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A hoof abscess is a painful infection on the foot of your horse. It is usually located either on the bottom of the foot, the "frog" of the foot, the heel, or the coronet band (or coronary band, which connects the hairline and hoof). An abscess on the hoof is the most common type that a horse can get. Other common abscesses are on the neck or hind end, resulting from an injection. To treat the infection, you'll need to soak the affected hoof, apply a poultice, wrap the area, and make sure that the animals is rested.
These abscesses are very painful and your horse will show signs of visible lameness. This expression of tenderness and inability of free movement can show up anywhere on the foot, leg, or shoulder. If you are suspicious that your horse might have an abscess, you should check for heat and sensitivity. Pick up the hoof and feel for any signs of excessive or localized heat. Next, check for sensitivity by using a hoof pick and taping the bottom of the foot and frog to see if there is an isolated area of tenderness.
Most hoof abscesses are the result of a foreign object, such as a nail, that has penetrated the bottom of the foot or an imbedded rock that has bruised the soft tissue. Because the feet and lower limbs generally have slow circulation, digestive problems have been known to show up in the lower extremities as well.
Treatment should begin by soaking the hoof in a bucket of warm water and Epsom salts for 10 minutes to draw out the infection. Normally, your horse will feel relief from the soaking and stand contentedly.
After soaking, dry the foot and, while your horse is standing on a clean towel, prepare a poultice of Epsom salts and gentle iodine. If you prefer, you can add an anti-bacterial/anti-fungal cream such as nitrofurazone to the poultice. Please note that this cream is toxic and you should wear gloves while using it. If your skin comes in contact with it, wash the area immediately.
Next, pack the frog with the poultice and then cover it with a sterile gauze. To secure the area, wrap with vetwrap and cover with duct tape. Medicine boots may also be used to protect the site if they are available. Your horse will appreciate the cushion and it will relieve some of his discomfort. Repeat this procedure two times daily.
Hoof abscesses require stall rest or restricted activity. It is important to walk your horse several times a day, but be vigilant that the abscess is not aggravated. Massaging the leg to stimulate circulation will also speed up the healing process.
Within a few days, the abscess will rupture and begin to drain. This is a sign of success for your efforts and relief for your horse. It is important to continue to soak the site and allow healing to continue from the inside out. This is the point where your horse will become more active and want to resume its normal routine. It is acceptable to begin turn out, but it should not be put back into work until all signs of lameness are gone. If you follow these simple guidelines, you should have no lasting implications from a hoof abscess.