The Hoof Abscess
A hoof abscess develops when bacteria invades the tissues of the hoof causing an anti-inflammatory response which draws white blood cells into the area and allows fluid to leak from the capillaries there by creating a pocket of pus under the hoof. The pocket of pus will build up and over time causing pressure. Unlike skin and other soft tissues, the sole of the foot and the hoof wall cannot expand to accommodate a buildup of fluid so the horse may become very painful in a very short amount of time. Lameness of any kind warrants a call to the vet. If left untreated, the infection may spread to other structures of the hoof such as the coffin bone. Once an abscess is diagnosed, whenever possible, the doctor will try to open up the area to drain and relieve pressure. Often times the pressure will drive the infection up and it will also erupt at the coronary band.
Once drainage is established continued care is vital to healing. Treatment will include soaking the hoof in warm water (above the coronary band) and Epsom salts 1-2 times per day to clean the wound and encourage additional draining. After soaking and drying the hoof, you will need to apply either sugardine (a mixture of sugar and iodine) or a poultice (Animal Intex), both are used to draw out infection. Once the hoof is packed, it is ready to be wrapped. There are many ways to do so. The most commonly used method is to wrap the hoof in a disposable diaper, cover it in vet wrap and protect both with duct tape. The goal is to keep the foot as clean as possible to prevent further infection and to promote healthy healing.
Most times the doctors will prescribe NSAIDS such as Phenlybutazone (Bute) for a few days to make your horse more comfortable while being careful not to mask any lameness that may indicate the infection is not resolving. A Tetanus booster will be most likely be recommended.
The key to your surviving your horse’s abscess is patience. Your horse may be great for a few days after the initial drainage and then one day appear to be very lame again. It is not uncommon for either the infection pocket to migrate or for the drainage hole to begin to heal over before the infection has been completely cleared out thereby causing more pain. It is sometimes necessary to re-examine the hoof to determine the exact nature of the problem.