Hoof abscesses can be quite distressing when your horse suddenly goes so lame they are hobbling around on three legs. But most horse owners will agree, that if your horse suddenly goes very lame, you are hoping for it to be a hoof abscess. This is because while they are very painful, the horse typically recovers in a matter of days.
Signs your horse might have an abscess
Every horse and abscess is different. But you would typically expect to see some of the below signs:
- 1 hoof is hotter than the others
- 1 foot has a strong digital pulse
- Sudden, very obvious, lameness
- Intermittent lameness that gets much worse
- Swelling above the hoof
- Resting the toe or heel
If all these signs were missed and a hoof abscess goes untreated, it can burst out of the coronary band, which complicates healing.
Diagnosing a hoof abscess
Sudden, severe lameness can be caused by other, more serious conditions, such as broken bones and tendon injuries. So you should never just assume your horse has an abscess when they come in very lame. However, you might not need to pay for a vet visit right away, especially if you are out of hours. Have a good look at your horse, check for any signs of injury to the leg. If there is nothing obvious, phone your vet and ask for their advice. A lot of the time they will suggest box rest with a poultice.
The early stages of recovery from most injuries is usually box rest and a poultice will help draw out any infection in the foot. Your vet might also suggest having the farrier out to remove their shoe and check for any obvious signs of an abscess. The vet can also do this if you would prefer. Whether you have the vet or farrier out, they will likely use hoof testers to try and locate any sore spots and may cut away some of the hoof to see if they can help the abscess start to drain. But especially if your horse doesn’t have shoes, you might be able to drain it without cutting into the hoof.
Draining a hoof abscess
Horses go from being non weight bearing to virtually sound as soon as an abscess starts to drain and even before you have your vet or farrier out, there are things you can do to start helping the hoof drain the abscess.
Tubbing the foot
Having the horse stand in warm, salty water softens the sole, making it easier to drain. If you can do this twice a day it can be really helpful for drawing the infection out.
You can also start poulticing before you take their shoe off. It might not be as effective as on a bare hoof, but it still helps to draw the infection out. The first few days you should use a hot, wet poultice and change it twice a day. After about three days, you should swap to a dry poultice to stop the foot from becoming too soft, which can cause more problems.
Does my horse have to be stabled?
If your horse has an abscess, they don’t have to stay in the stable. But you want to keep the poultice or draining abscess as clean as possible. This is usually easier in the stable, especially over winter when the fields are muddy.
My top tips for poulticing a hoof
What you need to poultice a hoof:
How to poultice a hoof:
Preparing the foot & poultice
- Prepare your poultice. I like to use the hoof shaped ones, rather than cutting them to shape. It just makes life easier. Every poultice will come with it’s own instructions on how to use them, but if applying a wet poultice they will need soaking in boiled water.
- I always use heavy duty tape on my poultices, even if they are stabled. I just think it helps keep the dirt out longer. So before I do anything else, I create a square big enough to cover the bottom of the horse’s foot out of heavy duty tape. This makes the later steps a bit easier.
- I like to lay everything out I will need next to where I am going to poultice the horse before I take the previous poultice off or clean the foot. It means I can keep the foot in the air after cleaning until the poultice is finished.
- While my poultice is soaking (when applying a wet one) I like to have the horse stand in a tub of warm salt water. This is good for helping to draw out the infection and can help you clean the hoof before applying a poultice. If I’m not tubbing the foot, then I will thoroughly clean the foot with a hoof pick, brush and water.
- Apply the poultice to the horses sole, pushing into any gaps and crevices. If a wet poultice, I also like to squeeze any excess liquid out by pressing the poultice gently against the sole.
- Cover the poultice in padding. I love a nappy for this as its super quick easy to apply. If you have a fidgety horse who isn’t likey to hold their foot up for long, you should be able to secure the poultice in place with a nappy much quicker than another form of padding.
- Wrap the padding with vet wrap to hold it in place. Where possible you should only wrap over the hoof, not the pasterns & heels to avoid sores.
- Take your duct tape square and cover the bottom of the foot with it. Secure in place by wrapping duct tape over the vet wrap bandage. (If you prefer to use a plastic bag, pop this over the vet wrap and secure in place with duct tape.)
- Press down any lose bits of tape and you are done!