By Paulick Report

After California Chrome’s defection from a run at Royal Ascot was blamed on a hoof abscess, the Paulick Report wondered what causes this common hoof ailment and how it’s treated. 

Mitch Taylor, an International Horseshoeing Hall Of Fame member and director of education at the Kentucky Horseshoeing School, shared his extensive knowledge in a Q&A on the issue that might be helpful for your clients’ continued hoof-care education.

First of all, how does an abscess happen?

When horses get any kind of penetrating wound, which can allow bacteria to get in, these anaerobic bacteria set up shop inside the blood supply of the hoof. If you get a bruise, for example, fluid leaks out of the vascular beds into the interstitial tissue. What’ll happen is, if bacteria gets in there, it will feed on the blood. Bacteria can come in through a puncture wound, or just material getting in through a crack. It can also happen if a nail is inserted improperly.

The byproduct of bacteria in the foot is gas, and that creates pressure. The pressure causes extreme pain.

Are there different types of abscesses?

There are two basic types of abscesses: we have a subsolar abscess (in between the sole and the bottom of the foot) which can take place anywhere, including the seat of corn (corners of the foot under the heel) or under the frog. The other type is a subdural abscess, where it’s in the laminar bed, on the side of the foot. It is different in that it has to drain from the top of the coronary band — some people call it a gravel.

What does a horse with an abscess look like?

Abscess are known for, one day you turn the horse out and everything’s good, next day they come hobbling in. They’ll change the way they stand. The first thing you should do is find the abscess. Check for a digital pulse, which will be stronger because of the abscess. You can use hoof testers (if you know how) to try to isolate the area on the foot. You’ll want to pull the shoes, but if the abscess is around a horseshoe nail and you go pulling that nail back out, it’s going to be very painful, so you need a farrier to help with that.

There are lots of old wives’ tales about the best way to treat an abscess. What do you recommend?

There are a lot of products out there. Epsom salt is great stuff. It’s a very good drawing agent. What we’ve got to do as far as treatment of subsolar abscesses or gravels is we need to first of all locate it, and then we have to make some judgment call on how we’re going to treat it. If we feel it’s a gravel, one of the symptoms is the coronary band will swell and the hair will stick straight out. You soak it in Epsom salts and put a foot pack on it (something like an Animalintex pad which is boric acid on a thin piece of cotton padding). Overnight, hopefully the abscess will have been drawn out and burst in the pack. Or you can use something called Magna-Paste, or any of the pre-filled poultice wraps like Stayons. The Epsom salts soften the horn up. Once it bursts open, it’s a matter of basic first aid, making sure it doesn’t get reinfected. Once you get it drained, you feel a huge sigh from the horse.

For a subsolar abscess, we have to actually nick the bottom of the foot and drain it. If you open up a hole in the sole before it’s ready to drain, you open up the foot to more abscessation and more foot pain, so you want to make sure you’re not going into the wrong area. You can feel it usually underneath there. You may have to give it a day or two to mature, and in that time, it’s really important that you don’t have the horse stall bound. You want him to have a small area that causes him to walk around because it helps them work the exudates out.

It doesn’t hurt to put them on a little bute at this stage – I want them up and walking to get the exudate to come out.

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