An abscess is a very common problem in horses. It can cause severe lameness without any warning. Luckily, causes of abscesses are fairly straightforward and should not require expensive imaging to diagnosis or treat the abscess, however some exceptions do exist.
Abscesses are often compared to as whitehead pimples. A pimple has a little bubble of pus under the skin and can be painful. It might be sore even before it is visible. The fastest way to get rid of this is to pop the pimple and let it drain. The pressure is relieved which leads to pain relief.
A hoof abscess is essentially the same idea. It starts with an infection, which the body fights with white blood cells and inflammatory mediators. As the infection, inflammation, and white blood cells expands it causes increasing pressure. Some horses may not show signs of lameness and the abscess will rupture on its own, however, situations will vary.
Most abscesses begin with bacteria entering the sole-wall junction. When the hoof wall/sole is weakened, it makes it easier for bacteria to enter and cause internal hoof injuries, such as bruising. This will result in an abscess.
Wet and dry environmental conditions – Dry environmental conditions will dry out the hoof and cause shrinking. This can result in tiny cracks and fissues in the sole-wall junction. Wet weather will allow bacteria to invade the hoof and cause an abscess.
Piercing wounds – A horse stepping on a sharp object such as a nail, rock, or broken glass can puncture the sole and allow bacteria to pack up and seal over. An abscess will usually show 2-4 days later.
“Close” nails – A horseshoe nail that is nailed too close or into the sensitive inner structures can allow bacteria in that cause an abscess.
Hot shoe on a thin sole – A thin sole and a hot shoe are a bad combo. If a hot shoe is placed on a thin sole, it will cause a thermal injury to sensitive tissues.
Poor confirmation/hooves – Poor confirmation can cause stress on the feet. If bending stress is put on the sole-wall junction, a crack will occur and can be contaminated.
Cleanliness – Dirty stalls or lots that are wet contain tons of bacteria. This can enter the foot and cause an abscess.
Keep these six causes in mind to help prevent abscesses in the future. Don’t fret if your horse has an abscess - they are VERY common. Take precautionary measures and you can make a big difference!
For more information on abscesses, visit: http://www.thehorse.com/articles/26808/hoof-abscesses-in-horses