Hoof abscess healing- photos, symptoms, treatments

Posted in Horses for the horse crazy at 11:38 am by petArtist Cmoses

Labeled photographs here are of our young horse’s sole abscess, left hind foot, after it broke through at the outside of his heel bulb (see Horse lame from hoof abscess.) I know many horse people are interested in hoof abscesses so I have posted these symptoms and treatment details and time elapsed. The horse is a 3 yr.old Arabian/percheron gelding who has never worn horseshoes and has basically good feet; he is used lightly for riding and driving.

Symptoms, treatments and timetable follow under the 3 photos…


DAY 32: Sole abscess, just over 4 weeks after it broke through at outside heel bulb left hind foot


DAY 34: Another view nearly 5 weeks after abscess breakthrough, indicating area where sole layer is separated from frog. Farrier was able to insert point of hoof pick under sole flake alongside frog in this area.


DAY 52: over 7 weeks after breakthrough of abscess; sole layer flake has been removed, leaving obvious pocket in sole

Symptoms, treatments, and total time for this sole abscess to run its course and the hoof to heal:

DAY 1: Slight hitch noticed in horse’s gait at the trot (slightly off in hind ie. shows a hiking of one hip,) no obvious wound or swelling, not localized; cold hosings of leg begun, horse taken out of work, still exercised lightly in roundpen.

DAY 5: horse becomes noticeably lame at walk, shows some swelling and heat in pastern and fetlock joint; cold hosing continued, horse has paddock turnout only, no work or roundpen.

DAY 7: Veterinarian exam cannot isolate problem, even with hooftesters. In our case the vet drew blood for a Lyme disease test, due to undiagnosed lameness. Cold hosing continues.

DAY 8: Opening/irritated area appears on outside of heel at coronet, showing redness and small amount of cottage-cheesy-like substance. Swelling is down, heat has reduced. Horse’s lameness is greatly improved. This indicates abscess has broken through to surface and thus started to resolve. Hot water with Epsom salt soaks/sponging is begun, which serves to help draw out the infection and to speed drainage.

OF NOTE: Even though hoof tested the previous day, the horse’s hoof abscess was not pinpointed by the veterinarian. I am told this is not unusual, though it is hard for me to understand.

DAY 12: Irritated area on heel bulb is much better. Horse is now round penned lightly with no lameness symptoms at any gait. Hot Epsom salt soaks continued as a precaution.

DAY 16: Horse is ridable with no lameness; treatment is discontinued. Horse is returned to normal large area turnout and light use.


DAYS 32-34: (see photos above) Farrier is alarmed to note separation of sole from frog; breaking off of small chunk of hoof wall has occurred. Daily irrigation of sole/frog separation with hydrogen peroxide is begun, as precaution against possible infection. (This separation may have been present for quite a while.)

DAY 51: Horse is used on carriage drive wearing Boa hoof boots on (both) hind feet for protection of healing hoof and sole. Horse is fine through three hours of driving including trotting on hard packed dirt and gravel. (We got hoof boots because we were all afraid his hoof was going to just chunk off if not protected, or else get debris driven up into the sole crack.)

DAY 52: (see photo above) Layer of dead sole flake over abscess pocket has been trimmed off, leaving shallow hole in sole where abscess infection was originally located. Hydrogen peroxide irrigation is discontinued.

2 1/2 MONTHS after first symptoms of lameness, hoof sole was completely healed and hoof wall has almost grown back out. Horse has had no lameness since the lamenss caused by the abscess itself subsided. Horse remains barefoot as always.

More abscess information:

An abscess is an internal pocket of infection; it can be caused by a puncture wound, a bruise, or a tiny bit of debris that somehow becomes lodged under the skin’s surface, perhaps even carried there through the bloodstream.

I have heard of sole abscesses from a sole bruise or puncture taking weeks to break through; during that time there may be no clear indications of why the horse is lame. The abscess breaks through wherever it finds the weakest point to work its way out of the body; it might punch through the bottom of the sole, at the top of the hoof’s coronet band, or come back out the puncture channel. As soon as it breaks through, the painful pressure is relieved and the horse’s lameness will begin to improve, sometimes drastically.

An abscess may also occur anywhere else on the horse’s body, usually in muscle or a fatty area, often from a puncture wound, particularly when debris becomes imbedded in the tissue. If able to diagnose before the abscess breaks through to the surface, your veterinarian may put the horse on antibiotics to combat the infection. If able to isolate the pocket of infection, the vet may lance it to drain it. This type of abscess will also be treated with hot Epsom salt soaks so long as it still has draining pus or fluid.

I have treated a puncture abscess in the chest which had tree limb debris in it too tiny to clean out. This abscess took about 2 months to resolve before I could discontinue the hot sponging twice daily.

I have encountered a jawline abscess where the horse had apparently rubbed splinters into itself while scratching its chin on a fence. Another abscess I saw was inside the horse’s mouth in his gum, behind the bars, apparently from chewing on splintered wood. His symptoms were difficulty chewing and tenderness to touch on the outside, resembling an infected tooth.

One other abscess I treated was the result of a severe kick to the meaty part of a mare’s thigh. This kick caused a huge swelling and eventually a melon sized pouch of fluid which had to be lanced and kept open with an insert tube for several days to allow draining. Because of fluid seeking the lowest point, this mare had swelling down into the underside of her abdomen. I THINK this injury was considered an abscess; it had to be treated in the same way with antibiotics and heat soaks. After it eventually healed, the mare would exhibit a sweaty patch on her hide exactly over that spot when she got heated.
Connie Moses, petArtist– self-built website: PortraitsWithHorses.com
(horse and pet portraits)


  1. Jennifer King Lindley said,

    November 23, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    THANK YOU! This piece was a great help to me in dealing with my appaloosa mare’s first hoof absess (with my vet). I was able to guess what was going on and take steps to help her feel better while waiting for my vet visit–photos are great!

  2. connie said,

    November 24, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    Thank you for your kind comments, I’m glad I was of some help. ANd I hope your mare’s abscess is healing quickly, usually they do!


  3. samantha williamson said,

    January 19, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    this is a great article. my mare is in the process of healing a nasty abscess in her bulb area. vet has cut away some way to expose the problen. given me the job of administering antibiotics for a few days!! he has put iodine on wound, gamgee and vet wrap. told me to clean it every day with cold hosing, fresh air on it too. but reading your article, im going to get some epsom salts and sponge with that. have had my mare only couple months and her feet are awfull. trying to get farrier to change all that with more regular shoeing.

  4. connie said,

    January 19, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    Thanks for comments. I’ve not heard of cold hosing for a diagnosed abscess, rather the warm soaks/Epsom salt to draw out the infection. The warmth also increases blood circulation in the local area, to further speed healing. But if there is swelling, I guess you might cold hose until the swelling went down.

    You might consider barefooting your mare; many hoof problems have been helped or cured by proper barefoot/trimming care. This blog talks a lot about keeping barefoot horses, also there are many other sites, links, and youTube videos on the subject. It is worth researching, and talking to some local trimmers!

  5. Peter van Eyk said,

    July 26, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    Looking after some six horses on rocky ground, I have found damaged feet the number one problem
    even more prevalent than Colic So you can say I had a lots of practice
    The way I confront the problem
    When the horse has difficulty to put his weight on one of his feet
    I compare the warmth of that hoof with the hoof on the other foot
    Then compare the temperature of the hoof with that of the fetlock
    If the hoof is warmer is I go for a infection, if it is the fetlock that is warmer , I will give that my intention first maybe some damaged joint or muscle
    When a infection is suspected
    Move the horse in to a stable, at least on firm clean ground
    Clean out the hoof, give it a good wash, and inspect the foot ,most of the time there are no visible signs .
    Give the foot a good soaking in a plastic bucket (no galvanised bucket) with warm water test with holding your hand in the water for at least ten counts, add a handful of copper sulphate and soak for at least 20 min
    Dry the foot and look for any sign of weeping , look carefully at the coronet band if there is any sign of swelling
    If there is any indication of something out the ordinary, make up a patch from cling wrap approx 3cmx 6cm (1”x3”) squeeze a piece of fresh garlic on to the patch , put on the suspect spot and bandage wrap some electrical tape over the bandage to hold it all in position make sure don’t wrap bandage under the hoof wall
    Finally paint the sole and frog with Stockholm tar
    Repeat twice a day if possible
    When the sign of the infection have disappeared , keep on soaking and painting the sole for at least another week once a day, stopping the exit to close up
    If the infection is persistent a shot of penicillin could be very beneficial
    A Bute paste course stops the swelling and pain
    I trust this may help
    Peter van Eyk

  6. peter van Eyk said,

    July 29, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    I found a article written by a farrier Excellent absolute necessary reading
    if you own a horse


    peter van Eyk

  7. yvonne shelley said,

    February 16, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    Thank you for taking time to do this article, it is very very helpful. Not many people would take the time to photo and log this excellent information, yvonne

  8. petArtist Cmoses said,

    February 20, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    Thanks, I ‘m glad it might help others!

  9. Hal Mashall said,

    December 21, 2011 at 4:46 am

    You are my breathing in, I own few blogs and sometimes run out from post :). “‘Tis the most tender part of love, each other to forgive.” by John Sheffield.

  10. Maureen Spencer said,

    January 5, 2012 at 3:12 am

    Thank you for these pictures !!! They just told me today this is what the shoer found, about the sole separating from something and Tim peeling it off. The abscess opened into a small spot in the V-groove and bled like crazy when they think something like a sharp rock punctured it. He has been lame when I ride, but not when not being ridden. Jean says the abscess pocket is large. I will see it on Monday when I go out. She is packing it with cotton and duct tape to keep it dry. Everyone is amazed that he didn’t act more lame and that 2 vets couldn’t figure out this abscess cavity was in there !!! I’m just glad my boy won’t be in pain, he was hurting so bad. Thank you Lord !!!

  11. Maureen Spencer said,

    January 5, 2012 at 3:13 am

    It was his left hind foot, too–is something going around, LOL ?

  12. connie said,

    January 6, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Am really glad my blog post on hoof abscesses was helpful! Thank YOU for reading!

  13. Doreen said,

    February 5, 2012 at 9:14 am

    I currently have a mare who is being treated for a hoof issue and her hind left hoof actually quite resembles the top picture. She has the same type of crack that is causing her inflammation issues that are described in this article. However, her damage is caused from being stomped on by her paddock buddy and now she has to be shod to keep her heel, which is showing signs of slight separation due to the cracks, off of the ground and allow it to grow down.

    The inflammation in her foot actually touched the horn and very outside edge of her coffin bone and the soft tissue as well but, thankfully due to the dilligence we used to keep her foot as clean as posssible, the damage isn’t so severe as to end her life or her just being a pleasure horse.

    It’s going to take a long while but, I have faith that she’ll be almost as good as new again…it’s just going to take time.

  14. connie said,

    February 5, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    I wish you the best of luck with her Doreen. Please do consider having a barefoot trimmer evaluate her injury and potential hoof treatment as well– I am a firm believer that barefoot in most cases is more beneficial to the healing process than any shoe could be… possibly with using a hoof boot to protect the heel if needed.

    You might be interested in the “Swedish Hoof School” videos on youTUbe which demonstrate in graphic detail how the hoof is designed to work, and to pump blood which speeds all healing.


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