When It’s Not Just A Hoof Abscess

When It’s Not Just A Hoof Abscess

Tuesdays with Tony

If you have horses, chances are you will deal with a hoof abscess at some point. Have you noticed that horses can be pretty dramatic creatures, and don’t often keep their feelings to themselves? Horses generally have the opposite of a poker face, unlike cats. If that little pocket of infection is causing pressure in his hoof, he will definitely let you know about it! A horse with a hoof abscess can look almost as lame as if he had broken a leg.

It’s usually pretty good news if my doc comes out to see your 3-legged lame horse and tells you she found a sub-solar abscess. Of course you don’t actually want your horse to have an abscess, but compared to some of the alternatives, it’s generally a pretty easy thing for my docs to take care of. They would much rather be able to tell you it’s just a hoof abscess rather than an injured tendon or even a fracture. My doc will try to locate the abscess and open it up to drain it and relieve the pressure. Occasionally, she’ll need to soak or poultice the hoof for a few days to draw the abscess out. Usually, as soon as the abscess is drained, your horse will start feeling better and will be on the road to recovery.

But what if it’s not so simple? Most hoof abscesses are infrequent, uncomplicated, and resolve quickly. But there are situations where abscesses don’t behave how you want them to (very cat-like behavior, I admit). Some abscesses linger and don’t heal, and some keep coming back. Some aren’t just a hoof abscess at all, but a much more serious problem. You’ll want to know when your horse needs more than just the basic treatment, so you can avoid a potentially life-threatening situation. Here’s what you need to keep in mind.

The Repeat Offender

Once drainage is established, a “normal” hoof abscess should begin to dry out and fill in with healthy tissue, and your horse’s lameness should resolve within a few days. Some horses seem prone to abscesses though – you finish treating one and a couple months later, he gets another. If your horse seems to have abscesses pop up frequently, in the same foot or in different feet, there is usually a reason. Here are a few common culprits.

The first thing to do if your horse seems prone to abscesses is to check the hygiene of his environment and the condition of his feet. It’s important to provide a clean environment for your horse. Standing in manure, urine, or mud will degrade hoof tissue, and allow bacteria to enter the hoof and form an abscess. Horses with feet that aren’t in good shape can develop hoof cracks or white line disease, both of which allow an entry point for infection. Regular trimming (every 4-6 weeks) will help to maintain a good barrier. Make sure your farrier has the hooves well balanced and the toes don’t get too long. Those are common problems my docs see in horses with repeat abscesses.

Horses with chronic laminitis often have compromised blood flow to the feet, which makes it harder for them to fight off infections. Their white line is often abnormally stretched out, making it easier for bacteria to enter the foot. A horse with untreated Cushing’s disease may have a reduced immune system, making him susceptible to infections. He’s also prone to laminitis, making it a double whammy. My docs can check your horse out for laminitis or Cushing’s and recommend a treatment plan.

Another possible cause of recurrent abscesses in the same foot is a keratoma. A keratomas is a slow-growing benign tumor inside the hoof wall that can cause pressure necrosis of the bone, leading to chronic abscesses. You won’t see much from the outside, so my docs will recommend x-rays if they want to check for one. A keratoma can be removed surgically, and the hoof wall will grow back normally over time.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

The Abscess That Won’t Resolve

This is a different situation from the repeat offender, and potentially a dangerous one. You think you find and drain the abscess, and your horse should be feeling better, but a couple days go by and he’s still quite lame. You may still see swelling and drainage as well. This abscess just won’t quit! You’ll want to take this situation seriously.

A ”normal” abscess is when the pocket of infection occurs in the area underneath the sole. Drain it through the bottom of the hoof, and it usually resolves without needing antibiotics. That’s how we want it to go. A deep abscess can travel up and burst out of the coronary band instead of through the bottom of the foot, which can take longer to resolve, and may recur if it doesn’t fully drain. Even an abscess that drained through the sole may recur if the hole seals over too soon or gets plugged up with dirt. The least severe possibility is that the abscess needs to be opened again.

Much more worrisome is an infection that has involved one of the important structures of the hoof, like the coffin bone, or a joint or tendon sheath. This can look like a regular hoof abscess in the beginning, but it doesn’t resolve when it’s drained. An infection of these structures is life-threatening, so you’ll want to have my docs out promptly if signs linger. A regular hoof abscess can develop into an infection of the coffin bone, called septic pedal osteitis, if it’s deep in the foot and isn’t able to find a way out. Septic pedal osteitis can also occur due to a puncture wound, for example if your horse steps on a nail. Don’t discount this possibility if you don’t see an obvious nail hole – they’re often very small and hard to find.

Another source of infection may be a coffin bone sequestrum, which occurs when a small piece of the bone dies and festers until it is removed. It’s also possible to have a foreign body like a small piece of wood or metal stuck in the foot. None of these scenarios will heal until the infected material is located and removed.

Anytime you suspect your horse has a hoof abscess, it’s best to call my doc out. Hopefully it’s just a simple treatment, but like with most horse problems, prevention and early intervention can help to keep things from getting worse and usually ends up less expensive than waiting to fix big problems.

Until next week,

~ Tony

P.S. If you want to learn more about your horse’s feet, check out some of the videos over on my YouTube Channel. My docs have a whole library for you over there. Don’t forget to Like and Subscribe, and tell them Tony sent you!

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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More Adventures of the Horse Doctor's Husband
Tuesdays with Tony – Big Burly Men

Tuesdays with Tony – Big Burly Men

Last Wednesday evening was an atypical night for me. There was pizza, which is always a plus. But then about a half dozen big burly men with a bunch of tools showed up, pulling trailers with–get this–built-in furnaces! The docs called them Farriers. Turns out all you have to do is let them know there will be pizza, and they will come from far and wide. Beth brought in her horse, Princess Chubby Butt, to be the test subject. The docs learned how the farriers approach a problem foot, and the farriers learned why things are not always as they seem on X-rays. It was a great learning experience for everyone…OK, I’ll admit even I learned a thing or two.

It turns out if you ask 6 different farriers the same question, you get 6 different answers. In fact, it is widely accepted that if you ask 20 different farriers the same question, you will get 20 different answers. Luckily, we have a bunch of great farriers in our area, and although they may have different opinions about the right way to approach a problem, none of them are wrong. If your horse was experiencing a foot lameness, it used to be commonplace for your vet to blame your farrier, and for your farrier to blame your vet. But here at Springhill Equine we are trying to change that!

We see the vet, farrier, and horse owner as a team, and we try to come up with a solution by putting our heads together. Whether the problem is laminitis, club foot, navicular disease, arthritis, thrush, etc… you need a vet and farrier working together to get the foot going in the right direction. Farriers are often grateful to see what’s going on inside the foot with the aid of X-rays, and I know the docs are grateful to have somebody else in charge of hammering nails into the horse’s foot!

All in all, our first vet/farrier team building/brainstorming meeting (event name pending) was a huge success, and we hope to have more in the future. Oh, and Princess Chubby Butt is loving her fancy new shoes! If you are ever looking for a farrier, there is a long list of names in the desk that I like to sleep on, and we would be happy to find one to meet your horses’ needs.

Until next week,



farrier seminar 2Tony on farrier truckfarrier seminar 1

Tuesdays with Tony – These Boots Were Made For Trotting

Tuesdays with Tony – These Boots Were Made For Trotting

While clicking through the internet over this long holiday weekend I came upon this picture of yours truly:

It got me thinking about boots.  I make these boots look darn good.  This got myself, Teannie, and our weekend guest, a charming horse name Goose, talking about boots in general.  We marveled at all the colors, textures, patterns, and types of boots that humans have for their feet.  Teannie and I remarked that as the perfect creatures we are, we never have to wear such things.  OK, so that one time I had to wear a cast for a long time after Teannie broke my foot when I made, what she considers a disparaging, remark about her ears, but other than that, no foot wear.  Goose informed us we just didn’t know all the fun we were missing.  He gets to wear boots all the time when he works, and he finds them stylish and comfortable.  I wasn’t going to be the one to tell him we don’t work.  However, Goose’s statement did make me head off for some research about boots and horses.

My first question to you humans is REALLY??!!??!? Do you really need all of the 8,482 different types of boots I found? There are open front boots, support boots, cross country, splint, ankle, bell, and galloping just to name a few.  And the colors and patterns.  Don’t get me started on all that.  Let’s just say I am never wearing anything in tie dye.  Especially not on my feet.  Looking in to the why so many freakin’ kinds of boots did inform me that many different kinds are needed for all the crazy things you guys do with horses.  Lots of people like the all around support kind.  If you jump over things, you like the kind open in front.  If your horse hits his ankles you like the ankle kind.  You get the gist.  Anyway I will give you all the different kinds.

My next question was can they seriously do all the things they say they can?  Here’s where life gets a little fuzzy.  Let’s start with support.  When it comes to the equine limb that is a tricky statement at best.  Support what? If you support the fetlock, then more concussion goes up the limb and that can be damaging to the shoulder.  With all the weight horses bring to the game, it turns out “support” can’t be done without compromising range of motion, which means no more daring moves of athletic prowess.  So how about concussion? This one does turn out to have some validity.  When you ask horses to turn quickly around trash cans, jump over sticks, and prance sideways they have a tendency to tangle up those long legs at some point in the process.  Those tangles can have some serious forces behind them.  A good boot will absorb some of the concussion and prevent lacerations from hooves.

Goose pointed out that sometimes his legs get hot in those boots.  Seems reasonable in this ridiculous Florida weather; also important for the health of your horse’s tendons and ligaments.  Tendons and ligaments can take normal heat but researchers have found temperatures of up to 145F following exercise!  Newer boot manufacturing techniques are looking at the heat build-up problem and working on solutions.  I would certainly put boots on just before exercise and take them off just after work to keep those legs happy.

In case you need a good reason to make your horse wear boots, watch this video at around 18 minutes in.  Words of warning it is a bit graphic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsvS6gEBJuE

And on that note, I’m off to ponder my new line of feline footwear.

tony n boots

Tuesdays with Tony – Abscesses

Tuesdays with Tony – Abscesses

Ah May…It’s hot and dry, then we get rain, then it’s beautiful out but dry.  Last year was weird with all the rain.  This year seems more like the days I remember as a young kitten.  Turns out this weather is fantastic for making hoof abscesses.  And while those are fun for the Docs (they have an unnatural love for pus), they are no fun for you or your horse.

I realize I talk about the stupid design of horses a lot, and here I go again.  That hard hoof wall is great for walking on but it makes it extremely painful if there is any swelling of the soft tissues inside.  Hoof abscesses form when a tiny bit of bacteria get between the hoof wall and those soft tissues.  The body reacts to the bacteria by sending white blood cells to kill the bacteria, and, Voila!, pus.  The white blood cells also release some chemicals which cause swelling and pain all on their own.  All that extra stuff stuck underneath the hoof wall hurts worse than whacking your thumb with a hammer.  I do love when humans do that.  I laugh every time.

Abscesses usually make their presence very well known.  Much like when I sleep on the computer keyboard, you can’t help but notice your horse is not right.  It may start as a limp on one leg, however, they always progress to “Holy Cow I can’t stand on my foot!” Once they reach the Holy Cow stage they are ready to be opened.  You can get them to this stage faster by soaking the foot daily in warm Epsom salts for 5-10 minutes.  This often goes about as well as bathing a cat so may I suggest the baby diaper method.  Take one baby diaper (Newborn – size 3 depending on the size of your horses hoof), place a small amount of Epsom salts in the baby butt area, add enough water to make it pasty, place diaper on foot, securing convenient tabs around the pastern while you grab duct tape, run duct tape across the bottom and around the hoof to secure the diaper.  Change this daily.

Our Docs can help the whole abscess process get done and over quicker.  The closer your horse is to the Holy Cow it hurts stage the more likely they are to open the abscess.  Dr. Lacher or Dr. Vurgason will start by cleaning the bottom of the hoof, then applying hoof testers.  Hoof testers are these incredibly barbaric pinchy things that help the Docs find the sorest spot on the hoof.  Once they find it they will use a hoof knife to pare the hoof away and open up the affected area.  They will dig a bit but don’t be surprised if they stop before they open up the abscess.  This can be tricky thing.  If you dig too deep you can create more problems so the Docs tend to be very conservative.   Like I said earlier, they do love to pop an abscess so rest assured they are going to try as hard as they can to get it opened.

The good news with abscesses is that, almost always, once they are opened and drained your horse will return to happy and comfortable.  And now back to napping in the sun in the handicapped parking spot.  Pretty sure they put that there for me.

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