb, weeping serum from an open wound. In some cases, soft tissues in the lower limb swell up into the cannon bone, resembling a tendon injury. Have your veterinarian examine the foot and use hoof testers to isolate the specific area of pain. If it is possible to open drainage by curetting and excavating the sole, that will provide instant relief to the horse.

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Treating an abscess

Foot soaks for 15-30 minutes a couple times a day help an abscess break out at the path of least resistance, i.e. the heel bulbs or coronary band. Prepare a soaking solution by saturating warm water with as much Epsom salt as possible; for antisepsis, mix in tamed iodine (Betadine) to the color of weak tea. Before immersing the hoof in this solution, scrub the foot to remove dirt and manure; soak in a clean area of concrete or asphalt to avoid foot contamination if the horse pulls his leg from the bucket. Following a soak, dry the foot and place it in a hoof boot to keep it clean. Tetanus prophylaxis is important and should be boosted if the horse isn’t current on this vaccine within the past 8-9 months.

[Read more: Cellulitis in Horses: Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention]

Can you prevent a horse from getting hoof abscesses?

Inspect your horse’s hooves daily looking for bruises, lodged stones, foreign bodies, white line separation (visible if barefoot), or hoof wall cracks. Check soundness regularly even if not riding so you can identify a problem early on. Maintain good stabling hygiene by cleaning manure and urine-soaked bedding or soil from the stall or paddock each day. Ensure good drainage of the stabling area to prevent mud accumulation.






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