What is Hoof Crack?
Hoof cracks are not an uncommon occurrence for horses, and although most remain superficial and grow out without any trouble, some cracks may be more severe, and reach the sensitive tissues that the hoof is meant to protect. Bleeding can occur in these deeper cracks and infection can set in, in any crack. Hoof cracks that involve infection and lameness will take a longer time to heal than more superficial cracks.
The hoof is vital to your horse’s health and cracks in the hoof may impair their ability to walk and run as well as leading to dangerous infections.
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Symptoms of Hoof Crack in Horses
Cracks are generally easily diagnosed, but knowing what an infection looks like is crucial to any horse caretaker, particularly since in some cases the infection is the cause of crack rather than the other way around. Untreated infections can lead to severe pain, permanent deformity of the hoof, or even sepsis.
- Fluid or pus discharge
- Pain when touched
- Swollen or discolored coronary band
- Bar crack - Cracks in the bar of the hoof can be very painful and usually caused by trauma to the bottom of the foot
- Grass crack - This is a thin superficial crack that starts from the ground and moves upward; these can be caused by going from a wet to dry environment and from nutritional deficiencies
- Heel crack - This is a crack in the heel area, usually caused by horseshoes that are either too long or too short
- Quarter crack - These are cracks that extend through the entire thickness of the hoof, usually appearing at the coronary band and growing towards the ground
- Sand crack - Sand cracks are thin superficial cracks that start at the coronary band and move downward; they are generally caused by environmental and nutritional factors
- Toe crack - This is typically caused when a horse is landing toe first due to heel pain or by overloading the toe during movement
Causes of Hoof Crack in Horses
- Diet - Selenium or copper deficiency can be detrimental to the health of the hoof wall as it becomes less resistant to fungus
- Infection - An infection that develops near the structure of the foot can cause cracks to develop in the hoof
- Injury - Cracks can occur from an injury as well; damage to the coronet is likely to cause quarter cracks, striking the front edge of the hoof can cause toe cracks, and stepping on something hard like a rock may cause bar cracks
- Moisture - The structure of a hoof is much like a fingernail, and like a fingernail, if it is not provided with enough moisture it can crack and peel, and when it gets too much moisture it becomes susceptible to fungus; damage caused by moisture imbalances are amplified when wet to dry periods weaken the hoof
- Poor foot conformation - Horses with poor foot conformation may put undue stress on parts of the hoof causing it to crack
- Poor shoeing - The most common cause for heel cracks are shoes that are either too short or too long, and poorly placed nails can cause malformations in the growth of the hoof, leading to cracks
Diagnosis of Hoof Crack in Horses
Diagnosis of a hoof crack will start with the evaluation of the crack itself. The length and depth of the fissure will be examined visually, and the area will be palpated to determine if pain is present or if blood or other fluids are seeping from the crack. Tests will also be run to determine if there are any infections present and what organism is causing the infection.
In order to determine the full extent of the damage, many veterinarians will get an x-ray of the area. This helps to not only clarify the depth and placement of the crack it can check to ensure the underlying bone structures are sound. If the cracks are occurring on multiple feet or if the hooves are frequently getting cracks, further testing will be done to evaluate the horse’s gait, diet, and environment as they relate to the hooves. This may mean blood tests to check for vitamin or mineral deficiencies, the use of a video camera to capture your horse’s particular gait, or an evaluation of the pastures and trails your horse frequents.
Treatment of Hoof Crack in Horses
The treatment process for a cracked hoof will involve three people; you, your veterinarian, and your farrier. Before healing of the crack itself can start, any infections or abscesses that might be present need to be addressed. This may require the use of antifungal or antibiotic medications and the debridement and drainage of any abscesses. There are many methods for repairing the crack itself, and there is some controversy between different methods. Some of the most common methods include:
- Application of compressive material to the surface of the sole
- Applying bar shoes or tapes to the cracked hoof
- Rasp across the top of the crack
- Removing part of the hoof wall to reduce pressure or remove the crack
- Stabilizing the crack with clamps, sutures, screws, or wires
Careful evaluation by your veterinarian and farrier will help to determine the best course of action for a speedy recovery with minimal weakening of the hoof wall. Cracks tend to grow out at about ¼ inch per month, so each of these methods takes both patience and balance, and depending on the size of the crack, may take many weeks or months to heal fully.
Recovery of Hoof Crack in Horses
Proper hoof care is essential for your horse’s health. Ensuring that your horse has a diet that provides sufficient vitamins and minerals to make certain that the hoof can maintain proper growth is essential. Exercise is also helpful in maintaining the health of the hoof as it provides better blood circulation to the area. Daily inspection of your horse’s feet can ensure that you see any damage or cracks early on so that they don’t have as much of a chance to get either larger or infected. It is also critical to house them in an environment where the humidity is neither too wet nor too dry and to ensure that wet or dirty bedding is not allowed to build up on stall floors.