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)