With all of the wet weather we have been having our practice has been seeing an increase in foot abscesses so I thought I would briefly talk about them.
Hoof abscesses can be frightening for owners as horses will often appear very lame or “fracture lame” in the affected leg. Sometimes the lameness will start out mild and increase over a day or two, and sometimes the horse seems to become lame overnight. Usually the digital pulses are increased and it is not unusual for there to be some swelling in the lower limb.
Hoof abscesses seem to happen more often during wet weather or within 1-2 weeks of a shoeing. An abscess occurs when bacteria makes its way into the tissues of the hoof and forms a pocket of infection. This can occur secondary to a bruise, excessive cracking, separation of the wall, thrush, or a puncture. Basically anything that causes an area of weakness in the hoof, which is more common in wet weather as the hoof is softer. Once the infection is established it causes pain since the hoof cannot swell and extra pressure is formed in the hoof, it would be similar to having an infection under a fingernail. Underlying systemic problems such as Cushing’s disease can also predispose a horse to abscesses.
Any time a horse appears suddenly lame the leg and hoof should be inspected for any signs of trauma, wounds or foreign bodies. It is always recommended for a horse with acute lameness to be examined by a vet, but that is especially important if there is a wound, excessive swelling or a foreign body (such as a nail) stuck in the bottom of the hoof.
Abscesses will eventually make their way out through the path of least resistance which may be through the bottom of the hoof or the coronary band. When vets or farriers examine the hoof they look for areas of soreness along the coronary band and use hoof testers the check for pain in the sole. If an area of sensitivity is found on the sole, then hoof is pared away looking for the pocket of infection. If the abscess cannot be localized or the hoof is too hard to pare, then soaking and poulticing may need to be performed for a few days to soften the hoof and allow the abscess to “ripen”. After the abscess is found treatment may vary slightly depending on location of the abscess and personal preference. Often a poultice is placed for 1-2 days to further draw out any infection. Then either a dry bandage or a bandage with more of a drying solution such as betadine may be placed for a few days to allow the abscess site to heal.
A tetanus toxoid should be given if the horse is not current (within 6-12 months) and a veterinarian may prescribe bute for pain and swelling.
If you have any questions about hoof abscesses or sudden lameness in your horse feel free to contact us.
Dr Shannon Harland