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Foot Abscesses

It is at this time of year (November) that foot abscesses become increasingly common. They can be very painful but are usually quickly resolved. Foot abscesses occur when bacteria get trapped in the foot and this can be caused by a variety of things:

  • Penetrating injuries – Nails, stones etc
  • Poor hoof wall quality – Cracks, white line disease, brittle hooves
  • Standing on wet ground – mud or wet bedding can soften hooves and allow bacteria to enter
  • Changes in environmental conditions – changing between dry and wet causes hoof cracks
  • Growths in the hoof such as keratomas  
  • Signs of foot abscesses can include:

  • Lameness – usually in one foot, this is typically sudden and painful but can vary
  • Heat in the foot  
  • Bounding digital pulses on the foot  
  • Swelling up the leg, heel bulb or coronet band

There is little room for swelling inside the hoof therefore when this occurs it can be very painful. They can often present similarly to a horse with a fracture or a septic joint,  which is why veterinary advice should always be sought.  

When your vet examines your horse and suspects an abscess, they will often use hoof testers to squeeze different areas of the hoof. This is in order to locate the abscess, and subsequently allow it to drain. After the abscess has been located, a poultice should be applied daily to continue the draining process, during which the horse should be kept in a clean, dry environment. In some instances, abscesses can be harder to locate and as a result, can burst out of the heel bulb or coronet band. However, with a 'simple abscess' you can expect your horse to feel a lot better in the next 24-48 hours.

Although foot abscesses are bacterial in origin, it is rare that anti-biotics will be needed as they often will not reach the foot in high enough concentrations to be useful. In cases of abscesses that have not been opened and draining, anti-biotics can actually delay maturation and the progression to a resolution. Anti-biotics are typically only used when there is swelling or infection travelling higher up the leg or the pedal bone is also infected.  

Top tips for the prevention of abscesses:

  • Keep your horse on clean and dry ground and bedding when possible
  • Pick your horses hooves daily and apply oil/ointments to prevent cracks  
  • Keep hooves regularly trimmed  
  • Remove sharp objects from their field or paddock that may cause injury to the hoof  
  • Supplements such as biotin, methionine and zinc can also help hoof quality

If you suspect your horse of having an abscess, call us on 01323 815120