As a horse
owner Hoof Abscesses are most one of the most irritating causes of lameness. The hours of poulticing, tubbing and general
worry that they cause; the ‘is it isn’t it’ or should I call the vet or not is
a conundrum we all face.For the poor
horse they are massively painful and can develop into some really nasty
conditions that can, on the odd occasion, be life-threatening.
CAUSES HOOF ABSCESSES IN HORSES?
Most abscesses begin with bacteria entering interior hoof
structures, usually via the sole-wall junction (just inside
wall and sole can make it easier for bacteria to invade, and some internal
hoof injuries (such as bruising) can also result in abscesses.
The most common causes of abscesses include:
- 1.Environmental conditions cycling between wet
and dry - In very dry conditions the hoof dries out and can
shrink slightly like a dried-out sponge. This can result in tiny hoof cracks
and fissures in the sole-wall junction that can then soften and fill with muck
when the weather turns wet, allowing opportunistic bacteria to invade the hoof
and cause an abscess.
- 2.Penetrating wounds can
occur as a result of a horse stepping on a sharp object such as a nail, rock,
or broken glass. These injuries may
cause a perforation (hole) of the sole that packs up or seals over, and then an
abscess results two to four days later as a result of contamination.
- 3.“Close” nails in a recently
shod foot (Nail prick or Nail Bind).A horseshoe nail placed too close to or into
the foot’s sensitive inner structures can introduce bacteria that cause an
abscess. Even if the nail is removed right away and didn’t introduce bacteria,
it created a pathway into the hoof that can let in bacteria and result in an
- 4.Ground conditions/bruising – Muddy,
wet or rocky ground can soften feet and/or cause bruises. Some bruises may
abscess if bacteria are introduced through a small external insult or from
circulating bacteria in the bloodstream.
- 5.Poor hoof
hoof wall flares can put additional bending stress on the sole-wall junction
and cause cracks that can become contaminated. Leaving the bars of the foot too
long can also result in localized bruising due to pressure from the ground and therefore
- 6.Stable Management – Dirty/Deep
Littered stables can be wet and contain lots of bacteria that can invade the
A HOOF ABSCESS
Similarly to under fingernails there’s little room
swelling in the hoof. When the pressure from
inflammation and pus builds it causes sudden pain and severe lameness. Usually,
visible wounds or swelling aren’t present.The onset of lameness can be so sudden the horse may appear to have broken
The pastern or heel bulbs and coronary band may also be
swollen. Often, the hoof wall is warmer, and you can feel pulses near the
pastern.Severe abscesses can lead to
swelling and infection that goes up the leg to cause Lymphangitis.
Clinical signs (symptoms) depend on the severity of the
infection, lameness can vary from mild, minimal lameness progressing to
moderate to severe lameness. Other clinical signs might include swelling, heat,
draining tracts, increased digital pulse, and evidence of hoof injuries (that
can introduce bacteria into inner hoof structures, leading to abscesses).
In severe cases or if the abscess is deep within the hoof,
the abscess pocket or its effects, such as deteriorating bone, are visible on an
When trimming the hoof, a black spot on the sole or
sole-wall junction where a crack or puncture is contaminated with muck can be
visible. This stands out in contrast to the rest of the clean, trimmed sole.
This contaminated tract can lead to an abscess.
The goal of treatment is to drain the abscess
further infection. Due to the level of pain, it’s inhumane to wait for the
abscess to rupture on its own.
Finding the source:
The vet or farrier will use hoof testers to pinch parts of the foot and
find the source of pain. They may find a crack or drain track after cleaning
the hoof and removing the old sole.
In severe cases if the drain track can’t be found the vet may X-ray to
look for gas (produced by bacteria) within the hoof. This will also help rule
out other causes of lameness.
Draining the abscess
Once the vet or farrier finds the abscess area, they can use a paring
knife to cut a hole just large enough to drain the pus. Some horses will need
analgesics (pain relievers) or local nerve blocks. Normally, the horse has
sudden pain relief once the infection drains.
Bandaging the abscess
Apply a poultice to keep the abscess draining for 48 hours, we recommend
Animlintex as it contains a drawing agent.Adding Epsom Salts to the poultice can be useful. Cover the bandage with
a hoof boot. This covering must stay clean to prevent lengthening the infection
or dirtying the drain hole and change every 12 to 24 hours depending on the
amount of pus that is coming out.
Keep your horse in a clean, dry area, such as a well-bedded
stall or small paddock (turnout is preferable as the movement helps to
drain the pus).
Remove and change the bandage daily.
Keep the hoof bandaged until the draining stops, the hole is
dry and the lameness is gone.
RECOVERY FROM AND PREVENTING ABSCESS
Horses with a mild infection can usually return to work in
less than a week. Deep infections can take several weeks to heal
Keep your horse’s environment clean and dry. Routinely clean
stalls and remove manure from paddocks.
Apply hoof hardeners before extreme weather changes. Hoo
hardeners protect the hoof wall from too much moisture. You can use pine tar or
other covering to hold in moisture during drought.
Routinely trim your horse’s hooves.
Remove any nails, tools, rocks, metal pieces, and glass from
your horse’s area to lower the risk of injury.
HOOF ABSCESS Poor Hoof Quality: A
horse with weak, shelly hooves is more likely to develop bruises and cracks
that allow bacteria to enter. Infrequent Farriery Care: Long,
overgrown feet are at a greater risk of developing abscesses than are
well-maintained and balanced hooves. Chronic Laminitis: Ongoing,
low-level inflammation of the laminae may not lead to a classic laminitic
stance, with the horse rocked back on his hindquarters in obvious pain.
Instead, it can show up as repeated abscesses. Uncontrolled Pituitary Pars
Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID, also known as
Cushing’s): This common hormonal disorder of older horses can
increase the risk of hoof abscesses by weakening the immune system. Environmental Conditions: Paddock
footing that fluctuates between wet and dry can cause the hoof to expand and
contract rapidly, which can lead to tiny cracks that allow bacteria to enter
and form abscesses. Likewise, rocky or uneven footing can cause repeated, small
traumas to the hoof, leading to recurring abscesses.
Poulticing Essentials for every first aid kit:
poultice to draw the infection out.Some people like to use a hot poultice, but on
consultation with some vets this isn’t always necessary and a cold wet poultice
with Epsom salts applied and left for 12-24 hours can be super-efficient
- Self adhesive bandages such as Vetrap, Wraptec or Naf Wrap.
- Epsom Salts
- Hoof Boot/Poultice Boot or Gaffer Tape
- A hoof knife (for the more experienced – on speaking to a
vet it isn’t just a vet or farrier who can use these)