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What is a Hoof Abscess and How is it Treated?

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Almost every horse owner has experienced it. You go to visit your horse or to feed him and see that he is three legged lame. Did he break his leg? Did he step on a nail? IS HE DYING?! 

This is one reason that hoof abscesses are the absolute worst- they look like the worst thing that could happen to your horse has happened until you uncover the cause of his pain. 

Keep reading to learn more about hoof abscesses and to help yourself realize that as scary as they can appear, they are often times quickly taken care of. 

What is a Hoof Abscess?

A hoof abscess is a common and painful localized infection behind the hoof wall or sole. Hoof abscesses are usually caused by a bruise, a puncture wound, a “hot-fitted” shoe on a thin sole, a wet environment, or poor hoof balance or conformation. Some people look at a hoof abscess like a large hoof zit! Just like in humans, this “zit” lies beneath the surface causing pressure. Pressing on it may cause pain (which is why the horse will do his very best not to put weight on that hoof) but sometimes pressure on the area is what causes the abscess to burst. Once the pressure and infection is released, the horse feels better immediately. 

Other Clinical Signs of a Hoof Abscess

  • Swelling in the affected leg
  • Localized heat 
  • A reaction to hoof testers
  • Black or gray drainage or evidence of a “tract”
  • An increased digital pulse

Which Horses are the Most Susceptible?

Horses and ponies that have immune-compromising diseases (for example, Cushing’s) are more likely to develop hoof abscess than other horses. Horses that live in rapidly changing wet to dry climates are high risk due to the atmosphere and the damp environment. The wetness doesn’t always have to be weather related to cause your horse to form an abscess. Just like not washing your face can cause you to breakout, not keeping your horse’s living quarters or stall clean and dry can cause an abscess to start brewing!

Treatment of a Hoof Abscess

The quickest way to relieve hoof abscess pain is to drain the buildup. The growing pressure of the abscess will try to take the path of least resistance. In most cases, your veterinarian will create a small hole through the white line, sole, or hoof wall in order to provide a pathway for the abscess to leave the foot. Once the hoof has been drained, your veterinarian will probably apply some type of poultice or bandage to help pull the remaining drainage from the hoof. Depending on where the abscess drains, your vet might recommend keeping the drainage site clean until it has had a chance to dry and harden.

Carolina Equine Hospital

Did your horse show up for his breakfast three legged lame? Give us a call during regular work hours (336-349-4080) or after hours (336-349-4080 then press 0 when you get to the machine)  to speak with a vet. We are open for emergencies 24/7 and have abscess wrapping materials ready in our pharmacy!