Signs: Horses usually present with a gradually worsening lameness in one foot. Occasionally, the horse may be suddenly non-weight bearing. The foot may be warm, and the digital pulses are usually increased.
Causes: An abscess can be sterile, resulting from a sub-solar bruise or bleed, or infectious, either from dirt and bacteria wicking up into the foot through wall defects or from puncture wounds. Oftentimes, wet ground is to blame. Increased ground moisture results in increased hoof moisture. Horses with separation of the white line, seedy toes, or deep cracks have enhanced opportunities for attracting dirt and bacteria deep into the hoof. Horses with traditionally tough soles have softer soles. The end result is abscesses.
Diagnosis: You vet will complete a hoof exam, use of hoof testers to localize a tender area and sometimes will perform nerve blocks.
Treatment: Soaking the hoof in an Epsom salt bath or using a poultice pad will draw fluid to the surface. Pain relief medication can be warranted if your horse is very sore. Drainage of the pain-causing fluid buildup by opening up the abscess through the sole may be attempted by your veterinarian. Many abscesses drain out the coronary band instead of the sole. This is often referred to as gravel as it was once thought that a piece of sand or stone had traveled from the sole upwards. Instead, it is usually just discharge working its way out through the path of least resistance. Keeping the draining tract clean and protected is important to prevent more contaminants from entering the deep hoof. After drainage occurs, most horses return to their previous level of soundness in one to two weeks.
Prevention: Regular hoof care/trimming and keeping your horse on as clean and dry of ground as possible can help to reduce likelihood of hoof abscesses.