Equine Hoof Abscesses
Equine hoof abscesses are a common cause of sudden, severe lameness. In many cases, the horse may have been sound the evening prior, and non-weight-bearing the following day. In some cases an abscess will present as a slow and increasing lameness. Swelling is possible, which can extend from the coronary band as high as the knee or hock.
Hoof abscesses occur when bacteria invades the hoof–typically through a puncture wound in the sole, or a diseased white line. A sole bruise can also lead to a hoof abscess. White blood cells and other inflammatory products accumulate to fight the infection. Unlike a pimple, which can easily pop, abscesses within the hoof capsule have trouble escaping. The pocket of fluid that forms creates pressure within the hoof, causing severe pain. Eventually, the fluid may rupture out the coronary band (leaving a temporary defect in the hoof) or through the sole. In severe cases, the coffin bone can become infected (pedal osteitis).
Diagnosis is typically made with hoof testers, an instrument that pinches the foot, applying pressure to the sole. A positive reaction guides the veterinarian or farrier in knowing where to open the abscess tract. Treatment includes soaking the hoof in warm water and Epsom salts to increase drainage and remove infection, and preventing further debris from entering the abscess tract by wrapping the hoof or using a protective boot.
Prevention includes routine farrier care since a well-trimmed foot is less likely to develop white line separation and thrush which can lead to abscesses. Additionally, picking out hooves regularly to remove stones which may cause bruising, and applying shoes to thin-soled horses can help.
When the weather cycles between wet and dry, as it has this year, foot abscesses are very common. If your horse develops a sudden lameness, please call your farrier or Equine Community Practice to get it evaluated. Treatment is important to prevent damage to the coffin bone or hoof wall. Although hoof abscesses are rarely life-threatening, we recommend having your horse evaluated promptly to start treatment, relieve pain, and to rule out other causes of lameness.