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Humans aren’t the only ones who experience sore feet after hours spent in uncomfortable, ill-fitting shoes. For both humans and horses, corns are a painful and uncomfortable condition that, if left untreated, can lead to an infection warranting immediate medical care. The most common cause of equine corns is poorly fitting shoes. A corn is mostly caused by an improperly placed heel, a shoe that is left on too long, or a shoe that is too small. Bruising may occur with no abnormalities, or it may present with red staining or the presence of clear fluid either beneath the solar epidermis or beginning to seep through. Left untreated, the area may become infected. Types of corns are dry (mild bruising), moist (fluid seepage and some inflammation present), or suppurative (infected, abscessed, possibly becoming septic). Any pressure applied to the affected area will cause the horse discomfort. If an injury exists, it will likely be deep enough so that signs aren’t visible even if internal damage may be severe.
Pebbles, rocks and twigs that become wedged between the shoe and the sole of the hoof are yet another leading cause of corns. Unlike humans, of course, horses can’t remove shoes when in need of a breather. Corns are rare among horses that are usually barefooted. In horses, corns are really a type of bruise -- a traumatic-type injury characterized by internal bleeding and gradual discoloration due to damaged tissues and blood vessels. The hemorrhage increases pressure in the sensitive tissues of the inside of the front feet, resulting in pain and potential lameness. Corns may develop suddenly or over a period of weeks or months. They can form as stand-alone, dry bruises or they can become moist and infected. Aside from being extra painful, moist corns may form abscesses and require medical treatment to both drain and heal the infection.
Bruises that appear across the sole of the hoof, however, may have a cause other than poor shoeing. Possibilities include poor hoof conformation, thin soles, soft soles, or excessive riding on hard, rocky surfaces. Bruises to the hoof wall, sole, frog or heel are a very common cause of foot lameness. These bruises are usually due to blunt trauma, such as impact from a sharp-edged rock. Horses with pigeon-toes and flat feet are predisposed to developing heel bruises. An immediately veterinary visit is the best way to determine what is causing the bruising to your horse’s hooves.
Bruised soles and corns in horses are commonly caused by ill-fitting shoes and by stones and debris wedged between the sole of the hoof and the shoe.
Trimming the hoof will be needed to visualize corns or bruising. The sole will likely be sensitive, discolored, and inflamed. The vet will use hoof testers, which, upon application, may cause your horse to react in pain. Extra warmth may suggest that bacteria has entered the vessels that lie beneath the epidermis, and an abscess may have formed. The combination of these signs, in addition to any degree of lameness, provides a definitive diagnosis.
Treatment is two-pronged: to remove pressure and to protect the bruised area. In horses predisposed to corns, proper shoeing – and consistent examination and, if necessary, adjustments - is imperative. Pads can be placed on the hoof to protect the sole. A bar shoe can help lessen pressure.
A veterinarian may establish a drainage path to enable healing. An Epsom salt solution via either a 14-gauge catheter or teat cannula attached to a 60-mL syringe can be repeated daily until healed. A foot bath or application of poultices may be used but can be less successful. The sole should be covered until the surface is covered by the horn. Antibiotics are useful once the area is draining, and if needed, a tetanus shot should be given. Pain relieving medication may help the horse through the healing process. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications may also be effective.
However, the best form of treatment for corns is prevention. Veterinarians encourage horse owners to use an expert farrier. Your horse's hooves and shoes should be regularly inspected. Horses will benefit from being barefoot at times.
Your horse's stall will need to be kept exceptionally clean to prevent dust and mold spores from entering the affected areas. The veterinarian may recommend foot baths while the bruised sole or corn heals. Inspecting the hooves and shoes on a regular basis will help prevent corns caused by stones or debris at the seat of the corn. Regular hoof trimming by a professional farrier is the best way to prevent corns in horses. Corns can be prevented by being vigilant about your horse’s foot care.
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