Question: I have a 6-year-old Thoroughbred who I brought to Sweden two years ago. In August of last year, he suffered a hoof abscess and underwent "street nail" surgery. He's progressed much better than anyone here expected over the last year. However, the latest X-rays seemed to show that his navicular bursa was gone. I am interested to know if you have any suggestions for his treatment. He is currently sound at the walk but lame at the trot. I have no intention of trying to compete with him but would like him to be as comfortable as possible for as long as possible.
Answer: Cases of infections deep in the foot can be very difficult to treat. And, as may be the case here, after the surgery and the infection has healed, you can be left with a degenerative joint or arthritis, especially if the abscess or surgery went inside a joint. If there is residual lameness once the infection is gone, many horses will be comfortable and happy in the pasture and some can return to light riding. Arthritis, if it is present, may progress slowly over the lifetime of the horse, but there are many happy and quite lame horses enjoying many years in the field. One of my own horses lost part of her coffin bone and literally ran around the pasture sort of on three legs until the day she died, 13 years later at the age of 23. She was very happy and ate well, but certainly was not sound.
There are things that can be done for chronic lameness other than long-term anti-inflammatory drugs. If you have an acupuncturist in the area, quite a bit of pain relief can be gained from periodic treatments. Some of the herb-based joint supplements can be helpful. Often the herbs will work better than a glucosamine or chondroitin type of supplement when the joint space is gone. If you have a veterinarian who knows Chinese herbs, there are some excellent and strong herbs that can help relieve the pain. You can find organizations that certify and train vets all over the world, either on this website or on the links page of my website.
To try to avoid getting into this situation, I have had an excellent success rate of treating these deep abscess and bone infections with homeopathic medicines. The biggest problem with antibiotics in the foot, especially when the bone is involved, is that the blood supply is poor that's needed to get the drug to the infected place. In many cases, there is quite a bit of damage to the blood vessels and the laminae in the area. A joint or tendon sheath deep in the foot can also be involved. All of these structures are difficult to reach, even with surgery.
Treating this type of problem with homeopathy requires an experienced veterinary homeopath. It is not something any horse owner should try on their own or with their friend down the road who knows a bit about homeopathy. However, it is worth taking the time to find a homeopathic vet. My personal experience has been very good with ending the infection. If there is a lot of damage to the inside of the foot or the joints in the foot, homeopathy may not prevent the long term arthritis I talked about above.
There are a few treatments that you can safely add to any regime of treatment that you seek. And these things can also be used with a regular abscess to help prevent it from becoming more severe. One is a product called Draw, which is a liquid poultice made from concentrated mineral springs. Mixed in the dilutions on the bottle, it is safe to use in open wounds. I will pack a hole in the foot with a bit of roll cotton soaked in Draw to help clean and soak up any drainage. It can be used as a foot soak, in place of Epsom salts, or the coronet band can be wrapped in a piece of cotton soaked in Draw. Sometimes the veterinarian may not want the whole foot soaked, which, if done too much, can soften the hoof wall and structures--much like your fingernails get too soft in the bathtub.
The other treatment that can be done is to put a bit of cotton into the hole with some Tea Tree oil or Oregano Oil (or a 50:50 mix of both). The cotton does not need to be soaked, just good and damp with the oil. If the hole is too small for a piece of cotton to stay in, just drip a few drops of the oils into the hole. For many smaller abscesses, I just place the cotton in the hole with the oil(s), and pack it in well. The horse can be turned out with this cotton protecting the hole from dirt, and in most cases the cotton will still be there and the inside will be clean when you change it the next day. This is a much simpler method of protecting the hole than trying to keep bandages on during turnout. Obviously if he is very lame, your horse may need to stay inside and may need a bandage.
Dr. Joyce Harman is a veterinarian and respected saddle-fitting expert certified in veterinary acupuncture and veterinary chiropractic; she is also trained in homeopathy and herbal medicine. Her Harmany Equine Clinic is in northern Virginia. Visit her online shop.
Have you had a similar experience? Chat about it in the EquiSearch.com forum.
Do you have a veterinary or saddle-fit question for Dr. Harman? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Check back for her answers on EquiSearch.com.