Hoof wall abscess

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Hoof Wall Abscess


Hoof wall abscesses are one of the most common causes of severe lameness in horses, and can occur overnight or within a short period of time. A hoof wall abscess is a hoof infection, which occurs when bacteria invades into and accumulates inside the hoof wall. If a hoof abscess is serious enough, and/or not identified and treated quickly, it can turn more serious and result in spread of the infection up the leg.

A hoof abscess can be caused by a number of things, including:
  • Trauma to the hoof resulting from a sharp object, such as a wrongfully placed horseshoe nail that is positioned too close to the white line
  • Genetically born with poor quality hooves
  • Prior hoof defect, such as hoof cracks, brittle or flaking hooves, long flared toes, or crushed heels
  • Exposure to extended periods of wet or dry weather
The presence of bacteria in the hoof causes pressure to build up which is very painful for the horse.

The best approach to treating hoof abscesses are establishing drainage, protecting the sensitive area of the foot, and providing a clean, dry environment. Initial use of topical antiseptics, such as iodine-based products and combination mixtures, can help encourage drainage of the abscess. The antiseptic mixture is often applied to the affected hoof and fully covered and contained within a baby diaper with duck tape, or specialized 'hoof slipper' or boot. This will need to be repeated at least twice a day for sometimes several days. Once the accumulation of pus inside of the foot is able drain from inside the hoof wall, horses will usually show almost immediate relief from the built up pressure. However if the abscess is not resolving easily or draining excessively, you will need to call your veterinarian immediately, as there is a likelihood that the coffin bone may be infected or other complications in which further, aggressive treatment is required.

It is important that during topical application of antiseptics, that horses are kept in a clean stall with soft bedding and allowed to rest. Once all pus has drained and the pain has ceased, the horse can be reshod or a boot applied to prevent further contamination until the wound has completely healed.


Moderate to severe lameness
Increased digital pulse
Positive response to hoof testers
Warmth felt in hoof wall
Generalized swelling of the lower leg


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Hoof testers
  • Physical exam
  • Radiographs



Removal of the horseshoe followed by stall rest and soaking the foot overnight using a wet-to-dry bandage or iodine-soaked baby diaper, duct-taped or bandaged to the foot.
Daily soakings of the hoofAt least once a day the affected hoof should usually be soaked for a short period of time in a water mixture of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) or an oxyclorsine solution.
The solution can be drawn into a low-rimmed bucket or an empty intravenous fluid bag.
If oxyclorsine is used, the bag should be sealed for 45 to 60 minutes.
Flushing with dilute iodine or Betadine solution
Poultice, Ichthammol or DMSO solutionPacked on to the bottom of the hoof and wrapped with a foot bandage or hospital plate.


  • Apply hoof hardeners to protect the hoof wall from excess moisture during periods of wet weather conditions.
  • Ensure horses are regularly seen by a certified farrier every 4 to 6 weeks.
  • Periodically walk pastures and remove any sharp objects such as metal, glass, farm implements, and nails from the environment
  • Use a magnet to catch and possible loose nails following farrier visits

Scientific Research

General Overviews

  • abscess icon
  • hoof abscess icon
  • hoof abscess icon

Risk Factors

  • Horses with Cushing's disease
  • Horses with horseshoes
  • Attempting to shoe your own horse

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