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How do I Treat my Horse's Hoof Abscess?

By KD Morgan
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By Jadranka — On Apr 22, 2014

Is there any sure way to recognize if it is an abscess or a cyst?

An x ray was performed, and the diagnosis was that it is "most probably" a cyst. Is Bioptron Light Therapy helpful for treating hoof abscess? Thank you,

By anon348401 — On Sep 16, 2013

My poor horse has had them in both front feet the past two weeks. He's had x rays to rule out something worse. My vet said to just let the abscess work its way out itself. They resolve themselves if left alone in most cases. Once they rupture, if you find the site put swat around it to keep the flies out. In other words, let nature take it's course.

By anon344313 — On Aug 07, 2013

My horse gets abscesses all the time. He's only ever off work for a week with correct treatment. He only goes lame when it's on his sole, and we poultice after the farrier has found one or if he goes lame.

Keep them dry and I'm going to try hardening the hoof with Stockholm tar this spring. Sole Pac is awesome for getting rid of infection. The infection dies when exposed to air, so sometimes not fiddling is the best thing. That's what I found when he had multiple abscesses.

By anon294088 — On Sep 29, 2012

I'm dealing with the second abscess on my mare's hoof in four weeks. I think it's a continuation of the first where all the bacteria didn't come out. This time it's erupted out of the coronet band and I also need to know how long I need to wrap/poultice/soak.

I've turned her out today with her hoof in nappies, poultice, stable wrap, a plastic bag and duct tape. I'm getting her in at night and hope she can go into a field daily if she's protected, but how long should I go on with the protection?

By anon290080 — On Sep 07, 2012

My horse never showed any signs of having an abscess until the farrier started cutting, then he saw one, and then he drained it. It has been two weeks and still lame.

I think the epsom salts are drying out too much and sealing the hole and making the infection stay in! I'm now putting drawing salve on the hole and wrapping and I'm also going to try sugar and iodine paste!

By anon162092 — On Mar 22, 2011

My horse had an abscess in his foot for three weeks. the best option was to get the farrier to dig a small hole in the sole of his foot until the pus started to come out, then soak with salt and warm water and then use animalintex and epsom salts. I did this for two weeks but all the infection wasn't coming out so i started using a boot and put in a mixture of glycerin and epsom salts which makes a paste. This will suck the infection out of the horse's foot.

Clean out the boot and his foot every day for four days and put in a fresh mixture. When you take off the boot you should see a blackish-brown substance. After the four days, the infection was gone out of his foot and he was reshod with a pad after fibe days. Animalintex/soaking, etc., is great for the start but to get all the infection out, the boot is the best way to go. Make sure you call your farrier because he has more than likely dealt with this sort of problem a zillion times. Best of luck.

By anon127523 — On Nov 16, 2010

The farrier we had to come out to see why our horse was limping said he has an abscess. He picked the hoof out and cleaned it. He told us to mix warm water and bleach, and he sprayed it to clean the infected area out more.

We don't know what's good and what's bad since we are new horse owners. Bleach just didn't really seem wise to me though. What do you'll think? I guess I should have looked this site up before he did what he did, huh? Hope more damage hasn't been done as a result of it!

By anon124577 — On Nov 06, 2010

My anglo arab has suffered from abscesses of the foot for the last five years -- usually coming on when the weather turns damp and the fields get muddy, but sometimes after shoeing. I have learned a number of things from the process of treating him.

First, that generally vets are less successful at dealing with it than farriers- and I would hesitate to allow a vet to dig around in the sole. Second that it is almost impossible to tell when all the poison is gone, but as a rule of thumb I find that three days poulticing (I use animalintex) is usually enough and you should be able to see the product..

Thirdly, that getting the poison out is not the end of things. You have to get the wound to heal without more stuff getting in by hardening off the sole or other site of wound. It's tricky if you are at the same time trying to keep the site clean and dry. Nothing seems to work terribly well. Iodine mixed with sugar does seem to harden the area which will have been softened by poulticing, and I have had some success "plugging" the hardened sole where there is still a bit of a hole with stockholm tar.

It's a ghastly process, but keeping things as clean and dry as possible certainly helps. As a bit of a success story I can report that I kept him abscess free for over a year by scrupulously keeping his feet clean, by picking out and brushing gently twice a day, wiping dry then spraying with cider apple vinegar which seems to be a natural anti fungal and antiseptic. This also seems to guard against mud fever to some extent.

It is certainly a fact that the thoroughbred on the sole has rubbish feet as a result of breeding and is vulnerable.

By anon123555 — On Nov 02, 2010

I have just retrieved a leased TB mare and she came back with a bad abscess. So far, I've used epsom salt/iodine soaking and ichthammol ointment with little relief. I called to order a Stepnsoak bag. They recommended a soaking solution called Clean Trax that is also used to treat fungal/bacterial infections for humans.

In researching it I found that most people had phenomenal results with all types of hoof problems. I just ordered a couple of bottles. The pricing varies from $16+ to $27 per bottle; just look online for suppliers.

There is also another product equivalent you can get at the drugstore for much less but I haven't figured that out yet.

By anon121324 — On Oct 24, 2010

If your horse has had a abscess that long maybe it is navicular? Also, if you are able to have your farrier pad the foot; perhaps there is a deep bruise.

By anon118827 — On Oct 15, 2010

Mu horse was just diagnosed by my vet as having an abscess. Rather than treating it myself with soaking, wraps, etc. The vet is going to keep him for five to seven days. Is it worth the expense of the vet to treat it or should I have saved money and treated it myself?

By anon116569 — On Oct 07, 2010

I have had my horse for six months now and in that time he has had five abscesses in his hoof. I really could do with some advice and it is really hard seeing him in so much pain. Thanks Jane

By anon109767 — On Sep 08, 2010

My horse has been fighting an abscess in his right hoof for the past six months. He gets better, and then it reappears. The vet has been out, and out, and out, but with the horse being 28 we are worried that he won't make it. Is there anything that we can do? We have done wraps, soaking, medication, etc. any help would be appreciated.

By anon89904 — On Jun 13, 2010

We think my horse has an abscess on his coronary band. He has been showing lameness and there is heat where we found the bump, but also the tendon is swollen but no heat? would that be from the irritation from the bump? or something else? It's not hot, just a little swollen. the bump is hot. we have been cold, warm, cold hosing for a while and it seems to help. if you have any suggestions, please let me know. the vet is coming out tomorrow. let's hope it's an abscess and not the tendon!

By anon87130 — On May 28, 2010

You have to find StepnSoak. It is the only thing out there that makes sense. I think the tack shops will start carrying it, but it's just available online right now. I used it to soak my TB's rear hoof and you just slip it on and tie it. I used mine over and over and it is still good to go. Got to soak, no matter what!

By anon86923 — On May 27, 2010

i need help. The vet has been out. It got worse. i don't know how to pick them out! help. --annie

By anon51719 — On Nov 08, 2009

I am looking for the same answer as susanandsam asked. When do you know it is healed enough to stop treatment?

By anon49099 — On Oct 17, 2009

I am the one listed as anon44667 (post #3). I thought my mare was better and she was, for a few days, then the abscess came back. In other words, it must have not all gotten out. It's been since about two months. I am still soaking some and wrapping and putting on icthamol, poltice, etc. This is very aggravating. My vet says next week we're going to have to dig to go after the abscess if she isn't better.

By anon44667 — On Sep 09, 2009

Hi. I've been dealing with an abscess on my mare for two weeks now. I rode her one day and the next day she could hardly walk. I actually had the vet come out and do x-rays, I was so worried. She found the abscess, which showed to be one inch from the bottom of the hoof. I soaked two, sometimes three times a day and wrapped the hoof with poultice, brown paper, diaper, duct tape 12 hours on, 12 hours off. I was very tired from all of this. Finally this past Sunday after a week and a half, the abscess came through the *top* of the hoof and she was much better. She is still somewhat sore, though, as it is still healing. I'm still soaking and putting icthamol on it but I'm not wrapping now. I turn her out all night. It's been a painful process, for her and me. I hope not to see another abscess in a long time.

By BlazeMopar — On May 25, 2009

Our horse started limping, the vet "thinks" it could be an abscess or bruise, we have been soaking and packing her with poultice for the past 10 days looking for an abscess release, we haven't seen anything that resembles "pus", it seems she is improving but still has a slight limp, the skin on the back of her foot and one side of her frog is starting to turn purple in color (the poultice is pink)...what are we looking for and how long should be continue to treat her in this fashion? Can putting the poultice on for too long cause damage?

By susanandsam — On Apr 25, 2009

My horse's abscess was in his frog. The farrier found it and cleaned it. We're halfway through a course of antibiotics and have been soaking for 5 days, vetwrapping and booting. I still see a pinhole at the abscess site. How long after the abscess has ruptured do you need to continue soaks--in other words, what am I looking for to know when we can stop? And at what stage can I discontinue the vetwrap/duct tape? Thanks!

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