Ouch! - Hoof Abscess

It’s your day off from work and you have special riding plans with your friends. You venture out to halter your horse and he’s lame. Not just a little lame either, head-bobbing-I’m sore-lame! He was fine yesterday, try not to panic. One of the most common causes of sudden lameness, besides getting kicked by another horse, is a hoof abscess. If your horse has no swelling to be seen on the lame leg, then you have to consider the hoof. Your horse’s hoof on the lame leg may feel much warmer than the sound side. The digital pulse, located at the base of the fetlock joint, may be increased due to internal inflammation within the hoof itself. 
 
 
An artery runs along the groove of the Suspensory ligament and down over the long and short pastern bones.
You can detect the pulse here with your fingers. Under normal conditions there is not a strong pulse. But under
inflammatory conditions the pulse will be stronger and if you compare to other legs you can detect the difference. 
 
An abscess occurs when bacteria enters into the hoof wall or sole via a small puncture, tiny gravel that works up into the wall, a bad nail from shoeing, and/or poor trimming or management practices, are a few potential causes. As the bacteria builds up it forms a localized infection or quite simply, a pus pocket.  As the infection builds up, the sensitive laminae become tender and swollen. Yet due to it all being inside a hoof capsule, the swelling is contained and has nowhere to go. The pressure just continues to build up and your now lame horse, doesn’t want to place weight on that foot.  
 
You can call your vet or your farrier for further diagnosis. They can use hoof testers to detect the location of the soreness and then decide on a treatment plan. Sometimes the vet or farrier can find the puncture area where the bacteria entered the hoof, opening up the hole and allowing the abscess to drain out. Other times the pocket can’t be located without x-rays. Your vet may prescribe a round of antibiotics to help with the infection.
 
I have found that normally within a couple days the abscess will push out through the wall and break out up on the coronary band. Once the abscess breaks the horse is usually much better. However you still have to take care of it and keep it clean. Generally soaking the hoof is the easy way to try to open the hole and allow it to drain out. Often the veterinarian will have you soak the hoof a few times a day with hot water and Epsom Salts and vinegar to draw out the bacteria. A person can use a poultice and a treatment boot for the same action. No matter what treatment you use, the hoof needs to remain in a clean environment between treatments. Allowing more manure and debris to pack into the sore hoof or opened up hole is only going to complicate matters.
 
 
Sometimes even old dry abscesses can still cause lameness. Here I used “Sornomore” clay on both hooves as
this horse had been kept in dirty conditions plus his hooves had been neglected. Within the hoof were several
old abscesses as the bacteria had worked in through separations in the hoof wall and at the time had gone
untreated. The baggy holds the medication in and the hoof boot keeps it there as well as keeping the hoof clean.
 
I am not a veterinarian but my favorite protocol for this problem is partially allowing nature to take its course. In a couple days the horse will usually be back on the road to soundness. I like to initially soak the hoof in a bucket filled about halfway with hot water. I add a ¼ cup of Epsom salts and a ¼ cup of vinegar which acts as a drawing agent to pull out the bacteria. Tea Tree oil works well also. After soaking I do a bit of scraping the sole to look for an entry point or for hoof wall separation - if I find something, I’ll dig a little. If it’s deep then I’ll quit because I’ll expose too much soft tissue. Some will disagree but it’s what I prefer because it seems to work for me. Then I will use a poultice, commercial or homemade, which I place over the entire sole and frog of the hoof. I then take a quart size plastic bag and place over the hoof followed by a tough bandage or sized up Easyboot or treatment boot. I’ll leave this on for a day and change it out the next day. By day two the horse is usually not limping around.
 
 
The new Easyboot Transition boot is ideal as a treatment boot and also for keeping the hoof clean as your horse recovers
from his abscess. The cushioning of the sole will aid in keeping your horse more comfortable as you return to riding. 
 
Once he’s not limping that means the pocket has drained out the bottom some place or you may find an open wound at the top of the coronary band where it drained out. You still need to keep the hoof clean and away from debris so the abscess can continue to drain and dry out. I know I have said this three times but cleanliness is the key to recovery.  
 
With a very bad abscess your veterinarian may prescribe flushing the infected area out with an iodine solution or a product made for such things like Clean Trax. Flushing not only deep cleans the abscess channel but introduces a bacterial fighting agent into the infected area. This of course requires an open hole from either the bottom of the hoof or the coronary band. And would only be necessary with a serious abscess that just doesn’t want to give up.
 
In a matter of days you should be back on the trail enjoying the scenery once again! 
 
Karen Bumgarner

 


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