By: Dr. Lydia Gray
A hoof abscess is a bacterial infection inside the hoof that can cause horses to be suddenly and severely lame. Any break in the hoof wall-sole junction such as a misplaced nail, crack or puncture wound can allow contaminated debris inside the hoof where it migrates to living tissue. The body responds by sending white blood cells (neutrophils) to fight off the invaders. The smelly, gray/black discharge from a hoof abscess is a combination of these white blood cells, the bacteria they are fighting off, and hoof tissue that has been destroyed in the process.
Left untreated, most hoof abscesses will travel upwards and burst out at the softer coronary band. However, farriers and veterinarians prefer to pare an opening in the bottom of the foot for drainage to relieve the pain sooner and avoid potential complications. In addition, experts suggest replacing traditional hoof soaks—which may also lead to problems in the future—with poultices, other drawing agents, and kits made especially for hoof abscesses.
The classic appearance of a hoof abscess is a horse that unable to bear weight on one front leg, a warm hoof, and a “bounding” digital pulse. Sometimes there is swelling in the pastern. A veterinarian should examine horses that do not improve with treatment, or have pain in more than one leg, an obvious injury, or repeated abscesses, as these signs could indicate a more serious condition such as laminitis or fracture.