Most Hoof abscesses are pretty simple to treat at home, I recommend this method after consulting with your veterinarian. Other than losing training time and a small fortune in elasticon, your horse will recover, the damaged hoof will grow out, and only the memory will remain.
Unless it doesn’t. This article , although absolutely no substitute for veterinary consultation, will go over the causes of your garden variety, inconvenient “gravel” abscess, as well why some horses seem to always be either having or recovering from abscess related lameness.
Symptoms of a hoof abscess
- the horse may go from normal or slightly off to a grade 3-5 lameness rapidly and unexpectedly in one limb. An affected forelimb will be more obvious.
- the horse may aggressively manipulate it’s stance and gait to avoid weight-bearing on affected foot. This horse is so lame, your significant other could diagnose.
- Swelling or sensitivity of the coronary band, pastern or fetlock.
- a bounding digital pulse can be felt on one or both branches of the arteries that run down each side of the back of the pastern of the lame leg (medial versus lateral pulse can help pinpoint location of the infection).
Not always true, but abscesses often occur after paying nonrefundable horse show fees but prior to events such as a motivated buyer coming to see your prospect, trail ride vacation, graded stakes races etc..
Causes of abscesses
“An accumulation of purulent exudate. In the foot, this usually refers to a localised accumulation of exudate between the germinal and keratinised layers of the epithelium, most commonly subsolar or submural.”
Equine Veterinary Education, Vol. 19, June 2007
The above excerpt is a great definition of a hoof abscess, more simply, an abscess is (usually) a pus trapped between the insensitive and sensitive tissues.
The author then goes on to divide the abscess by it’s location: either between the sensitive and insensitive sole (subsolar) on the underside of the foot or trapped behind the hoof wall (submural) .
the “gravel” abscess
This is, by far, is the most common cause of abscessing in my experience, especially if the horse is barefoot.
Click to enlarge or check out structures of the hoof post.
Horses affected with white line disease , a common, fungal invasion of the insensitive horn. are even more prone to the gravel type of abscess.
If debris manages to penetrate beyond the protective and insensitive hoof wall, bacterial invasion into the soft, sensitive tissue (corium) inside the hoof will follow.
Once the body barrier of hoof is penetrated, the abscessing process begins. The horse’s immune systems goes on the offence to prevent further damage from the foreign body: inflammation sets in, a thin, new layer of horn is produced to wall off the debris. White blood cells flock to the site. to fight off the bacteria. Enzymes released by this liquefies the now necrotic tissues involves, which produces the dark grey exudate associated with this condition.This pocket of serum trapped against a minimally elastic hoof wall and the sensitive tissues within the hoof capsule. This combination is very painful for the horse.
Bad or close nails
Bad/ “Hot” nails
A misplaced nail can be the cause of an abscess. The nail is driven inside the white line and penetrates the soft tissue within the hoof capsule. You will know this because the horse reacts suddenly. He may not set his foot down, instead shaking it inches above the ground. Blood will seep from the clinch or nail head.
Hopefully farriers will circumvent the abscess cycle at this point. They will remove the nail, pour some antiseptic into the offending and resulting hole, and most will inform the owner so they will be especially observant of that foot.and ensure the horse is up to date on his tetanus vaccination.
By removing the offending object and disinfecting, it is likely that the horse will suffer no more from this incident.
A close nail is a nail that is driven into insensitive horn, but displaces hoof material in a way that affects the functioning of the hoof. There is no blood as the sensitive tissue hasn’t been breached. The horse may react to the nail being driven, but not the “kicked in the gut” reaction of the bad nail.
The close nail impedes the function and circulation of the adjacent sensitive foot. This may not become obvious for up to two weeks after the nail was driven. At this point the abscess will run its course as described for the gravel.
It is a good idea to remove the shoe and treat the hoof to speed recovery and ease pain.
Horses with thin walls, previous hoof damage, clubby or low heels , and wry hoof are more likely to have close nails than a strong footed individual.
Horses that do not stand patiently are also more likely to have a close nail as the farrier cannot distinguish the horse dancing around the aisleway from pain or lack of manners.
Driving nails into a horse’s foot takes years and years to become skilled at. There is a very small area where nails can safely be places and no two feet are quite the same. The last thing a good shoer wants to do is hurt your animal, but it will happen occasionally.
A good shoer will take responsibility and be glad that this injury is fairly easy to treat.
Abscessing from the inside
Horses with diseases or injuries to the hoof sometimes suffer from abscessing without any external cause. Horses that do not receive regular hoof care and horses with known hoof problems will often suffer from chronic abscessing because there is a ongoing internal abnormality.
This is not meant to be a thorough guide to all hoof infections and horses with problems like these should be seen by an equine veterinarian for best results.
Chronic laminitis and pedal osteitis
Horses with a history of laminitis/founder are an excellent example of abscessing due to septic pedal osteitis (coffin bone infection). The coffin bone of the laminitic horse gets progressively more damaged with each episode. These abscess can be submural or subsolar depending on which portion of the bone is affected.
Horses with chronic laminitis are also likely to have chronic submural abscessing in the toe. This is a result of malformed, scarred and or damaged horn that is a result of laminitic cycle is prone infection.
The coffin bone may fracture. A fragment of bone that is broken away is called a sequester. The sequester can result septic pedal osteitis, lameness and abscessing. The offending segment may require veterinary intervention to end chronic abscessing.
Horses with coffin bones that have be damaged from trauma can abscess if the injury leads to infection.
Horses with thin soles and/or worked on hard surfaces can also develop pedal osteitis. Horses with coffin bones weakened by any disease are also predisposed to this internal abscessing.
Horses in the acute stage of laminitis can suffer from abscessing from the extreme internal injuries taking place within the hoof capsule.
If a horse presents this type of abscess you are in need of qualified professionals with experience dealing with laminitis.
If a “professional” attempts to pare away at the solar surface of this horse to “dig out” the “infection” please reconsider this person’s expertise in dealing with hooves in general. This practice generally not recommended. The soft tissue will almost always prolapse through the sole causing further insult to an already bad situation.
” Again, under no circumstances should an opening be created in the adjacent sole. This seldom leads to the abscess, generally leads to hemorrhage and may create a persistent, non-healing wound with increased potential for bone infection.”
Dr. Stephen O’Grady “Managing Hoof Abscesses”
A keratoma is tumor made of a horn (hoof material) that develops between the coffin bone and the hoof wall. Keratomas are not common, usually benign and a skilled horse person may be able to identify an affected hoof as the growth causes distortions in the hoof wall and white line.
Occasionally, pressure from the growth can cause necrosis of the adjacent portions of the coffin bone leading to Osteomyelitis abscessing. These keratomas may need to be removed under veterinary supervision to end the cycle of chronic osteomyelitic abscessing.
For more on keratoma read Dr. O’Grady’s case study.
A horse with an abscess is a common occurrence if one keeps horses for any length of time. Luckily, most are treated, recovered from and back to work in under two weeks.
Horses that have chronic abscessing may be helped if the causation of the infection is identified. More aggressive treatment may be necessary for horses with certain types of abscesses.
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