When you notice that your horse has gone lame, most owners leap to all kinds of conclusions and usually they imagine the problem to be far more sinister than an abscess. Lameness can range from a slight limp to full blown holding the leg up in the air, not weight bearing at all accompanied perhaps with lots of lying down.
At the sight of their beloved horse hopping around a field or limping into the yard, or looking like they have broken their leg, and anything in between, can send most unknowing owners into fits of total delirious frenzy.
This is usually followed by an expensive (and often unproductive) vet visit and can leave the owner and the horse with days to weeks and even months of recurring problems.
How do I know if it is an abscess or something worse?
Well 9 times out of 10 if your horse has suddenly gone lame….and the lameness is GETTING WORSE then it is likely to be an abscess. Tendon or ligament injuries tend to follow the path of consistent lameness, not getting worse and gradually getting better. So if your horse is limping about out of the blue and he is getting progressively worse, then you can pretty much guarantee it’s an abscess.
There is an awesome flow chart taking your right through how to diagnose an abscess, together with an in depth article all about abscesses in Issue 17 (see link below).
Should you call the vet?
Ok…well here we have an interesting situation. If a foot abscess is suspected what will your vet do? Vets are deemed to do something to aid the pain your horse is feeling – that’s why you called them right? This can range from painkillers such as Bute (nearly always Bute) to full on digging holes in your horse’s foot.
BIG WORD OF WARNING! Digging more holes into your horse’s foot to ‘find and release’ the pus can give your horse instant relief (if the pus is found and it often isn’t) BUT it can also cause far more problems than you bargained for in the long run….and this happens more then you can imagine!
The best and most amazing thing about foot abscesses in horses is that ALL horses can deal with them themselves. They can and WILL ALWAYS burst them eventually and another hole in the foot is just asking for more trouble and in MANY cases causes re-infection.
Myth Busting!! Does going barefoot cause foot abscesses?
NO! But all horses who transition to barefoot from shoes are at risk of getting foot abscesses as their foot heals because the shoeing has caused poor hoof health ranging from holes (yep those nail holes are a wonderful entry point for pathogens), cracks from contraction, and hiding all the other pathology which is due to dietary problems that were not that obvious when the horse was shod.
Will my horse get rid of the abscess on his own?
Well because mother nature is actually really quite awesome, all your horse needs is the following few things to get rid of his abscess:
– Movement – do not confine your horse…even if it is on 3 legs!
– Company – please let your horse stay with his buddy, it’s very important to healing
– 24/7 Forage – lots of good mixed meadow hay to keep that gut in good condition, remove all sugars – if your horse is loving his grass or molassed licks or molassed feed – then REMOVE IT because that does the opposite of keeping the gut in a good condition, it plays havoc and causes gut problems and that has a knock on effect to the healing of the foot.
A horse is more than capable of bursting his own abscess. Yes you want to take the pain away but digging holes and intervention is simply not the most prudent way of going about getting rid of it. Many vets are now beginning to understand this and if they are called many won’t dig….truly it’s not great, it leaves you with a big or bigger hole in your horse’s foot…a bigger hole in your bank balance and the very REAL possibility of your horse re-infecting and suffering months from recurrent abscessing and all the problems that go with that.
Look to your diet and management. If your horse is getting abscesses the diet and the management are nearly always at the bottom of it…with the exception of the horse standing on a foreign object!
Do go check out Issue 17, Trimmer’s Tips, all about hoof abscesses.
Happy sound horse day!
The BHM Team