Firstly what is a hoof abscess.....
An abscess can be an extremely painful internal hoof infection for our horses, that can range from causing minor lameness to preventing a horse from any weight bearing on the affected leg at all.
Abscesses happen inside the inner workings of the hoof capsule, and often no sign of the abscess itself can be found externally, though a digital pulse can accompany the lameness at the rear of the hoof, and sometimes swelling will be present in the leg too. Abscesses are very common reasons for lameness in domestic horses, and most horses suffer from at least one abscess in their lives, if not more.
What causes abscesses.......
Abscesses are caused by infectious debris such as sand, dirt and manure etc....tracking up into the inner hoof capsule through holes in the normally sealed white line areas, causing bacterial and fungal agents to be able gain access into the internal tissues, which are referred to as sub solar or sub mural tissue,that is the soft tissue dermis layer located inside the hoof capsule itself. Once these foreign matters gain access to the inner hoof, a septic pus filled cavity forms inside and this is the cause of our horses pain and lameness. Bacterial access happens through small openings into the hoof that occur in in our horses hooves in 1 of 3 ways as follows:
1-HOOF WALL/SOLE SEPARATION- bacteria enters the inner part of the hoof via small holes or tears at the seal, where the outer hoof wall meets the sole, which can be called white line disease and is also referred to as seedy toe. This separation can sometimes be seen like little pinpricks at the join of where the outer hoof wall meets the sole but also there can be no visual trace of them to the human eye too so these small holes are not always visible. These minuscule fissures happen due to various reasons including the horse being shod or trimmed in a way that leaves the hoof in the wrong shape with long toes and no heels, or through not having the horses hooves trimmed frequently enough, both of which cause physical stress between hoof wall and sole due to pressure from the long toe causing stress on the hoof capsule, creating small stress tears, that open to allow debris to enter the inner dermis layer of the hoof. Another way this happens is due to diets that are high in sugars, often from feeding foods that include inappropriate concentrates or from horses living of high fructan grasses such as clover or ryegrass diets. Because high sugar diets cause inflammation which can also lead to the tight seal between the outer hoof wall and sole having
minor tears...causing small inflammatory tracks that again allow debris into the inner workings of the hoof, causing these infection filled cavities, and the pressure and pain that come with that from abscesses.
2-HOOF CAPSULE PUNCTURE: sometimes horses stand on items that make a small hole in the hoof such as thorns, or even nails, or a nail from a metal shoeing can go astray and enter the soft structures of the inner cells of the hoof capsule, which again leave minor channels of the hoof open to the elements, including dirt and debris, which leads to abscesses forming from the same ways as mentioned above.
3-CRACKS-sometimes the hoof wall will crack due to poor mineralisation which mostly happen from a lack of supplements or from the use of incorrectly balanced supplements, which cause the hoof to become brittle and crack, which can also happen due to an injury or a fall etc...that damages the hoof, and where the hoof has cracked allows access for bacterial agents as described above to gain access to cause access and infection.
So how do we treat an abscess......
There are many schools of thought on how to address abscesses and on whether to open the hoof up as to try to drain it or not is still a big matter of debate between equine circles. My own take on it is if the site of the abscess can be easily found by a professional hoof care practitioner of either farrier, barefoot trimmer or vet, then allow them to make small minor opening in order to release the pressure and drain the abscess but I would advise to never allow anyone whether that is vet or farrier etc...to dig away and make a substantial hole in your horses hoof, especially in the sole, as that will often lead to secondary infections that could cause more complex and further issues within the hoof.
Regardless of whether you've opened up the site of the abscess or not, you will need to keep the area clean, which is often addressed by soaking and poulticing the area with a cleaning agent such as an iodine solution, then using Epsom salt soaks, to give relief to the horse, either by standing your horse in a bucket of warm water or by using soaked poultices such as Animalintex, which is a specially medicated padded hoof bandage available from most tack stores. This will also help heal the area after a drained abscess or will serve to try to provide a softening in the hoof wall to allow it to burst naturally, which normally will cause a blowout at the coronet, or at back of the heel or even the sole depending on the site of the abscess.
We can then use antibacterial medications such as betadine (iodine based gel) on the site with a poultice pad, or even a babies nappy to keep it clean, which can fixed in place with elastic bandages, and a tape such as duct tape to keep the bandages in place and offer sole protection, or alternatively various hoof care items such as abscess socks and boots and more are now available to make this process easier such as tubbease socks etc...Google for more on these.
Pain medication can also be given in the form of Bute or as we prefer to use in the natural anti-inflammatory of Devils claw along with antibiotics to address infection.
Anything longer than a week of treatment with no drain or burst from an abscess and we need to start asking more in depth questions as to what and why these long term abscesses are occurring in any horse, as abscesses can often happen as a more serious symptom of other conditions such as laminitis or toxicosis from mycotoxin poisoning.
How to prevent abscesses....
Feed a low sugar diet, and limit lush grass such as ryegrass and clover, preferring hay over grass as to prevent hoof wall/sole separation to keep a sealed hoof. See this link for our recommended feeding guide :http://naturalhorse.vpweb.co.nz/RECOMMENDED-FEEDING-GUIDE.h…
Feed a balanced supplement to address mineral and vitamin deficiencies that will prevent your horses hooves from cracking ...see this link:
Consider tracking your horse as a way to manage paddock conditions and encourage movement to gain natural healthier hooves ...see this link: http://naturalhorse.vpweb.co.nz/TRACKED-GRAZING.html
Have your horses hooves trimmed to the correct shape of short toes and reasonable heels to prevent stress tears. See this link for our recommended trimmers and hoof info :http://naturalhorse.vpweb.co.nz/THE-NATURAL-HOOF-BAREFOOT.h…
Avoid metal shoes due to the risk of nails causing channels open to infection. See this link for alternatives to metal shoes:http://naturalhorse.vpweb.co.nz/SHOP-HOOF-BOOTS.html
We hope this will help you and your horse to treat an abscess as quickly and painlessly as possible.