June Newsletter: How Your Veterinarian Treats a Hoof Abscess

Horse has bandaged hoof.

How Your Veterinarian Treats a Hoof Abscess

Hoof abscesses can cause lameness and increase your horse's risk for laminitis if not treated promptly. Fortunately, your equine veterinarian offers treatments that eliminate the infection and help your horse heal.

What Is a Hoof Abscess?

A bacterial infection in the space between the hoof wall or sole and the laminae causes a hoof abscess. The laminae tissue connects the coffin bone to the hoof capsule. As an infection worsens and pus forms, pressure inside the hoof builds up, causing pain and other symptoms.

In addition to pain, signs and symptoms of absesses include:

  • Warmth in the Hoof Wall
  • Swelling in the Heel Bulb, the Coronary Band at the Top of Heel, or in the Pastern Between the Hoof and Fetlock
  • Throbbing or Noticeable Pulse in the Lower Leg and Hoof
  • Lameness
  • Gray or Black Pus Around the Coronary Band and Sole
  • Obvious Hoof Injury
  • Black Spot on the Sole That Could Indicate a Puncture or Crack

How Did My Horse Get a Hoof Abscess?

Hoof abscesses can be caused by:

  • Moist Conditions. Your horse may be more likely to develop an abscess when the ground is wet. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) notes that moisture softens the hoof, making it easier for bacteria to enter. Dirty stalls full of wet bedding can also cause soft hooves.
  • Dry Conditions. Tiny cracks can form in a horse's hoof during dry periods, allowing bacteria to penetrate the hoof.
  • Injuries. A misplaced horseshoe nail or stepping on a screw, piece of glass, rock, or any type of sharp debris creates a wound in the hoof. Any opening in the hoof, even if it's small, provides a pathway for bacteria.
  • Poor Conformation. Cracks can be caused by bending stress caused by hoof wall flares or leaving the bars of the foot too long, according to The Horse.
  • Genetics. Your horse may have been born with poor hoof quality, which increases the risk for a bacterial infection.
  • Hoof Care. According to the University of Minnesota Extension, crushed heels or long flared toes due to poor hoof care may weaken the white line in the hoof. The white line separates the sole from the hoof wall. It's much easier for bacteria to enter the hoof if the white line is weak.

How Are Hoof Abscesses Treated?

Your equine veterinarian performs a thorough examination to determine if an abscess is responsible for your horse's symptoms. The examination involves carefully examining your horse's hooves for injuries or foreign objects. Applying pressure to several areas of your horse's hoof with a hoof tester can help pinpoint the location of any present infection. A radiograph, or X-ray, of the foot may also be helpful. The radiograph can detect gas, which builds up during a bacterial infection. X-rays also help the veterinarian determine the extent of damage caused by a nail in the hoof. If your horse has a nail in its foot, don't try to remove it yourself.

Draining the hoof by creating a small hole allows pus to drain and often offers instant pain relief. Your equine veterinarian will cover the hole with a bandage and put a hoof boot over the hoof to protect it from dirt and debris. The pus will continue to drain from the hoof for several days. During that time, you'll need to change the bandage daily and confine your horse to a stall or paddock. Don't turn out your horse to the paddock if the ground is wet. Keep bedding in the stall clean and dry to prevent a new infection.

Healing often takes about a week, although deep infections may take longer to heal. Ask your veterinarian when it's safe for your horse to return to its usual activities. If your horse is still lame or in pain or seems to be getting worse, call your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Concerned about your horse's hoof? Timely treatment of hoof abscesses prevents bacterial infections from spreading. Contact our office to schedule a visit with the equine veterinarian.


American Association of Equine Practitioners: Hoof Abscesses


University of Minnesota Extension: Horse Hoof Abscesses


The Horse: Hoof Abscesses in Horses, 6/14/2018


US Equestrian: Hoof Abscesses: Tips for Treatment and Prevention, 2/10/2020