Hoof wall abscesses are one of the most common causes of severe lameness in horses, and can occur overnight or within a short period of time. A hoof wall abscess is a hoof infection, which occurs when bacteria invades into and accumulates inside the hoof wall. If a hoof abscess is serious enough, and/or not identified and treated quickly, it can turn more serious and result in spread of the infection up the leg.
A hoof abscess can be caused by a number of things, including:
- Trauma to the hoof resulting from a sharp object, such as a wrongfully placed horseshoe nail that is positioned too close to the white line
- Genetically born with poor quality hooves
- Prior hoof defect, such as hoof cracks, brittle or flaking hooves, long flared toes, or crushed heels
- Exposure to extended periods of wet or dry weather
The presence of bacteria in the hoof causes pressure to build up which is very painful for the horse.
The best approach to treating hoof abscesses are establishing drainage, protecting the sensitive area of the foot, and providing a clean, dry environment. Initial use of topical antiseptics, such as iodine-based products and combination mixtures, can help encourage drainage of the abscess. The antiseptic mixture is often applied to the affected hoof and fully covered and contained within a baby diaper with duck tape, or specialized 'hoof slipper' or boot. This will need to be repeated at least twice a day for sometimes several days. Once the accumulation of pus inside of the foot is able drain from inside the hoof wall, horses will usually show almost immediate relief from the built up pressure. However if the abscess is not resolving easily or draining excessively, you will need to call your veterinarian immediately, as there is a likelihood that the coffin bone may be infected or other complications in which further, aggressive treatment is required.
It is important that during topical application of antiseptics, that horses are kept in a clean stall with soft bedding and allowed to rest. Once all pus has drained and the pain has ceased, the horse can be reshod or a boot applied to prevent further contamination until the wound has completely healed.