Hoof Abscess

Causes And Treatment Of Equine Hoof Abscess

If there are two things a horse owner does not want to see in his or her horse they are lameness due to a foot abscess or a bout of colic. There are other things that can go wrong with a horse certainly, but these two are among the more common maladies. Colic can be mild or life-threatening. A hoof abscess generally does not approach a condition of being life threatening, though if not treated there is always the possibility of chronic or permanent lameness, which in a horse can become life threatening.


A horse's hoof is hard at the surface, both at the top and on the underside. The horn is made up of a hard substance called keratin, which generally protects the inner tissue of the horse's foot against outside agents such as bacteria. If for whatever reason, bacteria is allowed to enter the inner tissues of the foot, they will begin to multiply and the horse's immune system will begin to fight the bacteria, forming purulent fluid, more commonly called pus, in the process. As pus forms, what has now become an abscess enlarges, and begins to put pressure on the internal tissues of the foot. Since these tissues are surrounded by the hard hoof, there is no way for the abscess to expand and travel but upwards.

Initially, a hoof abscess will generally cause little if any pain to the horse. Once swelling occurs though the horse begins to experience significant pain. The symptoms can come on quite suddenly. In the morning the horse may be walking or trotting quite normally. A few hours later, it may be walking with a discernible limp which may steadily get worse with time. The horse will try to avoid putting its full weight on the affected foot, and when walking, may attempt to put that weight on the toe of the hoof rather than upon the solar region (the sole). The horse may even lie down more than normal in an attempt to get some relief from the pressure on the hoof, plus tiredness from standing on three legs only. In a resting position a horse will usually put its weight on three legs, but will vary which legs are involved. With a hoof abscess it may not be able to do this.


If swelling occurs, it will most likely be around the pastern, just above the coronary wall that defines the top of the hoof. Pus may or may not break through at the coronary wall. If it does so, it will provide some immediate relief to the horse but that does not mean the condition has necessarily resolved itself. If the horse remains lame for more than a day, whether there has been swelling or not, it would be a good idea to call the veterinarian, hopefully one who can come to the horse to provide treatment. Even if the abscess is not serious, it is causing pain to the horse, and if for no other reason the condition should be treated.

Treatment may consist of soaking the hoof in a saline solution, or giving the horse an anesthetic and cutting away a portion of the frog or sole of the foot to expose and drain the abscess. Antibiotics are then applied and the foot is generally wrapped in a poultice which in turn is covered by a protective boot. The protective boot is a temporary affair and more often than not kept on the foot by wrapping it on with duct tape.

The horse will normally feel immediate relief once the treatment has been completed, and will quickly become used to its custom boot. The boot should remain on for 3 or 4 days. In a week's time it will generally start to disintegrate and can then be cut away, which will probably only involve cutting through the duct tape wrapping.

There are a number of things that can cause a hoof abscess. We often think that the source of the problem is that the sole of the foot has been punctured by something. This is one cause, but not always the most the most common one. A hoof abscess can best be avoided by keeping the horse's quarters clean and not allowing the hooves to become wet and soft. If the horse is shod, the hoof should be attended to regularly with a hoof pick, and shod or not, the hooves should be trimmed on a regular basis.