Horse Hoof Abscess 101: Causes, Symptoms and Recovery

An abscess is a pocket of pus. When an abscess appears in a horse’s hoof, the horse suddenly becomes lame and may even lift the affected hoof off the ground. Horses usually get abscesses in just one hoof at a time but it is possible to get abscesses in all four hooves if the horse is kept in terrible conditions. A horse hoof abscess can be very painful.

The hoof may feel hot. Healthy hooves are cool to the touch. Part of the hoof may appear swollen or suddenly turns black over the abscess. Fortunately, an abscess is relatively easy to treat and possible to prevent.

What Is the Horse Hoof Abscess?

Pus is icky to look at and awful to smell but it is actually amazing stuff. Pus helps concentrate any infections in the immediate area. It builds up and forms a pocket or bulge in order to keep any infected cells from traveling to other parts of the body.

Pus eventually builds up so much internal pressure that it bursts and drains causing the infection to leave the body. However, there is much a horse caretaker can do to speed up the process and relive pain caused by the pressure of the pus.

What Causes a Horse Hoof Abscess?

The short answer is that a horse hoof abscess is caused by an infection in the hoof. The long answer is what causes the infection that starts the hoof abscess to form. There are many different causes, including:

  • Improper shoeing: One of the most common causes of a horse hoof abscess is a nail being hammered into the wrong place. This lets bacteria into the hoof and causes infection. This is a good reason to leave shoeing to the professionals.
  • Puncture injuries: If a horse steps on a nail or other sharp object, the object tends to be driven into the hoof instead of falling off. Cleaning out a horse’s hooves every day helps the owner check for any signs of puncture wounds. Beginning care immediately may help minimize pain and infection.
  • Too dry or too wet of an environment: Horses exposed to weeks or months of excessively dry conditions have hooves that dry out and crack and easily injure. However, horses forced to stand in puddles or in dirty stalls have hooves weakened from the wet. Horse hooves ideally need cycles of wet and dry to remain healthy.
  • Poor conformation: If the horse has slightly crooked legs or other problems that he was born with then this causes uneven pressure on one or more hooves. This usually causes an injury which can lead to infection and abscesses. Horses that forge or strike their own legs or hooves when running or trotting can do themselves great damage repeatedly.

Treatment Options Available for a Horse Hoof Abscess

The main goal of treating a horse hoof abscess is to locate it, drain it and keep the area clean so it will not get re-infected. However, this is often easier said than done.

  • Finding the abscess can be very difficult and you should best leave it to farriers or veterinarians. Removing the shoe may be necessary to help ease pressure and make it easier to locate an abscess.
  • If the horse has had past injures to the hoof such as navicular disease then it might need to take X-rays. This is to be sure that the previous condition or injury is not causing the sudden heat and lameness.
  • If the veterinarian or farrier cannot find the abscess, the best thing to do is give the horse a wet poultice for four days and then a dry poultice for four days. This repeats until the abscess builds up enough to form a head or be seen. In the meantime, the horse also needs painkillers and stall rest to get through this painful period.
  • When the pus drains it will be grey or even black. It will smell incredibly bad but this is normal. Clean your hands immediately after contact with the pus. Do not let the horse or curious pets lick the pus.
  • When drained, the hoof needs soaking in a bucket with water and an antiseptic such as chlorine dioxide. You may need to bandage it or place a protective pad on it. This will help to prevent another infection while the wound heals.

Prevention of Horse Hoof Abscess

It is impossible to prevent a horse’s hooves from every instance of injury or infection. Yet, there is a lot an owner or groom can do to make sure the horse’s hooves are in peak condition.

  • Do not breed horses with bad conformation.
  • Use corrective shoeing to help a horse with bad conformation have more natural strides and place even pressure on all four hooves.
  • Clean stalls at least once a day and pick out pastures and turn-out areas frequently. Droppings leave bacteria that can enter a weak or injured hoof.
  • Do not leave horses in wet, muddy areas or completely dry areas for weeks or months at a time.
  • Use a hoof conditioner to help moisturize horses with dry hooves or horses that live in a hot, dry environment.
  • Horses prone to hitting their front hooves with their hind hooves need to wear protective bandaging or bell boots to protect the hoof.
  • Do not pull off a horse’s shoes if inexperienced. If a horse has a very loose shoe, call a farrier for treatment instead of trying to pull it off.
  • Horses have an almost magical ability to walk into the one thing in an entire field that can harm them. Frequently check pastures and turn out areas for anything that could injure the horse. Some examples are tree branches, litter, gopher holes, loose fence posts or rock piles.
  • Check stalls, stable aisles, arenas, trailers or anywhere where the horse will be for long periods of time for loose flooring, litter, projecting nails, rocks or anything else that can cause a puncture wound.

To Health

Although it may take days or even weeks for a horse hoof abscess to burst, the owner must wait patiently and let the horse rest to not cause any further damage. The prognosis for an abscess is very good.

Horses usually recover completely. Of course, this happens if they are kept in clean stalls or paddocks. Also, you need to trim and care for hoofs about every six weeks.


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