What's that coming over the hill, is it an Abscess?


I visited a fellow hoof care professional the other week and a few of her clients were having abscess issues. So the conversation naturally turned to abscesses and she was telling me about a cadaver she had examined where it had multiple pockets of abscesses. Which I found very interesting and I wondered just how common this was and how this would add to the reasons not to let the Vet dig out an abscess. After discussions with my colleague, she thought that the reasons behind abscesses were not fully understood and I think she is more than likely right! Her book on horse keeping is out very soon and she has a section on abscesses. So before I read her book, I thought I would put my thoughts down on the subject for later comparison.

Hoof abscesses are one of the most common ailments, they can be acute where they appear and rupture just as quickly or chronic where they linger for days, weeks and sometimes months. Also, small abscesses can dissipate into the horse's bloodstream. There can be a number of reasons for an abscess and not all are bad. Abscesses can be caused by severe bruising, disease i.e. laminitis, infiltration of a foreign body, infection from a puncture wound, damaged tissue, and dead tissue from the hoof reconstructing. An abscess is basically a horse's way of getting rid of junk. Pete Ramey says about one in ten of his founder cases will abscess where dead tissue from the hoof reconstruction will cause an abscess. I like to think of these type of abscesses as being good in the respect of a horse is naturally getting rid of rubbish and helping the hoof to heal. Generally, there are three areas of exit, the coronet, sole or heel bulbs. The abscess will track finding the path of least resistance and as far as I can see this is the only disadvantage of having a well-connected hoof wall. Where a separated white line would be an easy form of exit, but a well-connected hoof may mean it will take longer to exit and may have to travel further through better structures. The pus from these abscesses can differ too in the amount, colour and consistency, varying from thin black pus to a thick almost clear liquid.

Is it an Abscess? With an acute abscess, a lot of the time the owners will not even notice, they may appear and rupture overnight. Where with a chronic abscess most horses will be extremely lame and they can appear really quickly. My horse was running around one second and the next she looked like she had broken her leg. Sometimes smaller abscesses will dissipate into the bloodstream and will show up as a lameness on hard surfaces and when turning. Usually, a horse will have heat in the area of the abscess and also a stronger digital pulse in that foot. All in all these issues make the smaller abscess much more difficult to recognise. What makes it even more difficult is different horses seem to react differently or maybe these abscesses evolve differently or maybe it’s how that horse’s foot is developed. I just don’t know, but it seems that each abscess is different and each horse can react to a similar abscess differently.

I'm going to get shot for this but here goes. I have had three horses all abscess because they were given mineral supplements in their diet, In this case, I believe that they were trying to dispel toxins. I'm only guessing at the reason here, but I think giving broad brush minerals definitely sometimes causes abscesses. Minerals will flush toxins out of the body and sometimes these toxins come out of the foot. I would be really careful when introducing them and not give them every day. Also, because they aren’t a very efficient way of getting minerals into a horse. I would also detox a horse with nettle and bentonite clay before using any mineral supplements. It's far better to give a horse the minerals they need by adding things into their diet like blue-green algae and sea salt, and also a natural water source. Where I believe tap water will suppress mineral uptake because of chemicals added. It’s far easier and better for a horse to take minerals on in their food because of the physical size of the molecules, where with mineral supplements the small intestine can’t break them down in time and most will just pass out the other end.

So how do we help a horse with an abscess? Well, that’s my next blog.

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