What are they ?
Hoof abscesses are one of the most common causes of sudden onset lameness. It occurs when bacteria is introduced into the foot, forms an abscess, increases pressure within the sensitive structures and results in a very painful foot!
What causes a foot abscess ?
Bacteria is usually introduced into the foot as a result of a bruise or puncture to the sole, a nail prick at shoeing, a hoof crack or by tracking up the white line.
What does it look like ?
Characterically, horses affected by a hoof abscess develop a sudden onset lameness in one leg only. The horse is usually reluctant to bear weight on the affected foot and will sometimes stand in a "toe-pointing" stance. The foot is usually warm and there is a bounding digital pulse in the affected foot (compared to the other feet).
How is it diagnosed ?
Your vet will diagnose a hoof abscess based on the history and clinical signs (mentioned above). They will also apply a set of hoof testers to the sole of the foot to pin-point the exact location of the abscess under the sole.
How is it treated ?
Your vet will use a sharp hoof knife to pare away the sole at the area of the abscess to facilitate drainage. Once drainage as been established, the foot will be poulticed to help draw out the pus. The vet may include some Epsom salts and betadine in the poultice to aid in the dranage of the abscess. The foot may need to be poulticed for several days.
If the abscess cannot be located immediately, the foot should be poulticed overnight to help soften the foot.
The horse should be kept in a clean and dry environment until the hole is completely healed.
A tetanus vaccine will be administered if the horse is not fully vaccinated.
The degree of lameness should improve rapidly within 24hrs after the abscess is opened and drained. If the lameness does not steadily improve a veterinarian should be called for a follow-up visit.
Long-term prognosis ?
As long as the hoof abscess is diagnosed and treated promptly and does not involve any deeper structures then your horse should return to full soundness.