Last Updated on November 18, 2022
Dealing with an abscess in horses’ hooves can be a painstaking process, and they can take a frustratingly long time to heal. If you care for or own a horse or pony, you will very likely come across an infected horse hoof at some time or another. Let’s find out everything you need to know about horse hoof abscess treatment to help get your equine friend back on his feet in no time at all!
What Is An Abscess In Horses’ Hooves?
An abscess in horses’ hooves is caused when bacteria become trapped within the hoof wall. These bacteria quickly multiply and cause a buildup of pus, which causes intense pain and pressure underneath the hoof wall. The only relief from this pain is when the abscess is burst, but this often requires veterinary treatment to resolve.
Symptoms Of An Abscess In Horses Hooves
When a horse has an abscess in its hoof, the first sign you will normally see is severe lameness. The extent of the lameness is normally so bad that many horse owners mistake a hoof abscess for a fractured leg. The horse will be reluctant to move and will not want to put any weight on the affected hoof.
Other horse hoof abscess symptoms include heat on the hoof wall and elevated digital pulses. Digital pulses are felt on the arteries that run down to the hoof, either side of the fetlock. In the normal horse, they should be barely palpable, but in the case of a hoof abscess, they are very strong and easy to feel.
The horse may also demonstrate pain around the area of the abscess on the hoof itself. Depending on the location of the abscess, it may indicate pain when the coronary band is palpated, or when the hoof wall is squeezed with hoof testers.
If the abscess has burst, there may be little to see other than a tiny open wound with purulent discharge. This is normally accompanied by a foul smell, but the horse will be in considerably less pain due to the release of pressure.
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Causes Of An Abscess In Horses Hooves
For a horse to develop an abscess in its hoof, bacteria must be able to enter the hoof wall, where they will quickly multiply. The hoof wall is normally a solid smooth structure, but defects can occur which allow bacteria to enter.
These defects may be result of injury to the hoof, such as standing on a nail or screw. Occasionally, minor farrier errors can lead to a hoof abscess if it horseshoe nail is placed incorrectly.
Horse hoof abscesses can also occur as a result of poor-quality hoof tissue. Hooves that are cracked or split are particularly prone to abscesses. This may be a result of poor nutrition, or from the horse spending long periods standing in wet, dirty conditions.
Finally, hoof shape and balance can also be a leading cause of abscesses. This may result in inadequate farriery care or conformational problems. For example, horses with long flared toes or collapsed heels can have weak hoof tissue, which increases the risk of abscessation.
How To Treat An Abscess In Horses Hooves
The focus when treating an abscess in horses’ hooves is to encourage the abscess to burst and drain as quickly as possible. This is always considered the best option for treating a horse hoof abscess. Antibiotics are not normally recommended as they do not fully resolve the infection and the abscess will recur once the course of treatment is stopped.
In order to get the abscess to burst, you need to encourage the pus to drain toward the surface of the hoof. This may be through a tract in the hoof wall, or it may be necessary for the pus to run upwards and burst out at the coronary band.
It is normally necessary to engage the assistance of a farrier or veterinary surgeon to aid in the treatment of a hoof abscess. They will use hoof testers to locate the likely site of the Abscess and pare away sections of the hoof wall to try and locate it. If it cannot be drained at this point, they will advise you to carry out one of the following treatments to encourage the pus to drain.
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Hot Tubbing A Horse Hoof Abscess
Hot tubbing a horse hoof abscess involved standing the affected hoof in a shallow bowl of hot water and Epsom salts. This is thought to draw the pus toward the surface of the hoof wall and encourage the abscess to burst.
How To Poultice A Horse Hoof Abscess
Hot poulticing works in a similar way to hot tubbing, encouraging pus toward the surface. An absorbent poultice is soaked in warm water and placed on an area where it is likely the abscess is going to burst. This could be underneath the hoof or around the coronary band.
Aftercare For A Horse Hoof Abscess
Once the pus has been drained out of the abscess, it is important to keep the defect clean and dry to prevent the recurrence of infection. A dry dressing can be placed over the abscess site to prevent dirt and bacteria from entering. The affected hoof should also be kept as dry as possible and away from any wet, soiled bedding or muddy grazing land.
Summary – Abscess In Horses’ Hooves
So, as we have learned, an abscess in horses’ hooves occurs as a result of bacteria becoming trapped inside the hoof wall. They normally enter through a defect caused by injury or poor-quality hoof horn and quickly cause a buildup of pus. The key to treating an abscess in horses’ hooves is to allow the pus to drain and to keep the abscess site as clean as possible to cure the infection.
We would love to hear your thoughts on how to treat an abscess in horses’ hooves! Do you have a horse that always suffers from hoof abscesses, no matter what you do? Or maybe you’ve got some questions about how to treat a horse hoof abscess coronary band problem? Leave a comment below and we will get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse
care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since
she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local
stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She
has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in
various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the
patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went
on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in
the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of
horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for
educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN REVN RVN A1