Q: What is a hoof abscess? And how can I prevent them in my horse?
A: An abscess is simply a pocket of infection that has developed within the hoof. As the hoof is a relatively fixed structure, this infection can rapidly cause pain and discomfort due to pressure.
These abscesses arise due to a penetrating injury to the sole or white line. Horses with poor-quality hooves, hooves that are frequently wet, or horses who stand for prolonged periods in the stable are particularly susceptible to these injuries, as their hooves are softer.
Abscesses tend to cause lameness, heat in the hoof, a strong digital pulse, swelling of the lower limb and often high sensitivity to pressure from hoof testers. The lameness tends to develop quickly and be severe.
Treatment requires the draining of the abscess by a vet or farrier. This often brings immediate relief to the horse, as the pressure inside the hoof structure is reduced by this. After the opening of channel to the infection, the hoof should be thoroughly cleaned and soaked in Epsom salts to aid in drawing out the remaining infection. The hole should also be irrigated with an oxidising agent like hydrogen peroxide to reduce the risk of further infection.
Plugging the hole with cotton wool soaked in iodine and then applying a poultice overnight for three days will help drain the abscess and keep it clean. Antibiotics are occasionally given.
The best way to prevent hoof abscesses is to keep hooves clean, avoid horses standing in dirty stables for prolonged periods, pick out hooves regularly and ensure that hooves are strong and healthy using correct nutritional supplementation if necessary.