Hoof abscess in horses

A hoof abscess is a condition in which an infection develops in the sole of the hoof. This condition is caused by bacteria and fungi invading via the sole of the hoof. A hoof abscess comes on acutely. We know, It can be a huge shock if your horse or pony is suddenly lame. So, read all about it in our blog. We take a closer look at what exactly are hoof abscesses, what the causes and symptoms are, as well as how to prevent and treat them.

In this article:

  1. What is a hoof abscess?
  2. How do you recognize a hoof abscess?
  3. What to do? A step-by-step plan for you.
    3.1. Observe
    3.2. Consult a professional
    3.3. Cleaning the hoof
    3.4. Warm water bath
    3.5. Animalintex
    3.6. The treatment
    3.7. After care
  4. Preventing hoof abscess.
    4.1. The right care
    4.2. Clean and dry
    4.3. Nutrition and hoof abscesses

What is a hoof abscess ?

Hoof abscesses can develop as a result of a number of factors. It starts when bacteria or fungi invade the sole and cause an infection. There are several ways this can occur:

Weak hoof structure:
A weak hoof wall or damaged hoof, such as cracks, excessively moist ,or excessively dry conditions, can make the sole of the hoof more susceptible to bacteria or fungi.

Poor hoof care:
A lack of regular hoof care, such as not trimming regularly, can cause dirt and bacteria to build up in the hoof, increasing the risk of infection.

Foreign object:
Sometimes a sharp object such as a pebble, nail or piece of glass can penetrate the sole and cause an ulcer.

Excessive strain:
Excessive stress on the hoof, such as training excessively or working to much on hard surfaces, can damage the hoof and predispose it to infection.

Other underlying conditions:
Certain underlying conditions, such as laminitis or improper hoof positioning, can increase the likelihood of developing a hoof abscess.

As the body begins to fight the infection, inflammatory fluid is produced. Given the small space in the hoof, this immediately puts a lot of pressure on the hoof, causing pain. This can range from mild to severe pain.
It is important to take action immediately. If nothing is done, the pressure will continue to increase and the inflammatory fluid will find its own way out. Not only is this extremely painful, but it can also cause permanent damage to the hoof.

How can you identify a hoof abscess?

It can be difficult to recognize a hoof abscess, but luckily there are a few signs. The most common indicators are:

  1. Lameness: One of the indications of a hoof abscess is limping. The horse will show its discomfort when walking. Typically, there is a rapid progression from mild discomfort to severe lameness.
  2. Heat and swelling: A hoof abscess may be accompanied by localized heat and swelling in the area of the hoof. If you touch the hoof, you should feel a clear difference in temperature and swelling compared to the other hooves.
  3. A pulsating feeling: With an inflamed hoof, you will notice a heightened blood flow. You should be able to feel a pulse in the hoof cavity and occasionally in the lower leg.

Step-by-step plan for hoof abscesses

Step 1: Observe

Let’s say you come into the stable and see that your horse is (slightly) lame. Do not panic, take a step back first. Ask yourself: what do I see? Do I see any abnormalities?Or maybe feel anything abnormal? Pay particular attention to signs of lameness, foreign objects, tenderness, warmth, swelling, or changes in gait. Having this information in order is crucial in the next step:

Step 2: Consult a professional

Immediately seek the help of an experienced farrier or vet. A hoof abscess always requires professional attention; it cannot be solved on your own.
We always recommend consulting a farrier first. The reason is simple: a farrier is a hoof specialist. Because of their vast experience, farriers are often better equipped to deal with hoof abscesses or other hoof related problems.

Step 3: Cleaning the hoof

To be well prepared for the farrier’s arrival, thoroughly clean the hoof by gently removing dirt and mud. Use a soft brush and water if necessary. Make sure to dry the hoof again afterwards.

Step 4: a warm water bath

With a hoof abscess, the vet or farrier may recommend a hot water bath to soften the hoof. This makes it easier for the farrier or doctor to uncover the abscess. It is easily done by soaking the hoof in a bath of lukewarm water for 5-10 minutes at a time. Do this only in consultation with a professional. After all, heat and moisture are also the perfect breeding ground for bacteria to grow and this could become counterproductive.

Step 5: Animalintex

Sometimes the farrier may decide that the abscess is too deep under the surface to start treatment immediately. The hoof abscess will need some time to develop, so it will get closer to the surface, and be easier to treat later. In the meantime, the farrier will probably apply a hoof bandage, such as Animalintex. This not only protects the hoof from external dirt, it also has an antiseptic effect. Often +/- 24 hours is sufficient.

Step 6: The treatment

Treating a hoof abscess is all about exposing it, so it will find its way out, and the pressure relief. Finding exactly where the infection is can be a challenge. Superficial inflammations are often found quickly by an experienced farrier. However, when the abscess is further in the hoof, a heat camera or laser thermometer may be needed to get a better picture of the infection.

The text will continue down bellow.

Step 7: After care

After treating the hoof abscess an open wound remains. For this to heal well, the farrier or vet may ask a few things of you:

Cooling: If the leg gets too hot, cooling will provide relief. It needs to be done several times a day for 10-15 minutes at a time. Cooling too short of a time is counterproductive, so keep your watch at hand. Rather cool once for 10 minutes than twice for 5 minutes. 

Hoof bandage:  After the treatment, an open wound remains. In order to keep it clean it’s advisable to apply a hoof bandage. Often, this is done in combination with a thick layer of iodine. Both are available in any equestrian shops. Ask your farrier for advice, and remember to change the bandage daily.

Belebro hoof gel: Finally, we recommend using Belebro hoof gel in the recovery stage. The treated hoof abscess could use all extra nutrients for a steady recovery, so apply the gel to the coronet 1-2 times a week. Click here for more information on how to use the gel. Note: There is no point in applying the gel to the sole, only to the coronet is more than sufficient.

Preventing hoof abscess

Now that calm has returned to the stable, it’s a good moment to evaluate whether the appearance of the hoof abscess is a signal that there might be areas for improvement. Of course, you can never prevent hoof problems 100%, but that doesn’t mean we won’t try it, right?

Daily care

Daily inspection and care of the hooves are super important. The hooves should be cleaned daily so that accumulated dirt doesn’t have a chance to cause inflammation. While doing so, look out for abnormalities, such as: cracks, strange objects, or other discomforts. Early detection can prevent a lot of trouble.
Regular visits to a farrier are also essential to keep hooves healthy. In winter this means every 7-8 weeks and in summer every 6 weeks. Never go about it yourself. Farriery is a craft that involves many years of training. Trying it yourself will destroy more than you care to.

Clean and dry

Keep stables and paddocks clean and make sure they are dry. Dirt, moisture and manure can harbour bacteria that can cause hoof abscesses and other infections. Prolonged exposure to wet surfaces could soften the sole, giving bacteria and fungi a quicker chance to invade. Standing in a wet paddock too often can therefore cause problems. A clean environment significantly reduces the risk of infections


Finally, hoof problems in horses can indicate an incorrect diet. If you are experiencing more frequent hoof abscesses, crumbling hooves, nail dryness or other hoof problems, it is important to check whether the current diet is appropriate for your horse(s).

Sources and references

  1. De Pathogenese van hoefabcessen bij het paard – Publicatie Universiteit Gent
    Prof. Dr. Richard Ducatelle en Prof. Dr. Leen van Brantegem 2019-2020 [1]
  2. Hoofwear – Blogpost hoefzweer behandelen [2]

Dit artikel is mede mogelijk gemaakt door Thijs Hoefs – Rijksgediplomeerd Hoefsmid

Disclaimer: Original text is written in dutch. Please note, our website uses automatic translations. We are not responsible for typing, printing or translation errors.

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