Horses can’t communicate with you verbally, so they use other cues to tell you something isn’t right. Abscesses are something that we commonly deal with on the farm, and they can occur for any number of reasons. Managing older equines can be challenging, as they’re more susceptible to health problems. We must be careful and know the signs to identify the beginning stages of a hoof abscess, as proper treatment is imperative.
What Causes a Hoof Abscess?
An abscess is a bacterial infection that can appear anywhere in the body. Humans often get abscesses in their teeth from a cavity, and you will have that pocket of infection that appears on your gums. The same thing happens with a horse’s hoof, as there’s some damage, and the body is trying to rid of the dead cells caused by trauma. Here are some common reasons why we see hoof abscesses:
•Pebble gets embedded into the hoof
•The farrier places the nail of the shoe too close to the laminae
•Being exposed to wet conditions after being in primarily dry ones
•Difficulties with their shoes
•Damage where a bruise occurred
•Trauma from removing shoes and going barefoot
•Navicular inflammation or degeneration
Regardless of the reason for the abscess, the hoof cannot expand with pressure; thus, pus will collect into a capsulized area and become infected. When you see pus, what you’re seeing is the body’s reaction to the bacteria, and it’s crucial we keep it from going into the bloodstream. Additionally, while it’s unpleasant for you to look at and smell this infection, it’s causing a great deal of discomfort for the equine.
Commonly Observed Signs and Symptoms
A horse may not display symptoms in the beginning stages, and you will only know when the abscess blows out. If you pay close attention, you can pick up on the signs and symptoms that something isn’t right with the horse. You might see things like:
•Inflammation of the lower leg
•Warmth and heat when touching the hoof wall
•The ability to feel a pulse in their hoof
Four Steps to Treating the Abscess
If you notice any of the signs of a hoof abscess, getting help is essential. The first course of treatment we do here is to pull the shoes. The shoe is causing pressure and needs to be removed to see if there’s a pebble or other foreign body in the hoof. Removing the shoes can expose the area of trouble, even if nothing is embedded.
• Draining the Infection
The infected area looks like a black line, and relieving the pressure means making an incision to allow the infection to drain. Again, this is something a vet or farrier should do for you, as you want to make the process as sterile as possible. After exposing the infected area, the hoof must be cleaned, bandaged, and packed to comfort the horse.
You will know that the horse feels better when they aren’t limping anymore. If the infection is bad enough, some horses will go lame until it’s resolved. Often, it’s a long-drawn-out healing process and will not be cured overnight.
• Epsom Salt Baths
You can do many things to help the horse’s hoof heal. For starters, a bath in Epsom salt can be pretty beneficial. It will draw infection and allow the area to eliminate the bacteria. After soaking, dry the area before repacking and bandaging. Moisture is the enemy, as moistness can enhance bacteria growth.
• Pack the Hoof
We use Mag 60 Paste to pack the wound and then wrap it in a heavy gauge gauze. You must ensure that the gauze isn’t too tight, as it can cut off the blood supply, which will cause another major issue. I find that placing some hefty duct tape over the hoof helps to keep moisture from getting into the area, and it holds the gauze in place. Consequently, you must ensure it gets some fresh air too.
• Keep the Horse Moving
Once the initial infection is drained, it’s something that you can manage without a vet. You must watch for signs that the bacteria isn’t healing or getting worse. Another tip is to keep the horse moving and not let them go on stall rest. Pressure and movement help to relieve the stress in the hoof, and they need this movement to get to the venting point.
Using a Quality Horse Retirement Center
Just like humans, as equines get some age on them, they tend to have more health problems. You might miss the signs of a hoof abscess or other common ailments if you’re unfamiliar. Thankfully, when you choose a retirement center like Oak Haven Acres, we know what to look for. We have farriers and vets on call who can ensure that horses entrusted to us are well taken are taken care of.