What is Hoof Abscess?
Equine hoof abscess is the inflammation of the corium (a sensitive structure of the hoof). Hoof problems such as a hoof abscess can occur in both shod as well as unshod horses. Pus is produced as the natural reaction of the horse’s body to fight off infection.
The pus accumulates, and since it cannot escape through the hoof, great pressure builds, causing much pain and discomfort for a horse. To relieve the pressure (if left untreated), this pus then works its way up the hoof wall, breaking out at the coronary band or the bulbs of the heel. Most abscesses are found in the sole of the hoof, but an abscess can be found elsewhere.
What Causes Hoof Abscess?
A hoof abscess is caused when a localized bacterial infection occurs in the hoof structure. This may occur as a result of:
- A badly placed shoeing nail (punctures the sole)
- A bad shoeing (lack of blood circulation)
- Solar bruising
- Bacteria migrating in to the defects, fissures and cracks in the white line (too much moisture and sand grains drawn into the hoof)
Note: Horses that have been shod and then go barefoot tend to have an increased chance of developing a hoof abscess until the hoof becomes stronger.
Diagnosing Hoof Abscess
It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with your horse’s hooves. If your horse’s foot is warmer than normal to the touch, or if the pulse is stronger, the cause could be an abscess inside the hoof. This self-check can alert you to problems and if you find your horse shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot or suddenly becoming completely lame.
Typical signs of a hoof abscess include:
- Sudden and severe lameness and pain
- Your horse bears little to no weight on a leg
- Your horse walks on its toe
- Swelling in the pastern and fetlock
- Heat in the limb or hoof
- Low-grade fever
Help for Hoof Abscess
If the horse is shod, the shoe is firstly removed and the hoof cleaned. Hoof testers are often used to test the horses’ sensitivity to pressure in specific areas of the hoof to locate the point of origin of the abscess. Draining the infection is one way of treating an abscess. A veterinarian should do this.
Once the hoof abscess is open, keep the horse in a stall with very clean, deep, dry wood shavings for at least 24 hours. The dry shavings help to pull out and absorb any fluid left in the foot. Then the hoof can be gently wrapped up and placed in a special treatment boot if needed to help cushion and protect the hoof. This also ensures that dirt and manure cannot come in contact with the hole and sensitive tissues.
Some abscesses will clear on their own and you may not even be aware until your farrier points it out.
There are many herbal and homeopathic remedies that can help to nourish the hoof from the inside out. Linseed Oil and Wintergreen Oil are rich sources of the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, which is a biologic precursor to omega-3 fatty acids. These oils contain soothing properties, and can provide a protective barrier against water absorption when applied topically to the hoof. Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic and can aid in faster healing when applied to the opening.
Abscesses are usually very painful for your horse and cause lameness. It’s important that your horse keep moving to help speed up the removal of the toxins that are trapped inside the hoof wall. Tmore your horse moves the quicker the infection will find it’s way out and the pain will subside.
Herbs such as Devils Claw and White Willow, both found in Herbal Bute Naturally, are powerful natural pain relievers. Using Herbal Bute Naturally can help relieve the pain to keep your horse more comfortable and moving until the abscess resolves
Inflammation caused by the hoof infection restricts circulation of blood which slows healing. Circu-flow Naturally contains the herbs Hawthorne, Buckwheat and Nettle that help improve circulation to tissues, speed repair and halt tissue damage.
Remember that hoof abscesses can be prevented! Here are some tips:
- Prevent laminitis and founder by limiting grazing on spring and fall grasses
- Maintain a regular schedule with your farrier
- Trim your horse on a regular basis (hooves with too much toe or excessive bars are more prone to hoof abscesses)
- Know your horse’s hooves and check them regularly!
- Guard against too much moisture
- If your horse is barefoot use hoof boots when riding on pavement, gravel, or rocky terrain
- Feed a balanced hoof supplement to strengthen hooves