Hoof Abscesses

By Wendy Talbot on 04 June 2019

Hoof abscesses literally are a pain – not just for the horse but for the owner too. If inhospitable weather and lack of daylight weren’t enough to contend with there is the added misery of a higher chance of our horses suffering with hoof abscesses during the winter…

A hoof abscess is a localised accumulation of pus within the horse’s hoof. It is one of the most common causes of sudden, severe lameness.

Can any horse have a hoof abscess? 

While those with poor quality feet tend to be most susceptible, yes, any horse can have a hoof abscess. Some horses seem more prone to them than others and those kept on damp, muddy ground, following a dry period are usually more likely to fall foul of this painful infection.

What are the signs of a hoof abscess?

Often, affected horses will suddenly become extremely lame. They may rest the foot constantly and be reluctant to move, although some will have more subtle signs. Some individuals may have appeared slightly lame in the previous day or two. The foot or coronary band may be hot and the leg swollen (especially around the pastern and inside of the cannon bone). The digital pulses will be increased and may be quite easy to detect.

Most abscesses are found within the white line – where the horn of the sole meets the horn of the hoof wall. Dirt can track up through this weaker area and cause a deep-seated infection. Abscesses can also develop following small puncture wounds, in any area of damage to the hoof or frog or following an episode of laminitis.

How can I reduce the risk of a hoof abscess?

Regular trimming and shoeing will help to reduce the risk. Avoiding wet and muddy fields following periods of dry weather may also help as these extremes of dry and wet can cause stress and weakening of the hoof and sole.

How do I treat a hoof abscess?

The abscess will need to be identified and drained and the foot poulticed so you will need to call your farrier or vet immediately. Antibiotics are rarely necessary; however, as with all penetrating injuries to the foot, your horse’s tetanus vaccination must be up to date.

Your farrier or vet will initially examine the foot using hoof testers to try and identify where the abscess is. The shoe will need to be removed and then the abscess opened up using hoof knives to pare the sole or wall away. Sometimes it may not be possible to immediately locate the abscess and in these cases poulticing for 24 hours before trying again can be beneficial and reduce the amount of sole which is pared away.

Once the abscess has been opened up a poultice is applied, which should be held in place with a bandage and then protected with tough waterproof tape.

It is usual practice to use a hot wet poultice for the first two or three days and then change to a dry poultice until pus stops draining from the abscess. Your farrier may then wish to plug the abscess hole before putting the shoe back on, if your horse wears them.

Depending on the underlying cause box rest may be recommended. In some instances it may be useful to turn the horse out, with the poultice protected by a heavy plastic bag or boot, as movement will encourage the abscess to drain.

Did you know: Babies’ nappies can be useful as poultices – if you choose the right size they can fit the foot snuggly, are waterproof and are easy to bandage over.








        Wendy graduated from Bristol University in 1999. She then went on to complete a residency at Liverpool University and holds a European Diploma in Equine Internal Medicine. After working in practice for 13 years, she joined Zoetis in 2012 as the National Equine Veterinary Manager.

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