Signs of a hoof abscess

Here are four questions to ask yourself when trying to determine if your horse has an abscess brewing in his hoof.

A horse standing on three legs is a chilling sight. Severe injury leaps to mind, of course, but the problem may be a relatively simple hoof abscess, which is painful but usually easy to resolve. To help distinguish an abscess from a serious injury, answer these questions:

A person's hand around the back of a horse's leg, feeling for heat and swelling.
Feel the horse’s limb to detect any swellings.

Is there any swelling on the limb? Acute tendon, bone or ligament injuries come with associated swelling. Look over the limb and feel for areas of soft or hard swelling that may or may not be tender or hot to the touch.

Is there a wound? Wounds are typically associated with trauma. The exceptions are abscesses that rupture and send pus through a break in the surface. These may leave a small wound above the coronary band or at the heel.

Does the limb look straight? Compare the limb to its opposite. A dislocated or damaged joint can cause a limb to take an odd orientation that might not be immediately apparent.

How does the hoof feel? Sometimes abscesses cause the hoof itself to feel warm and the digital pulse, felt on the pastern, to “bound.”

If you suspect your horse has an abscess instead of an injury, breathe a sigh of relief, but still touch base with your veterinarian. You’ll want to be sure you haven’t overlooked any significant signs of trouble as well as get some pain relief for your horse. For as long as he’s not bearing weight on one limb, he’ll be placing extra stress on the other three, which could lead to serious complications, including laminitis.

This article first appeared in the EQUUS Volume #481

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