Hoof Abscesses: A Sign Of Something More Sinister?

A horse with an abscess in his hoof can be startling to see he: He may be so painful he’s loath to bear any weight on the affected limb, making horse owners fear a broken leg. One abscess can be time consuming and frustrating to heal, but a horse that develops multiple abscesses in different feet may have more going on than simply poor hoof condition.

Hoof abscesses are fluid-filled cavities under the sole or the hoof wall. They can be caused by sole bruising, puncture wounds or hoof cracks. Though some abscesses are only uncovered by the farrier during routine trimming—never causing the horse any discomfort—others are extremely painful. Abscesses can drain on their own, either down through the bottom of the hoof or up through the coronary band, or a drainage channel may have to be cut to offer the horse relief.

There are many concoctions for hoof abscesses, from veterinary-prescribed products to home remedies. Most products focus on drawing the material out of the abscess. Antibiotics are often not needed, but pain medication is essential to provide relief to the horse and prevent harm to the other hooves from bearing excess weight.

If an abscess doesn’t begin to heal in a few weeks, a foreign body may be trapped inside the hoof, like a splinter or nail—or even a bone chip. A horse that is experiencing abscesses that don’t heal well in multiple feet most likely has something else wrong and the abscesses are secondary.

Metabolic issues may cause a horse to have multiple of abscesses that don’t heal well. Cushing’s disease and equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) can cause laminitis, which can predispose a horse to abscesses. A veterinarian can run bloodwork to determine if a horse has either of these conditions and if they are the cause of the abscesses. Once the underlying conditions are controlled and hoof damage is addressed, the abscesses should decrease in both frequency and severity.

Read more at EQUUS magazine.

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