Product Showcase: A Sampling of Soaks and Poultices
Hoof poultices and soaks are used for hoof injuries, abscesses, puncture wounds, thrush, white line disease and other foot problems. Not a recent discovery, poultices of various types of clay and mud have been used for human afflictions for thousands of years, and eventually for their animals as well. Horsemen, farriers and veterinarians have been soaking feet in Epsom salts for many years, and this traditional soak is still used quite often to help draw infection out of the foot.
I spoke with several manufacturers and distributors to learn what they perceive about the application and advantages of their products.
Equilite Sore No-More Poultice. Equilite’s goal with Sore No-More Poultice is a natural material that is easily applied and washed off. Ingredients include bentonite/kaolin in a solution containing a blend of witch hazel, arnica montana, rosemary, lavender, lobelia and sodium borate as a natural preservative.
“There are no added chemicals or drugs, just herbs that have been used for centuries,” according to Equilite representative L.A. Pomeroy.
This poultice can be used on the horse’s legs and body to reduce heat, swelling or inflammation. It also treats abscesses, puncture wounds, thrush and dry or cracked hooves. Pomeroy recommends that the treated surface should always be clean and wet before application.
“For poulticing a leg, scoop an egg-sized dollop of poultice into your hand, and using one smooth stroke with the palm of your hand, spread the poultice evenly down the leg to the top of the fetlock,” she suggests. “Then wrap it with plain brown paper that has been allowed to soak in a bucket of water. The paper will stick to the poultice. Then place a clean standing wrap over the wet paper. Quickly wrap over the quilt with a clean bandage or leg wrap. Never poultice more than once every 6 to 12 hours.”
Customers have told Equilite that the product is also a good hoof pack and delivers good results in the treatment of abscesses.
Hoof Solutions Poultice Pack. Pat Burton, a farrier from Burleson, Texas, created this product 5 years ago to target several purposes.
“It conditions the foot, helps clear up bacterial infection by acting as a drawing agent and also tightens and solidifies the keratin, thus strengthening the foot at the same time,” he says.
Burton adds that the poultice can be used in a boot. “If you took the horse on an extended trail ride and he’s a little sore afterward, you can slip a couple poultice pads into the boots before you haul home, and it’s like having the feet in a spa,” he suggests.
The poultice is to be left on for 1 to 3 days. Burton advises preparing the foot properly before application. “You want to use an anti-bacterial product to help clean it, especially if you are dealing with an abscess. Sometimes we use betadine or chlorhexadine. Then you have a clean environment to wrap up,” he says.
Burton uses the poultice pack on problems ranging from abscesses, laminitic horses that have developed necrotic tissue, thrush, general soreness and puncture wounds.
Many of his clients like to keep his poultice product on hand.
“It’s good to have something that can be immediately applied, until you can get a veterinarian to come and look at the horse for further observation. Sometimes it can also save the expense of a veterinary call,” says Burton.
“If the horse is sore and you are uncertain about what to do with it, the poultice and a little time will often tell you a lot more,” says Burton.
“Before I start trimming, I want the foot to tell me what’s wrong. Sometimes 24 to 48 hours can make a tremendous difference in what you choose to do. All too often someone removes too much on a foot and then there’s no support left. They are searching for something that may be difficult to find. The poultice can allow you time to figure things out.” Burton also cautions against inhibiting circulation when wrapping the foot, especially when there is swelling.
The packet also features a sock fashioned like the corner of a feed sack. This sock fits over the hoof capsule, up the leg and over the fetlock.
“When you put the VetWrap on, there’s less risk of strangulating soft tissues above the coronary band,” he says. “The sock is an orthopedic felt, which is very soft and forgiving, and cushions the foot and leg.”
Burton then adds a third covering, usually a hoof boot or hoof cap.
“If I’m not using a boot, I put duct tape over the bottom,” he says. “I cut the duct tape in a 10-by-11-inch square, and apply that to the bottom, putting it up around the foot. By simplifying the steps, it’s easy to do.”
HOOFix Epsom Salt Poultice Pacs. JoAnne Nightingale of Plum Shade Farm, recently created this product to treat abscesses.
“You don’t have to re-soak or mess with duct tape,” she explains. “Our boot lasts, and has a slip-resistant bottom.”
“We also offer a poultice bag. This is a heavy-duty bag that you can use for a soak, or to help keep the poultice medication moist and clean and keep dirt out.
“We try to make it easier on the horse and the owner,” she says. “If it’s easy, the owner is more apt to try it. Many horses are not very cooperative, so you want it to be easy for the owner to do it.
“The bag can be left on the foot for as long as the vet or farrier recommends, for that particular situation. The vets at Ohio State have used our abscess kit and they typically leave the poultice in place on the hoof for 3 days before changing it.”
3M Animalintex Poultice Pad. Suzanne Hart of 3M Animal Care, says their poultice is a ready-to-use poultice in a pad, not a bucket. It contains a mild antiseptic (boric acid) and tragacanth gum to create a natural agent.
“You dip it in a bucket of warm water and put it around the bottom of the foot if you are using the hoof pad poultice,” she says. “If using the full pad, wrap it clear up around the coronary band.”
Hart says the advantage of using the Animalintex pad is saving time. “The product is already embedded in the pad, so you just dip it in water,” she explains. “It’s great for farriers because they can put on the first one, and sell the client another one if the horse needs a follow-up treatment.”
“There is a plastic wrap to place on the outside of the pad to keep the moisture in it. You wrap the VetWrap bandaging tape around and leave it on the foot for 12 hours. The natural poulticing ingredients become a gel and draws all the heat and infection out of the foot and into the pad,” she says.
This product can be used for thrush, minor stiffness and soreness. It can be used as a hot poultice for abscesses, boils, infected wounds, cracked heels, laminitis, seedy toe and corns. It can be used as a cold poultice for strains and sprains, sore shins, splints, bruises, capped hocks and elbows.
Kaeco Epsom Salt Poultice. Kaeco is a family-owned business that Dean Kratochvil started in 1984.
“He was a rancher and also worked for a firm that made animal health products,” says his son, Tom Kratochvil.
Created 15 years ago, the Kaeco poultice’s major active ingredient is Epsom salts.
“We heat it until liquification, then add a gel and a small amount of methylsalicylate,” says Kratochvil. “Epsom salts have great drawing ability to pull infection and soreness out of the foot. The methylsalicylate is a common ingredient in liniments. It is recommended for treating abscesses, sole bruises, puncture wounds, etc., and has a soothing effect.
“If you are treating a foot in cold weather, you don’t have to warm the water and keep warming it. This product eliminates that mess and the need to have the horse’s foot in a bucket. A farrier or vet might tell the horse owner to soak the foot 3 to 4 times a week and then wrap it in between to keep it clean and dry. However, the owner may do it once or twice before becoming discouraged.”
Kratochvil says his poultice enables the farrier to treat the foot and let it draw for 48 to 72 hours.
“It’s like having the foot soaking during that whole time without the hassle,” says Kratochvil. “It is also beneficial for joints and muscles for drawing out heat and making the horse more comfortable. With a lot of other products, you can’t wrap them because of the heat produced. This product can be wrapped and it won’t burn the skin.”
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3M Animalintex Poultice Pad
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White Lightning. Liquid and gel versions of White Lightning are often used in conjunction with a soak bag. Steve Bloom of Grand Circuit, White Lightning’s distributor, says the gel works the same as the liquid product, but the liquid is probably better for treating advanced cases of white line disease and thrush.
He cites an article written by Michael Wildenstein several years ago in which the former Cornell University farriery instructor discussed a culture of the organisms that cause white line disease.
“He found there were a lot of things, but it’s most commonly caused by a fungus,” recalls Bloom. “The fungi thrive in moist, dark, anaerobic places.”
Liquid White Lightning produces a gas when you mix it with an equal amount of white vinegar — a mild acid. The active ingredient in both the liquid and the gel is a chemical called sodium chlorite. When mixed with mild acid, it produces the gas.
“It works even better when diluted a little with water,” says Bloom. “You can mix a couple ounces of White Lightning with a couple ounces of white vinegar and pour them in a treatment bag. Some people use Ziplock bags and others use oven roaster bags. You just need something that will contain the liquid and the gas.
“You put the horse’s foot in it, preferably without a shoe, because chlorine dioxide is an oxidizer and will rust the shoe. Also, the shoe blocks access to that part of the foot. You add water, to go halfway up the hoof capsule. The water helps cleanse the bottom of the foot.
“The bottom of the hoof wall has these tiny openings, packed with dirt. Even if you scrub the bottom of the foot with a brush, there will still be some dirt. The water helps dissolve some of the remaining dirt, and allows the gas to penetrate deeper. You close off the top of the bag or boot, allowing the gas to penetrate the tissues.”
If the treated horse doesn’t like the bag on its foot, soak a diaper or sanitary napkin in the liquid and tape it on. The horse can stand in this soak, even overnight. The liquid generates an effective level of chlorine dioxide for more than 12 hours, allowing for overnight soaking.
“The gel was originally created as a wound-healing cream and is effective against greasy heel, scratches, fungal infections, and even some nasty things like ringworm,” says Bloom.
“Chlorine dioxide also attacks and neutralizes some specific odors, like a foot that is very thrushy. If you get that on your hands, it seems to get into your pores and even if you wash your hands you can still smell it. If you put a little gel or liquid on your hands and rub it in and then wash your hands, it neutralizes the smell. It also works very well against sulfur-based odors, like skunk spray.”
Some individuals (horse and human) are sensitive to the liquid, however, because it has a higher-than-normal pH.
“If a horse gets surface irritation from the liquid, just wash it off,” he says. “The gel doesn’t have this feature. The gel lends itself to the foot and the skin, whereas the liquid is best used just on the foot.”
CleanTrax. Al Fox says his product, CleanTrax, is provided as a bottle of dry powder, which can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 5 years, as long as the bottle is not opened.
“To use it, the powder is dropped into a gallon of tap-water, which activates it,” he says. “This solution is put into a closed soaking boot that holds the entire gallon. Soaking in this will sterilize the foot — killing all pathogens.”
You need a soaking boot or container (CleanTrax makes a boot) that will hold the entire gallon of liquid.
CleanTrax is billed as killing bacteria, viruses, fungi or fungal spores on the foot on contact. It can be used to treat white line disease, seedy toe, thrush, and abscesses by penetrating small crevices and cracks in the foot.
“Originally developed to treat human fingernail and toenail infections, it will eliminate fungi and fungal spores without damaging any surrounding tissues,” says Fox.
“The active ingredient is oxyclorosene, a unique, patented, chemical compound. It’s a chlorine-based compound that’s been structured in such a way that it will not readily dissociate. Studies show that chlorine-based substances, such as bleach or chlorine dioxide, come apart when exposed to air, releasing free chlorine. This means they will only kill surface pathogens and not the fungal spores, and they also form dilute hydrochloric acid which burns the tissues.”
Fox says that CleanTrax’s compound is linked to a monomeric oxygen, which gives it a charge and makes it extremely active, allowing it to rapidly penetrate small cracks. Monomeric oxygen will also penetrate the coating around a spore and kill the spore.
“When the oxyclorsine contacts organic material, such as the hoof, the compound and the monomeric oxygen begin to separate — a process that takes about 100 minutes before it’s complete,” explains Fox. “Both the compound and the monomeric oxygen are volatile and begin to vaporize once they are in the hoof layers, attacking fungi and fungal spores.”
One bottle of CleanTrax is a single use product that works for two consecutive 45-minute soaks. You can apply it to two feet, as long as you do them consecutively. The product penetrates between the layers of the foot and reaches the coronary band, sterilizing the various layers of the hoof. Thus it eliminates the fungus and the seed spores in white line disease, without having to do any resection or cutting of the hoof wall.
“At the end of about 100 minutes of soaking time, it loses the ‘charge’ and won’t penetrate hoof tissues anymore,” says Fox. “But you can then use the solution as a surface disinfectant for stalls, trailer or any other areas that might be primary infection sites for fungal disease. It will last about 2 to 3 hours after the soaking use, as a general disinfectant.”
The product should not be used on shod horses because the shoe will make it harder for the solution to penetrate the white line area. Also, the metal will react with the chemical and shorten the active time from 90 minutes to 30 minutes. Fox recommends using a soaking boot that will hold the entire gallon of liquid because you need the pressure created by that volume of fluid to help penetrate the hoof wall.
He also advises using the soaking boots on rubber mats or bedding, to prolong the life of the boots. Otherwise the bottom of each boot should be reinforced with duct tape on the outside.
“Put the solution in the boot first, then put the horse’s foot down into the liquid,” says Fox. “Horses seem to accept this better than having the solution poured in over the foot. Practice with plain water first, to see if the horse will accept the soaking. When taking the boots on or off, turn the top of the boot over the strap. This will help keep the boot open as you place the horse’s foot in it.”
This product is handy for treating abscesses as well as white line disease.
“If you can locate the heat and pulse of the abscess, and simply pierce that location with a needle to make a small access hole, then soak the foot in CleanTrax for 45 minutes, within 1 to 2 hours it will sterilize and dissolve that abscess and the heat and inflammation will disappear, without any cutting,” says Fox. “The horse can go back to work the next day.”
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EasyCare EasySoak. Kevin Myers of EasyCare says his company makes a soaking boot that is very practical for any kind of soaking purpose.
“Unlike a lot of other boots, it doesn’t require specific sizing for it to fit properly,” he says. You can use ours on various size feet, whether they are shod or barefoot.
“You can use our boots for soaking in Epsom salts or for a White Lightning treatment for thrush that creates a gas because you can seal the top of the boot. Our boot has a strap at the back so you can snug it up, and the boot will stay on even if the horse moves around. Because it’s rubber, you can also wrap the top of the boot with Saran-wrap and then put an adhesive wrap around it and you have an air-tight water seal. It keeps the gas in.”
These boots can be kept on for hours at a time and the horse can move around while wearing them.
“You might lose some of the soaking liquid if the horse is actually walking, but the boot comes a couple inches above the fetlock joint. From the heel bulb it’s about 5 inches tall. You could use it for an ice water soak for the fetlock joint if you want. It’s large enough that you can put the boot on the horse and then pour the liquid in,” he explains. “You can then snug up the boot — above the fetlock joint — to hold the fluid in. Thus you can soak just the foot, or as high as the fetlock joint.”
The boots are made from a polyurethane rubber. “There are two parts, molded together,” he says. “The base is a lot stronger and harder, so it can withstand the pressure from the foot. The upper part is softer so it can be flexible. You can snug it up and bring it tight against the joint.”
StepnSoak Hoof Soaking Boot. Lydia delRossi created StepnSoak in November 2009 when her large Thoroughbred developed a serious abscess. The horse wouldn’t tolerate any soaking products, as they were too difficult to place or maintain.
“So I had a veterinarian come over to help me,” says delRossi. “She duct-taped an IV bag to the foot. He pawed a little bit and then stopped. The warm water and Epsom salts were easing his pain, and the IV bag wasn’t big and bulky or cumbersome.
“I thought this was a brilliant idea. But I don’t have IV bags and I’m not going to call the vet every time I have this sort of problem.
“We travel a lot with our fox hunters, and needed a way to deal with these things ourselves. Also, a lot of women do the work at the barns and there has to be something available that’s geared toward the female horse owner — some way to keep your head up out of kicking range.
“Even with the IV bag and duct tape, you are still bent down there and if the horse jumps around you are at risk,” she says.
“I wanted something made of IV bag material, but tall enough you could just slip it on, like a tall boot — but with an attached wrap so you don’t have to be holding the horse’s foot with one hand and water spilling, and duct tape sticking to you,” says delRossi.
“I was able to find a good vinyl heat-sealing manufacturing plant in the U.S. I had the prototype made, and started putting them on my draft horses and Thoroughbreds. The round one was too cumbersome, but the square one would accommodate a 9.5-inch hoof base. When you fold it in half it would work for a pony, donkey, mini-horse, etc. So it had a lot of flexibility to work on any size hoof. It is now being used by zoos because it will fit a hoof or a paw,” she says.
“I like to have the horse standing on a rubber mat or shavings in the stall, while wearing the soaking boot. This gives a lot of cushion for the foot and is easy on the boot. The nice thing about the StepnSoak is that it rolls up as small as an egg roll and you can stick it in your pocket,” she says.
“The vinyl we use is very durable but not quite as floppy and soft as an IV bag. You want it to stand up when you put the warm water in it. Everyone likes it because it’s simple and re-usable,” she says. It is not meant for a shod hoof, however. The shoe would cut through it.
StepnSoak includes two of the self-adhesive foam hoof pads. T.J. Jones, a farrier in Palm Beach, introduced delRossi to these pads. He uses them when soaking feet. If you put the pad on the bottom of the foot and put the hoof in the StepnSoak boot, the soaking solution gets in, through, and under the pad, and the pad gives the horse more stability, as well as protecting the boot for longer durability,” she explains.
“Once you finish using it, just rinse it out and put it in your tack room to use again,” she advises.
Kaeco Equine Hoof Abscess Kit. A customer’s frustration inspired this abscess kit/soaking boot. “He was tired of using diapers and duct tape for bandaging the foot,” recalls Tom Kratochvil of Kaeco. “So we did a lot of research on boots and bandages and teamed up with a manufacturer who makes the hoof wrap boot in our abscess kit.”
Kratochvil calls it a “bandage-boot.” The kit comes with a boot, two rolls of CoFlex tape, four pre-cut cotton pads and tongue depressors. A New Mexico farrier suggested the depressors because he found most of his clients didn’t like getting messy hands.
The kit is easy enough for horse owners to use, but Kratochvil reminds them that a farrier or vet should diagnose the issue before using the kit.
“You can scoop the poultice out of the jar and apply it with the tongue depressor,” he says. “If you don’t have it all over your hands, it’s easier to deal with the bandage and the wrap.”
After applying a pre-cut cotton bandage, it requires half a roll of CoFlex tape to wrap the foot and put the boot on. The boot fits any feet from 00 to 2.
“It uses industrial-strength Velcro and these boots do not come off,” says Kratochvil. “We use these all the time on horses that are turned out. We tested the boot on more than 30 horses, and not once did the boot come off. We left it on anywhere from 2 to 10 days. We found that after about 12 days of turnout, horses started wearing out the toe of the boot. It is very durable and will last as long as you’d need it.”
The kit includes enough material for four applications.
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On The Web
Download a classic report by the late Burney Chapman on using sugardine for treating open wounds on horse hooves at www.americanfarriers.com/ff/0411.
A Vet’s View
Melinda Freckleton, a veterinarian in Haymarket, Va., says she sees a lot of foot abscesses in her part of the country.
“I encourage horse owners to soak with warm water and Epsom salts if they think the horse is developing an abscess. Soaking can help soften the coronary band and get the infection to pop out and drain,” she says.
“If the horse is not cooperative for soaking, I suggest the use of Epsom salt paste, largely because I find that the other things, like ichthamol, are more difficult to deal with and because the latter is so thick and dark, it’s hard to see the pus. It’s harder to evaluate to know whether it’s helping.”
“In our area, with so many abscesses, we usually wrap them up after we’ve established drainage through the sole,” she says. “I prefer wrapping them with an application of Epsom salt paste. This seems to encourage the flow of infection, drawing it out of the foot. And because it’s a strong salt, it will also help kill the bacteria in the pus, without using antibiotics.
Old fashioned sugardine (a mixture of table sugar and betadine) is another favorite poultice of Freckleton’s, especially if a defect in the hoof is creating access to sensitive tissues.
“There are a number of different poultices that people use for bruised feet, and I think they do help a little. The owner feels like he/she is doing something, and they do improve the horse’s comfort level. This is generally the best you can expect from these,” adds Freckleton.
“You will get very different answers from veterinarians regarding the use of these products, depending on the region you live in. Foot problems will vary, depending on the weather/climate and the type of soil. I see a lot of foot abscesses here, but I know the veterinarians in the desert Southwest don’t see nearly as many; they will look at things differently.”