Disclaimer: The following is only general information. If you believe that your horse has a problem please call your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, most horse owners will get first-hand experience with hoof abscesses – fortunately, most horses will make a complete recovery if they are treated quickly.
Hoof abscesses occur when bacteria enters the laminae (tissue layer that bonds the coffin bone, also called P3, to the hoof capsule) behind the hoof wall or sole. The bacteria multiply creating pus, which builds up and creates pressure behind the hoof wall or sole. The entry point for bacteria is usually either the porous white line or under the bars. If the bars are the entry point the abscess will usually erupt through the bulb of the hoof rather than the coronet.
Signs and Causes
Signs to look for
One day your horse is fine and the next morning the hoof is so painful your horse can hardly put it to the ground – this could well be a Hoof Abscess. Abscesses take a couple of days to develop before the pressure reaches a point where the hoof is throbbing and the horse is in extreme pain. If you have ever had a toothache or earache you may have some understanding how distressed the horse will be.
Horses standing in wet environments. Soles and walls soften and allow bacteria to move into the laminae
Long dry periods may cause hoof cracks, again allowing bacteria to move into the laminae
Your farrier may place a nail too close or through the porous white line
Deep bruising of the sole from work on rocky ground
Compromised white line due to hoof injury, laminitis or founder
Treatment and Prevention
First of all you have to call your equine veterinarian straight away. Do not wait to see if it gets better by itself. The quicker your vet can diagnose the problem, and provide a treatment, the more chance your horse will have of making a full recovery. Hoof abscess symptoms can mimic other even more serious problems, so make sure what you are dealing with.
Your vet will perform a physical examination, feeling for a pastern pulse, feeling around the coronet and bulb of the heel, for a pain response. They may use a hoof tester to find the general location of the abscess. Your veterinarian may also take a radiogram (X-Ray) to pinpoint the location.
To relieve the pain your vet may make a small hole through the white line, sole or hoof wall. This will allow the abscess to drain and will instantly relieve the pressure and pain. A professional who knows exactly where the abscess is located must do this.
A poultice and bandage may be used to draw the remaining pus out.
Antibiotics and a Tetanus shot may be prescribed.
If the drainage is through the sole or wall you will need to keep the site clean until the area has dried and hardened.
Regular visits by a qualified farrier (no longer than six weeks between visits).
Regular hoof inspection, cleaning and hoof dressing to avoid cracks.
Keep horses away from swampy, marshy ground in paddocks and muddy areas in stables and yards.
Good housekeeping – pick up farrier nails when he is finished, clean up fencing materials (wire ends, nails, screws, etc.).
Do not work horses on rocky ground or gravel surfaces.
Horses with hoof injuries or other hoof problems should receive daily hoof care and, if possible, housed in a dry, clean environment.
The above information is only general in nature. If you believe that your horse has a problem, please call your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Abscess caused by Laminitis