Managing Hoof Abscesses

Options for dealing with this frequent and frustrating cause of equine lameness

Hoof abscesses are probably the most common cause of acute lameness in horses encountered by veterinarians and farriers.

A hoof abscess can be defined as a localized accumulation of purulent exudates located between the germinal and keratinized layers of the epithelium, most commonly subsolar or submural.

Much debate still abounds between the veterinary and farrier professions as to who should treat a hoof abscess and the best method in which to resolve the abscess.

Remember the origin of the organisms that are responsible for a hoof abscess gain entry through the hoof capsule (epidermis) into the inner subsolar /submural tissue (dermis) where the organisms initiate an abscess. Foreign matter (such as gravel, dirt, sand and manure, coupled with infectious agents such as bacteria or fungal elements) generally gains entry into the hoof in one of three ways:

  1. Through a break or fissure in the sole-wall junction (white line).
  2. A misplaced nail or a puncture wound somewhere in the solar surface of the foot.
  3. By way of a full thickness hoof wall crack or multiple old nail holes.

Formation Of An Abscess

It may be easier for us to understand how to treat an abscess if we briefly look at the mechanism by which an abscess forms.

Foreign debris will gain entry and accumulate in a small separation or fissure located in the sole-wall junction anywhere around the perimeter of the foot, including the inner surface of the bars adjacent to the sole (Figure 1).


FIGURE 1. Abscesses form when…

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Stephen O’Grady

Dr. Steve O’Grady is a veterinarian and a farrier. He operates Virginia Therapeutic Farriery in Keswick, Va., which is a referral practice devoted to equine podiatry and therapeutic farriery You can read informative papers by him at He is a member of the International Equine Veterinarians Hall Of Fame and the American Farriers Journal Editorial Advisory Board.

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