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.