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Common Hoof Ailments In Horses

“No Hoof, No Horse”, a very common saying around the horse world and its true. As horses are unable to lie down for long periods of time they are constantly on their feet. Therefore it is essential that they have healthy hooves to be able to support themselves and maintain overall health and well-being.

Unfortunately there are a number of hoof ailments that can create trouble for horses hooves and their overall well being. Discussed in this article are some of the common hoof problems faced by horses, the causes and the treatment options.

An abscess is when an infection occurs in the the lamina caused by bacteria. It usually develops after a puncture wound or trauma to the sole. An abscess in the sole or hoof often results in sudden onset and severe lameness. There is often heat in the hoof, sometimes swelling in the lower leg and it will be painful when pressure is applied to the site of the infection. Once the abscess is located it needs to be drained, which often involves puncturing the abscess (by a vet or farrier) and then drawing the infection out. This can be done by using epsom salts and warm water and/or covering with a poultice. The site of the abscess and the hoof should be kept bandaged and clean until it heals. Anti-inflammatories and antibiotics may also be prescribed by a veterinarian to reduce the pain and reduce the chance of another infection developing.

Bruises on the frog and sole of horses feet are a common ailment. Horses suffering from a bruise can show varying degrees of lameness, sometimes only sensitive on hard ground or on direct contact with the bruise. Some bruises are visible on the sole but these often aren’t visible until days after the injury. Bruises are usually caused by the horse stepping on something hard like a rock or hard uneven ground. Most bruises will clear up within a couple of days however some do develop into an abscess. If possible keep the horse somewhere with soft ground, like a sawdust filled stable, while the bruise heals and you can soak the foot in warm water and epsom salts to aid in drawing the bruise out. A Tubbease Hoof Sock would also be helpful to keep the foot covered and offer cushioning and support while the hoof and sole improve. Your veterinarian may also prescribe anti-inflammatories to help reduce the pain and swelling.

Thrush is often caused by either a bacterial or fungal infection, or a combination of both. This infection causes a black gooey and bad smelling discharge usually found around the frog. If left untreated thrush can cause frog and heel sensitivity developing into lameness. Thrush is most commonly found in horses that are kept in wet, dirty and muddy conditions as these are ideal conditions for the bacteria to thrive. Keeping the feet dry and clean is a must and a veterinarian or farrier will be able to advise on a treatment method depending on whether medications are required or trimming the infected tissue away.

Hoof Cracks
Usually hoof cracks are minor and generally don’t cause lameness. However, if the cracks get too far up the hoof or are deep they can result in lameness or there is risk of infection to the underlying tissues. There are a number of factors that can cause hoof cracks like the environment ie. the hoof being too wet or too dry, injury, ruptured abscess, poor foot conformation or lack of or poor shoeing or trimming. If hoof cracks are present a farrier and/or a veterinarian should examine the horse to determine whether any treatment is required or if they just need to grow out. Keeping the hoof moisture at the right level by using oils or dressings can help prevent cracks from developing or getting worse.

Laminitis / Founder
Laminitis is when the lamina of the hoof becomes inflamed. If left untreated, laminitis can develop into founder which is the separation of the coffin bone and the hoof wall. Laminitis can occur in one, two, three or all feet at once and can cause varying degrees of lameness. Horses suffering from laminitis will try to shift their weight by rocking or standing with their front feet stretched out. Laminitis can be caused by diet, stress, retained placenta, heavy concussion or from compensating for another injury. If you think your horse may be suffering from laminitis contact your veterinarian immediately as if left untreated and founder develops it can become a severe life threatening condition. There are treatment options available that your veterinarian and farrier will be able to work together and advise on.

White Line Disease / Seedy Toe
White line disease, also known as seedy toe, is a condition caused when bacteria and/or fungus enter the hoof through a crack, puncture or hole. It then causes separation of the hoof wall as the infection eats away the hoof and results in the hoof becoming white and crumbly. It can cause lameness but not always and sometimes brittle, dry hooves can be signs of white line disease. It is important to treat white line disease as soon as possible as if it does spread up to the coronet band it can cause the coffin bone to rotate. Diagnosis and treatment should be undertaken by a veterinarian or farrier. Generally treatment involves cutting away as much of the affected hoof as possible and exposing the area to oxygen which will kill the bacteria or fungus responsible for the damage. The cutaway exposed area must be kept clean so that more bacteria or fungus don’t get into the hoof.

Navicular Disease or Syndrome
Navicular Disease / Syndrome is a condition in which there is inflammation and/or degeneration of the navicular bone, navicular bursa and navicular ligaments. It will usually cause low grade lameness in one but more commonly both front feet. The exact cause of navicular syndrome is still unknown but some suggestions are that it is due to reduced blood flow to the navicular bone caused by tension or stress placed on the navicular ligaments or from repeated compression of the navicular bone. If navicular syndrome is treated early the horse will have a good chance of being able to return to normal work. Treatment options should be discussed with your veterinarian but they usually involve anti-inflammatories and regular, correct shoeing like keeping a short toe, elevating the heel and using pads to protect the frog.

There are a few things you can do to try and reduce or prevent hoof problems in your horse. These include;

  • Picking out horses feet daily, before and after exercising them or when bringing them in from the paddock.
  • Regular trimming or shoeing, at least every 4-8 weeks.
  • Keeping the horses in a clean and dry (where possible) paddock or stable, to help avoid bacterial and fungal infections.
  • Apply hoof oil, cream or dressing daily to maintain hoof moisture levels and strengthen the hoof.
  • Taking immediate action when there is a hoof problem or lameness.

If your horse does present with lameness you should contact your veterinarian for advice. Hoof conditions need to be correctly diagnosed by a veterinarian or farrier so that the correct treatment methods can be undertaken. If you have any concerns about your horses hoof health please contact your veterinarian or farrier for further advice or treatment options.

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