Hoof Abscesses 101
By: Triple Crown Insider- Hannah Young
An abscess is a centralized, blocked off infection in the hoof, causing inflammation and increased pressure that can result in sudden and severe lameness.
During the summer of 2016, many horse owners battled numerous things: the heat, the unusual wet season and abscesses—a headache when it comes to hoof care. Personally, I battled abscesses all summer and am still treating some.
The Start of An Abscess
Abscesses start with the location; some horses may become sore or tender when walking before the abscess fully forms. When the soreness starts, many horses will stand and not want to move, causing increased soreness and a more developed abscess. Some horses never become lame before the infection reaches the hoof wall (sole) and then ruptures. These horses are usually turned out on pasture and not used on a daily basis. If the abscess ruptures before found, the best plan of action is to keep the area clean and dry to prevent further infection. If lameness is present and the abscess has not ruptured, treatment, which can be relatively quick and easy, is needed immediately to relieve the pressure.
When An Abscess Is Suspected
When lameness starts and heat is detected, soaking the hoof in warm water and Epsom salt can help pull the abscess down so it can rupture on its own. However, if after a day or so of soaking the abscess hasn’t ruptured on its own, a vet, farrier, or someone with the proper hoof treating training needs to dig into the inside of the sole until the infection is found and drain it. Once this is done, your horse will feel instant relief and some of the lameness will be gone. If the horse has shoes, the shoe will need to be removed in order to relieve this pressure.
Once the pressure is relieved, the hoof needs to be treated and dressed every couple of days. The best way is to coat the area in an Epsom salt salve or another product recommended by vet or farrier. Once the area is coated, cover it with cotton or gauze pads and wrap the hoof with vet wrap to keep the cotton or pads in place (usually a half a roll of vet wrap will do the job). After the vet wrap is applied, some people use duct tape or a hoof boot to protect the wrapped hoof from the weather and hard surfaces. If the weather is dry, the horse is free to go on pasture, but if the weather is wet, the horse needs to be kept up to ensure the hoof stays dry to prevent more infection. After treating and dressing every couple of days for two to three weeks or whatever the vet/ farrier recommends, the dressing can be removed and the shoe be put back on. Usually after this period of time, the abscess is gone and the hoof has had enough time to heal.
Hopefully, with this information, you can be more prepared for abscesses and have your horse as good as new in no time. With winter approaching and wet weather upon us again, we wish you an abscess-free season!