While it's not too difficult to pull together supplies for dealing with hoof abscesses from what you would normally have around the barn, or easily be able to get at the store, Plum Shade Farm ($39.99, www.plumshadefarm.com 610-486-0708) has a kit called the HOOFix Kit that contains everything you need to deal with an abscess. The kit includes a pack of Epsom salts for soaking as the initial step, a soft, stretchy band that protects the coronary band, Epsom salt packs for the bottom of the foot, elastic bandage for securing the pack to the foot, a heavy duty plastic bag that goes over the assembly before putting it into a padded, fabric boot with Velcro closures.
Once everything is in place, water is added inside the plastic bag using a syringe that also comes with the kit. The Epsom salt pack on the bottom of the foot breaks down, creating an Epsom salt bath/poltice inside the boot. Although the kit is best geared for solar abscesses, the coronary band cushion can also be soaked with Epsom salt solution to encourage exit via that route.
One large, nasty abscess we had in a test horse surfaced at the coronary band and drained within two days using the kit. The one-size-fits-all boot is generous enough to hold thick padding material but did not stay in place on turnout. Kits are available from vets, farriers and horse supply-stores, and can be ordered directly online.
Sooner or later, just about every horse owner is going to have to deal with a hoof abscess. You'll come to the barn to find the horse that looked fine when you last saw her is now lame-really lame. Fortunately, the pain normally rapidly abates once you can get the abscess to drain, and the hoof heals uneventfully-provided you have the equipment and knowledge to handle the situation like a professional horseman.
Any puncture wound to the foot that enters live tissue, including misplaced shoe nails, carries bacteria into the tissues and sets the stage for abscess formation. Letting the feet go too long between trims, especially when barefoot, leads to white-line stretching, and cracks can form that are then avenues for bacteria to enter. Prolonged exposure to wet conditions can soften the feet and make them expand more, which can also make the white-line connections weaken.
Horses recovering from laminitis are at particularly high risk. Infections can enter the foot through weakened laminar connections in the white line and often find collections of blood that are a perfect medium for growth. Laminitis can also result in the formation of "sterile abscesses," collections of damaged tissue that trigger an inflammatory reaction. These dead tissues and pockets of inflammatory fluid will eventually exit the foot just like infections do. Keeping laminitic horses on anti-inflammatory medications for extended periods of time can actually prolong their pain by slowing the exiting of abscesses and fluid collections.
Finally, a horse that's obviously sore a day or two after being trimmed may have unresolved abscesses. Trimming changes the mechanics of the foot, resulting in different forces being applied to walled-off abscess collections. This can cause abscesses to leak, causing pain and inflammation.Diagnosis
In the classic scenario, a horse with a hoof abscess will have a hot foot, pounding digital artery pulses at the back of the ankle, even swelling extending up the pastern or higher. However, it's also possible for abscesses to be the problem when you have none of these external signs, even no reaction to hoof testers.
The one symptom that is always present and should make you think hoof abscess is pain. Hoof abscesses are one of the most painful problems a horse can have and more often than not they will completely refuse to bear weight on the foot, what is commonly called "broken-bone lame" or "three-legged lame." If the horse is recovering from laminitis, the pain from an abscess is often worse than the original laminitis was.
A visit by the veterinarian and an X-ray to make sure the problem isn't a broken bone or laminitis attack is usually warranted. Most abscesses don't show up on X-rays, although they may if the organisms involved produce gas. In most cases, it will be a completely clean X-ray that clinches the diagnosis of hoof abscess.
Although there may be no response to hoof testers in some horses, they should always be used to attempt to find the site of the abscess. If a soft spot in the sole is found over a tender area, your vet or farrier may choose to remove a few layers of sole to help it drain easier. The frog clefts and frog itself should also be checked carefully to make sure no nail, piece of wood, etc. is embedded. Be sure to check under any flaps in the frog.