What are Brittle Hooves?
The outer part of horse hooves are comprised of keratin, which is made up of only twenty-five percent water. This makes the hoof hard and tough in order for the horse to be exposed to a variety of ground conditions without discomfort. This hoof wall has three sections, known as the outer layer, the middle layer, and the inner layer.
The outer layer, known as the periople, extends upward to the band between the bottom of the leg and the beginning of the hoof. It has an outer, thin layer that is shiny and protects the hoof from becoming too dry. When the hoof becomes too dry, signs begin to show, such as breakage on the outer layer. If left unattended, this breakage can become deeper into the other layers of the hoof. Keeping an eye on the hooves is very important; regular inspections are essential for proper hoof health.
When horses have brittle hooves, they create a painful situation. The brittle hooves are severely cracked and dried, and often deeply split and broken. The horse hoof is a complicated group of structures, both with sensitivity and no sensitivity, and all of the structures work together for the life and health of the hoof. Fortunately, the condition of brittle hooves in horses is preventable with various routines and inspections of the owner.
Brittle hooves in horses occur when hooves become weak and dried-out. Horses that suffer from brittle hooves prohibit a horse from walking properly.
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Symptoms of Brittle Hooves in Horses
Dry and brittle hooves in horses have a variety of symptoms. Knowing the symptoms will help you understand what needs to be done to care for him. Symptoms include:
- Contracted heels
- Easily fractured, piece by piece
- Discharge coming from hoof
- Loss of wall
- Pain when walking or standing
There are several different types of differential diagnoses for brittle hooves in horses. Your veterinarian will be able to differentiate between the differential diagnoses and the diagnosis of brittle hooves. Other hoof problems include:
- Bruised sole
- Abscess in the foot
- Foot abnormalities
- Foreign body penetration
Causes of Brittle Hooves in Horses
Causes of brittle hooves in horses begin with environment and diet. Specific causes of these over-dry and cracked hooves include:
- Hot and sandy environment
- Moved from an environment where it was moist to a hotter, dry climate
- Hoof disease known as laminitis
- Low-protein diet
- Unbalanced, low nutritional diet
Diagnosis of Brittle Hooves in Horses
If you notice a change in your horse’s hooves, make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Your veterinarian will be the only one who can professionally treat your horse. Once he arrives at the stable, he will begin to look at the hooves very carefully. He will be looking for several different situations on the conditions of the hooves.
He will first look at the horse’s stance. A complete physical examination will done including blood work and any necessary tests to take a closer look at the horse’s internal condition. The medical professional will also examine the foot with hoof testers and perform analgesic methods to rule out any other conditions pertaining to lameness.
The veterinarian will ask questions pertaining to any weight changes, your horse’s diet, and the environmental conditions in which he is living as well as the level of activity that he performs. He will want to know where the horse stands in terms of moist bedding or dry and hardened ground. He will also want to know if the horse performing physical activity on an uneven, hard surface that could be affecting the hooves.
The veterinarian will examine your horse walking and trotting and check for and balance in his loading, which could be a major factor if the cracks are not caused by environmental factors.
The veterinarian may also perform radiographs of the foot or feet. These imaging techniques will also reveal much about the condition of the hooves and what could be causing it. Radiographs are performed on hooves with cracks that have no definite cause. If damage has occurred within the bone, at or along the coronary band, or if any trauma has occurred to the walls, this will be seen closer by this imaging technique.
Treatment of Brittle Hooves in Horses
Prevention of brittle hooves is as equally important as any treatment methods. Depending on the severity of the brittle hooves of your horse, treatment methods may include:
Your equine veterinarian may recommend dietary supplements or dietary adjustments to help your horse heal. The veterinarian may be able to determine any deficiencies in vitamins and minerals and will recommend specific supplements that your horse needs to take on a regular basis.
Trimming the hooves followed by shoeing will help ease any discomfort and promote healing. Your veterinarian will recommend a moisturizing supplement which is topical in the form of dressings that will need to be applied consistently and possibly frequently. The veterinarian will communicate with you how and when to apply any dressing after proper trimming and shoeing.
The increase of blood flow throughout the hoof will help your horse’s hoof become invigorated over time. The veterinarian or farrier may recommend an effective exercise routine for your horse.
Recovery of Brittle Hooves in Horses
Treatment will take some time to help the hooves heal. They grow at a slow rate and it could take up to a year for new, full growth to occur. The growth will need to reach the bottom of the hoof, and for that reason you will need to be very patient, continue the treatment your veterinarian has recommended, and follow his instructions.
Your veterinarian may also want to see your horse throughout his recovery to check the progress of the affected hooves. Once your horse begins to respond to the treatment methods he recommends, his activity can increase.
Your veterinarian may also have you change your horse’s environment if he spends a lot of time on hard ground. This will need to be accomplished as soon as possible so your horse can heal. Any supplements that you need to give your horse will need to be given consistently and over time.