Does your horse have a
Hoof Abscess?

Hoof Abscess

This image shows the aftermath of a hoof abscess: a hoof wall crack that will take almost a year to grow out.

It burst out of the hoof wall at the hairline where it is soft, and the crack was left from the opening where the infection drained for several days.

What is a Hoof Abscess?

It is one of the most painful hoof conditions your horse may ever experience (and as a horse owner to watch). The onset can be quite sudden, and your horse will be noticeably lame on one foot, and may take all weight off that foot, hobbling on three legs.

The pain is caused by a bacterial infection inside the hoof capsule that is essentially trapped. It can be likened to a painful boil deep under your skin.

Unlike skin however, a horse's hard hoof wall has no stretch to allow the infection to bulge, so all the pressure and heat builds within the hoof, until it is either relieved by a hole cut by a veterinarian or farrier, or it breaks through on it's own.

It can take up to a week for the abscess to burst through on its own, and the horse will feel immediate relief. Any lingering tenderness should disappear within a few days of the infection draining.

Signs and Symptoms

sudden and extreme lameness in one leg

refusal to walk, even in hand, or for favourite treats

noticeable heat may be felt along the coronet band, just above the hoof

strong digital pulse can be found in the fetlock area

Treating abscesses

There are two schools of thought as to treating a hoof abscess. The first says that the abscess should be located (by a vet or farrier with hoof testers) and then drained.

The second says to let nature run its course, and your horse will clear the abscess on its own.

When our horse Comet got his first (of about 6 last year) we were terrified, and didn't know what was wrong him, so we immediately called our veterinarian.

He immediately diagnosed it as an abscess, but even with hoof testers couldn't say for sure where it was. He told us he is usually reluctant to cut and drain an abscess out of the sole of the hoof as (especially in our mucky spring conditions) it is extremely hard to keep the hole clean, and you are likely to trigger another abscess caused by dirt getting trapped inside the hoof capsule.

How can I help my horse

call your vet, especially if you are unfamiliar with abscesses

soak your horses hoof if possible with 1 cup Epsom salt to 1 Gallon water--helps draw out the abscess

several brand name and or home remedy abscess poultice's are available (we used sugar mixed with enough betadine to form a paste)

tape cotton pads to foot for comfort (baby diapers also work)

assess the over-all health of your horse's hooves. Laminitis can weaken the hooves making them more prone to develop a hoof absess

develop a natural hoof care regimen to improve the health of your horses hooves

assess and adjust your horses diet, as this will also improve the strength and health of the hooves, making abscesses less likely

Help! My horse has ANOTHER abscess

Recurring abscesses are one of the most frustrating ailments to deal with. Just when you think you and your horse are in the clear, you head out to the pasture and are met by a hobbling horse.

As our horse Comet was recovering from chronic laminitis he blew five or six abscesses from one hoof over about a four month period. It was devastating to see him in so much pain, and it seemed to take longer for each abscess to burst.

Many people say some horses are simply more prone to abscesses than others, and this may be true, but the recurring hoof abscesses are likely occurring as a symptom of a greater problem.

What is the real problem? Horse Laminitis and Incorrect hoof care.

In our research we have seen over and over again that hooves that are weakened by horse laminitis, or equine founder, are more prone to abscesses...for a couple of reasons.

The hooves are weaker, making them more susceptible to injuries such as stone bruises, or being pierced by a sharp object, which then cause an infection, which must find a way out

Neglected hoofs, that have been improperly maintained often have wall flares and stretched white lines. This softer area in between the hoof wall and the sole of the foot can allow dirt and debris to get inside the hoof and eventually fester.

Hoof Abscesses aren't all Bad!

As crazy as that sounds, after I've just described the utter horror and pain associated with a hoof abscess, they are not all bad! If your horse has an abscess, or even a few in a row, it means that healing is happening inside the hoof!

Do what you can to make your horse comfortable, adopt a healthy horse hoof care routine, and a more natural diet. Barefoot, or natural hoof trimming will help your horse's hoof grow out correctly, and hopefully your horses hooves will stay free of abscesses.

While abscesses are not totally preventable, and any horse is at risk, by making the simple changes recommended here, you should see fewer hoof abscesses in the future!

Related Pages

Horse Laminitis
Natural Hoof Trimming
Grazing Muzzle

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