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Foot abscesses

Foot abscesses are the most common cause of acute lameness in horses. They can cause a very severe lameness and may even be mistaken for a fracture.

Abscesses occur when bacteria make their way underneath the hard outer structures of the foot into the soft tissues underneath. They may get in through a penetrating wound, or through the white line (where the hoof wall attaches to the sole).

Prevention
Regular hoof care. If the hoof gets too long, this may result in widening and weakening of the white line allowing bacteria a way in.

Vaccinate against tetanus. The bacteria that cause tetanus can grow in hoof abscesses, so make sure your horse is fully vaccinated, ideally before an abscess occurs

Call a vet in early. If left untreated, abscesses often burst out at the coronet or heel but they will resolve more quickly if they can be drained from below

Treatment
Effective drainage is the key to success in most cases. We will try to identify the location of the abscess with hoof testers and then open up the sole and/or hoof wall to allow the abscess to drain. The abscess is then flushed out and packed to avoid re-infection. In some cases, a poultice may be required to assist drainage.

Requirements for after-care will vary depending on the environment, the severity of the abscess and any further complications.

The outcome of a foot abscess in your horse can vary from complete recovery in simple cases to ongoing lameness depending on the severity of the problem and the extent of involvement of deeper structures within the hoof. How quickly it is seen to can aid a good recovery. A prompt assessment is often the best way to get on top of these foot problems, so please call us as soon as possible as it may save a lot of problems later on.

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