Chronic Foot Abscess in Horses

Chronic Foot Abscess in Horses - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

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Chronic Foot Abscess in Horses - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

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What are Chronic Foot Abscess?

A foot abscess can be a rare occurrence in your horse or they may develop one after another and seem to plague him.  In cases of chronic foot abscesses, there is usually an underlying cause and the abscess is actually a secondary development.  Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose the condition with a physical exam and radiographs.  Treatment is straightforward and if addressed properly, prognosis of recovery is good.

Foot abscesses are a common foot related ailment in horses.  They can be caused by many things and require treatment for the best prognosis of complete healing.

Symptoms of Chronic Foot Abscess in Horses

Symptoms of a foot abscess may include:

  • Lameness
  • Increased digital pulse on affected hoof
  • Warm hoof surface
  • Sensitivity to hoof testers
  • Swelling of the distal limb of the affected leg


A foot abscess in your horse can develop in different areas of his hoof.  It can happen near his sole or the band no matter what the cause is. When draining the abscess, it can occur in multiple places as well.  Each case of hoof abscess is different from the next.  Even if it is a chronic issue, each time an abscess develops it can be in a different location from the previous one.

Causes of Chronic Foot Abscess in Horses

A foot abscess in your horse can be caused by many things.  For example, chronic laminitis can lead to abscess development.  Also, if small crack develops within the hoof wall, bacteria can get into the tissue and lead to abscess development.  A puncture to the hoof can also lead to abscess development and also lead to a secondary bacterial infection.

Diagnosis of Chronic Foot Abscess in Horses

Your veterinarian will perform a full physical exam on your horse to come to her diagnosis.  She will need to rule out other possible causes of his symptoms such as a fracture or osteomyelitis which can both cause similar symptoms.  She will make note of all his symptoms and begin her rule out diagnosis.

She may want to take radiographs of the affected foot to view exactly what structures are involved.  It will also help her rule out fractures or other bone related conditions.  The image can also show if your horse has something metallic lodged in his foot.


Treatment of Chronic Foot Abscess in Horses

There are multiple steps to treating a horse’s foot abscess.  The first step is to drain the abscess through the sole of the hoof.  Manipulating an abscess can be painful for your horse.  He may need to be given a mild sedative in order to keep him safe and comfortable while the veterinarian does her treatment protocol.  The next step is to soak the foot periodically in magnesium sulfate or povidone-iodine solution to encourage softening of the hoof and abscess drainage.  Poultices should also be applied to the affected hoof to speed along the process.  Once the abscess is drained, you should notice your horse being more comfortable.  It may also be suggested you put on a protective boot or bandage to keep his sole clean and protected.  

At home treatment would require continual soaking of his foot as well as daily bandage changes.  If this is not something you can do, some veterinary hospitals can keep your horse during his treatment.  It can take just a few days or up to two weeks for the abscess to dry out completely.  After it is dried, it is recommended to keep a shoe with a leather pad for protection on the hoof.  This will prevent the delicate area as it continues to heal.

For medication related treatment, antibiotics are not normally needed unless the abscess involves a deeper structure.  Pain medications such as NSAIDs can be utilized to keep your horse comfortable during his treatment and healing process.  

In order to get your horse’s condition truly under control, you need to determine the underlying cause of the issue.  For example, many times laminitis can lead to recurring foot abscesses.  To prevent more from developing, you will need to treat the laminitis.

Recovery of Chronic Foot Abscess in Horses

If addressed quickly and treated properly, prognosis of recovery is good.  If left unattended, a chronic abscess can lead to serious problems and lameness.  As stated earlier, the best way to prevent an abscess from continuously recurring is to treat the underlying issue.  Otherwise, your equine will continue to develop abscesses and you will have to go through the treatment process over and over.

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Chronic Foot Abscess Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals








Mild condition


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Mild condition

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My 31 year old thoroughbred was at a backyard hobby farm where the ground was always mushy. He developed abcesses in both front feet which I did not know about. The farrier never mentioned it nor did the barn owner. I since have relocated him to a barn with good pasture and good farrier care. When the farrier came at the new barn, he saw and drained the abcesses. My horse was fine in a week, mainly due to the dry footing and care. Farriers are your first step in finding out about an abcess when they check the horse's feet. If the farrier does not give you feedback after he does your horse's feet, get a new farrier. If the barn manager/owner does not inform you of problems such as lameness, move your horse.