Equine Hoof Abscess


Overview: Hoof abscesses also known as a sole abscess are the most common cause of mild to severe lameness in horses. It is caused by an area of infection that has been walled off. The infection exerts pressure on the sensitive tissues of the hoof, which causes significant pain due to the inability of the rigid walls of the hoof to expand.


Causes: There are several ways that bacteria can enter a horse's hoof and cause an abscess.

1. Going between wet and dry environmental conditions- This causes the hoof to shrink causing several cracks and fissures in the hoof-wall junction. These cracks can then soften when the weather turns wet again and become packed with mud allowing bacteria to invade.

2. Penetrating wounds from a horse stepping on a sharp object. The area can fill with foreign material and seal over causing lameness in 2-4 days.

3. A nail placed too close or into the sensitive structures of the foot.

4. A sole bruise- the blood that is present with the bruise makes a perfect environment for bacteria to flourish in.

5. Hot-fitting a shoe on a thin sole- this causes a "sterile" abscess not caused by bacteria and is from thermal injury.

6. Poor hoof balance/conformation- this can cause one area of the hoof to sustain more concussion to other areas causing cracks.

7. Dirty stalls contain a lot of bacteria and predispose the horse to abscesses.

8. Laminitis- the separation in the hoof wall allows for an area for an abscess to form.


Clinical Signs: With a hoof abscess, horses show mild to severe lameness depending on the severity of the abscess. Many horses are resistant to bear weight on the foot. Other signs include increased digital pulses, heat in the foot, swelling in the lower limb and possible drainage from the hoof or coronary band.


Treatment: The primary treatment for a hoof abscess is to open it up and allow it to drain. If the abscess is not given an area to drain through the sole, the abscess will often rupture in the area of the coronary band or heel bulb. The wall is thinner in the coronary band and heel bulbs allowing the abscess to break through easier. Sometimes, an abscess is suspected but cannot be located or it is too deep within the hoof to establish drainage. In this case, we will encourage the abscess to open on its own through frequent soaking of the foot. It is also recommended that your horse have his foot covered by a bandage or a boot until the opening has had time to dry out and begin to fill in. Generally, this is around 5-7 days. An antiseptic and a poultice to encourage drainage will often be applied. Examples include icthamol, magnapaste or betadine with Epsom salts. Your horse will likely be placed on an anti-inflammatory for a few days to make them more comfortable.

In severe cases, a section of the hoof may need to be resected and the horse may need to wear a medicine plate. If the abscess is more extensive, antibiotics may be needed.


Prevention: Proper hoof care is the best prevention. This includes daily hoof cleaning and frequent trimming every 6-8 weeks. Good hygiene will also help minimize the risks of hoof abscess.


Conclusion: Hoof abscesses are fairly common in horses. Mild abscesses have a very good prognosis with proper veterinary attention. If your horse is exhibiting signs of a sole abscess, please call the clinic.

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