A hoof abscess is a bacterial infection within the sensitive structures of the equine foot. Pus is produced due to the horse’s inflammatory response and, as expansion is not possible within the hoof capsule, the pressure can be extremely painful. The condition is more common in the winter months due to the muddy conditions.
Signs of a foot abscess include:
• Sudden onset and severe lameness usually in one limb, often reluctant to bear weight
• Heat in the affected hoof
• Increased digital pulses (assessed by placing the fingers gently over the inner and outer aspects at the back of the fetlock to feel for the pulse to the foot)
• Possibly swelling of the bottom part of the leg
• May have an increased temperature (normal range 37-38.5 degrees Celsius)
The build-up of pus will eventually break out of the sole of the foot, the coronary band or the heel bulbs however prompt intervention minimises the pain suffered by the horse during the acute stage of the condition. The shoe is removed, hoof testers are used to establish the location of the abscess and the foot is pared, usually following a tract, to allow drainage of the abscess. Once drainage is established the horse will experience significant relief however some residual lameness is to be expected. Following this a period of poulticing may be required to draw out any remaining purulent material. Often if the abscess is deep seated or still developing it may not be found by paring and as excess paring can be detrimental to the horse, the foot should be poulticed to encourage abscess maturation and attempt to ‘draw out’ the abscess. Commercial poulticing material is available from us or most feed shops. The poultice should be trimmed to size and soaked in warm water before applying to the foot over the affected area and fixing in place with bandage material or a purpose bought boot. This poultice should be changed twice daily and the amount of discharge monitored. Some deep seated abscesses can take a significant period of time to develop and rupture, however if you feel your horse has developed an abscess that has taken a prolonged period of time to rupture it is important to seek veterinary advice as potential complications include infection of the deeper structures of the foot such as the pedal bone, requiring far more involved surgery to correct.Treatment of an uncomplicated foot abscess is a procedure that can be performed by your veterinarian or farrier however we stress that if there is any question as to what is causing the pain it is important to consult your veterinarian promptly.
Other conditions that can present in a non-weight bearing lameness include fractures and septic joints, both of which are important to identify quickly!
It is important to monitor your horses feet and pick them out daily in order to minimise the risk of abscess formation and to identify them early if they do occur.