Does Your Horse Have an Abscess? Here's How to Tell

Posted by Allie Layos
Equine Wellness Magazine

If your horse is suddenly lame, he may have an abscess.

Hoof abscesses occur when bacteria gets trapped between the sensitive laminae and the wall or sole of the hoof. The bacteria creates a build up of pus, and this painful pressure can cause horses to go lame seemingly overnight.

While hoof abscesses are the most common cause of acute lameness in horses, they can still become serious if not treated properly and in a timely fashion. Here is how to tell if your horse has one.

Your horse was fine yesterday and is lame today.

While abscesses take several days to develop, most horses don't show any signs until the pressure has built up.

The degree of lameness can vary from being subtle in the early stages to non-weight bearing, but most horses with abscesses seem to go suddenly and severely lame overnight.

Stable Made
Stable Made

He has an elevated digital pulse.

When a horse has an abscess, the digital pulse (felt at the fetlock) is usually elevated. Unless the abscess is in the middle of the toe, the pulse will be much stronger on the side of the foot where the abscess is located.

The hoof is warm to the touch.

While a warm hoof can be a sign of scary medical conditions like laminitis, it can also mean that your horse has an abscess. Remember to feel not only the affected hoof, but the opposite hoof as well for comparison.

There is unusual swelling in the lower limbs.

While rare, some hoof abscesses, especially long standing ones, can cause swelling in the lower limbs. Swelling is often found in the pastern or above the fetlock on the side of the limb where the abscess is located.

It is best to get your veterinarian involved in the diagnosis and treatment of an abscess because some of these signs can also point to more serious medical conditions, and abscesses themselves can become serious if left untreated. However, when drained or treated with a poultice or hoof soak in a timely manner they don't take long to heal.

When it comes to abscesses, early recognition and appropriate action can cut down on lost riding time and, most importantly, spare your horse a lot of pain.

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Does Your Horse Have an Abscess? Here's How to Tell