Why did my horse get a hoof abscess? This is a common question we are asked after we diagnose a sore hoof with an abscess.
An abscess can be sterile, resulting from a sub-solar bruise or bleed, or infectious, either from dirt and bacteria wicking up into the foot through wall defects or from puncture wounds. Often times, wet ground is to blame. Increased ground moisture results in increased hoof moisture. Horses with separation of the white line, seedy toes, or deep cracks have enhanced opportunities for attracting dirt and bacteria deep into the hoof. Horses with traditionally tough soles have softer soles. The end result is abscesses.
Horses usually present with a gradually worsening lameness in one foot. Occasionally, the horse may be suddenly non-weight bearing. The foot may be warm, and the digital pulses are usually increased. Hoof testers are used to localize a tender area, and drainage of the pain-causing fluid buildup by opening up the abscess through the sole is attempted. Many abscesses drain out the coronary band instead of the sole. This is often referred to as gravel as it was once thought that a piece of sand or stone had traveled from the sole upwards. Instead, it is just pus working its way out through the path of least resistance.
Treatment for abscesses, regardless of the cause, is soaking in an Epsom salt poultice to draw fluid to the surface, pain relief if the animal is very sore, and drainage of the fluid if possible. After drainage occurs, most horses return to their previous level of soundness in one to two weeks. Keeping the draining tract clean and protected is important to prevent more contaminants from entering the deep hoof.
Many horses, particularly those with sole bruises, benefit from a shoe to lift their tender sole off the ground for a few weeks.
Can abscesses be prevented? Not entirely, but regular hoof care/trimming and keeping your horse on as clean and dry of ground as possible will reduce the numbers of hoof abscesses your horse will develop.