What is a Hoof Abscess
By Kaitie Kirkpatrick, DVM
Hoof abscesses are one of the most common causes of acute lameness in our equine companions. Clinical signs of abscesses can happen suddenly to any horse, causing soreness and severe lameness.
What is a hoof abscess anyway? An abscess involves an accumulation of pus in the hoof. This most commonly happens with a sudden change in environment such as muddy to dry conditions or visa versa. These sudden changes can cause cracks to develop in the hoof and allow for dirt and bacteria to pack in the cracks and lead to infection. The presence of infection causes white blood cells (part of your horse’s immune system) to accumulate in the site to try and battle the infection. The accumulation of white blood cells is pus. Since the hoof is a generally static structure, it cannot easily expand to accommodate the influx of pus. The pressure from the pus causes the severe lameness.
In order to treat and alleviate the pain associated with this condition, it is important to seek help from your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will thoroughly examine the foot and will use a hoof tester to place pressure on the sole to localize the source of pain. If the abscess is close to the surface, the vet will make a hole in the hoof to relieve the pressure and allow adequate drainage for the pus. The veterinarian may pull the shoe as well to encourage further drainage. Then, a bandage will be placed to provide comfort and a drying/poulticing agent to draw the rest of the abscess out. Horses generally make a full recovery from hoof abscesses if no other sensitive structures such as joints/bones are affected. Pain medications may also be prescribed to help with any pain associated with the abscess.
Hoof abscesses are very common and generally easily treatable with a good prognosis. In order to decrease the risk of your horse developing an abscess, ensure an environment with dry and consistent footing. Also, remove any large stones or rocks from your horse’s environment to prevent hoof bruises as these may also lead to abscesses.
If you suspect a hoof abscess in your horse, please contact us here at Equine Veterinary Services (972.524.7075) for assistance.
Equine Veterinary Services