Hoof Abscess: causes, treatment and prevention.

Today, we aim to delve into a prevalent issue frequently encountered in our equine practice: the hoof abscess.  Astonishingly, the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) reports that 60-70% of lameness cases can be attributed to the hoof, with abscesses comprising at least 14% of these instances. We can all imagine the scenario: sound happy horse one day only to find it the hopping lame the next day with no apparent injury!

What causes a hoof abscess?

Hoof abscesses develop when bacteria become trapped between the sensitive laminae (the tissue layer connecting the hoof capsule to the coffin bone) and the hoof wall or sole. This bacteria produces exudate (pus), leading to an accumulation that builds in pressure behind the hoof wall or sole causing significant discomfort.

While more prevalent in the damp winter and spring seasons, hoof abscesses are not only limited to a particular time of year. The bacteria can infiltrate the hoof via cracks, nail holes, penetrating wounds and even find a way up the white line. They can also come about from deep bruising.

How do I know if my horse has a hoof abscess?

It typically takes several days for an abscess to manifest symptoms, with horses often remaining asymptomatic (sound) until the pressure results in severe lameness. Changes in blood flow to the hoof lead to an increased digital pulse. Your horse may be reactive to palpation of the coronary band or heel bulbs. The hoof wall can feel hot to touch, and they sometimes display a behaviour called ‘toe pointing’. Calling us at South Moor is crucial if your horse displays any of these signs, as an abscess can mimic a more serious disease or injury.

As vets, we rely on a combination of history and a clinical examination to diagnose a hoof abscess. We will use tools such as hoof testers to try to localize the position and, in some cases, may recommend radiographs to help with our diagnostics.

Will a hoof abscess heal on its own?

Sadly there is no clear answer here: The swiftest way to address a hoof abscess is to locate and release the exudate. While some abscesses rupture spontaneously, often from the coronary band, others require identification by us or your farrier. In these cases, we will create a small hole in the white line, sole or hoof wall as a drainage tract.

Once we have established drainage, we usually advise poulticing for up to a week. We will normally give your horse some oral pain relief, but this if often not needed once drainage is established. In some instances, the infection can reach important structures such as the coffin bone, the navicular bursa or the deep digital tendon sheath. This is more often the case with chronic abscesses that have had delayed treatment.

And now, a crucial question: How can you prevent them?

Regular hoof care, maintaining hygiene and frequent visits from the farrier are essential in preventing common ailments like an abscess. One of the most simple and often overlooked steps in hoof care is picking out your horses feet daily. Removing the mud, stones and debris and ensuring the horse has a period of standing in a clean environment is essential, basic care for all horses. We understand this can be difficult in horses that live out with no area of hard standing, but even just daily picking out will help prevent abscesses.

If your horse has recurring abscesses, it may indicate a more serious underlying problem. In this instance we may recommend further tests/imaging.

For advice or treatment, get in touch with us today

Remember, a healthy hoof is the foundation of a sound and happy horse. Don’t hesitate to contact us at South Moor if you ever need advice or want to discuss any aspect of hoof care with our equine vets.

hoof abscess