Hoofcare & Information for Barefoot Soundness

Linda Cowles Hoof Care - Serving the greater SF Bay Area and Northern California

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Abscess Page

Also see these pages:
Hoof Soaking Techniques
Hoof Soaking Solutions
Hoof Soaking w. Clean Trax

Are some horses more inclined to get abscesses?

Horses with laminitis, particularly horses who are foundering, are the most prone to getting abscesses. For many owners, an abscess is the first indication they notice that a horse has the dietary or metabolic problem.

Abscesses are the result of infection in the hoof capsule. A healthy hoof provides a formidable barrier to contaminants, so most internal infection is the result of either a puncture wound or necrotic tissue from a bruise or laminitic episode. Most of the abscesses I see are laminitis related. My favorite summary of diet information is here, and more detailed information is available on Dr Kellon's web site as well as Katy Watts' SaferGrass site

Horses on low carb diets and who have tight wall connections and durable soles are the least likely to develop abscesses. Horses on pasture in the early spring when night temperatures get below 45 degrees and daytime temperatures are warm often develop abscesses as a result of mild laminitis. If your horse has more than one abscess a year, I strongly suggest that you revisit your horses diet.  Pete Ramey has several interesting articles on Laminitis; my favorite is

Laminitis can be very mild and have subtle symptoms that your veterinarian and farrier dismiss lightly. The most common symptoms are stretched white line, wall cracks, wall flares, loss of concavity, sudden tenderness in the late winter, spring or fall, sudden tenderness after vaccinations or changes in feed.

Surgically relieving abscess discomfort

I never "dig out" an abscess; it's surgery, work best left to vets if you feel it has to be done. Yes, surgically opening an abscess can provide immediate relief, and that is good, but the "vent" (opening created to relieve the abscess) needs to be carefully cared for until it has healed over.

If an abscess location is soft, I'll prepare a clean working space and try lightly scraping the area, or will use light pressure to see if an abscess will vent voluntarily. If it does, I try to get as much puss out as I can, then soak in Epsom Salts (below) and bandage.

Surgically cut abscess vents are an excellent way to get lots of bacteria into your horses foot, so protect the abscessing foot carefully to avoid making it worse. Use sterile bandages and work with throw cloths or mats to protect the hoof from further contamination.

Abscess Kit Recommendations

Poultice, Icthamol or Nitrofurazone
Betadine solution or iodine
Betadine scrub
Disposable diapers (sized same as EasyBoots)
Epsom salts
Paper towels
Soaking bucket or soaker boot
Water bucket or large thermos
Tarp pieces
Duct tape

If you have any questions about any sort of lameness, I'm not a vet, just a dispenser of practical information. Ask your vet if you have any questions  specific to your horse. This information is for people who recognize an abbess from experience.

Step One - Wash the foot

Wash the foot in warm water, and clean with Betadine soap & lots of water. I put a piece of tarp or a clean mat down so that the wound won't get contaminated if the horse steps down.

Step Two - Look for an opening

Punctures are potentially life threatening. If your horse has picked up a nail, screw or other sharp object, contact a vet immediately. If the object is still in the hoof, call the vet before removing it!! Many vets want to x-ray with the offending object in place so they can treat the horse appropriately.

Most abscesses exit at the coronet band or through the hoof wall, but I've seen several come through the sole, particularly at its junction with the frog.

Step Three - Soak the foot

See the Hoof Soaking page for a few methods of doing this without it making you and your horse crazy.

Step Four - Prepare to Bandage

Dry the foot with paper towels & wash hands. Apply Betadine or Iodine solution, squirting it into any abscess hole as far as you can.

Step Five - Carefully Bandage The Wound

Plug the vents/holes with cotton balls, then apply an Ichthamol or Nitrofurazone dressing or a poultice (see below). Wrap the foot in a disposable baby diaper, thin cotton or gauze. The foot can then be wrapped in strong cotton bandage,

An alternate way of keeping the hoof clean is to place an oversized hoof boot over the diaper or bandage as a waterproof walking bandage. Hoof Boots need to be checked daily to ensure that 1) they are staying in place and 2) aren't rubbing. I usually like to let horses walk during recuperation, but if you don't have a dry paddock for your horse, consider stalling it.

Another suggestion is to make a boot using a waterproof tarp and duct tape; this wears through fast, so don't count on more than one use per piece of tarp. A used drip IV bag (ask you vet for discards) also works well.

Oral Medications


Oral Arnica - Reportedly helps abscesses vent and encourages healing.

Poultice suggestions culled from various lists:

  • Ichthamol or Nitrofurazone Dressing Option - Until the abscess has erupted, coat the sole with Ichthamol or Nitrofurazone. Bandage as explained above.
  • Magna Paste
  • Antiphlogistine by Absorbine. Good choice for stubborn deep abscesses. [Antiphlogistine is a mixture of clay with methyl salicylate, menthol, eucalyptol. i.e. stuff in most muscle rubs
  • Epsom Salt Poultice by Kaeco Group. Draws well and controls swelling (contains Magnesium Sulfate)
  • Numtizine Cataplasm by Hobart Labs. Contains Methyl Salicylate, guaicol (a disinfectant) and creosote
  • Animalintex - Boric acid and tragacanth, an herb that forms a gel- like substance.

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Serving the greater SF Bay Area & Northern California
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