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Causes and Treatment
Hoof abscesses form when defects in the white line or adjacent sole allow foreign debris and bacteria to penetrate into the soft tissue layers of the hoof. This leads to localized inflammation, migration of white blood cells, and ultimately an accumulation of pus and gas. There isn’t much space to spare inside the hoof capsule, and thus pressure from the accumulation of this material can be very painful.
In addition to lameness,
clinical signs of a hoof abscess include an elevated digital pulse (like the throbbing pulse of an ingrown fingernail), warmth to the hoof, sensitivity to hoof testers, and sometimes swelling of the pastern/fetlock region.
Treatment principles for resolving a hoof abscess are to (1) establish drainage and (2) maintain/promote drainage.
Often, your veterinarian will find a small defect near the margin of the sole and white line that can be traced with a hoof knife to produce discharge and thus immediate relief. Whether or not discharge is obtained at first, promotion of drainage should be pursued. This involves making the hoof wall moist enough for pus to migrate down through the white line at the bottom of the foot. Soak bags and soak wraps that are constantly moistening the hoof are best since they provide the hoof maximum moisture. Animalintex poultice pads are excellent for this purpose, as are used IV fluid bags (see photo) with warm water, Epsom salts, and betadine solution. The use of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, such as phenylbutazone and Banamine, during treatment is controversial as these could slow the process of the abscess “coming to a head.” Their use should be evaluated on a case by case basis by your veterinarian.
How can this be prevented in the future?
You may not be able to avoid all future incidences of hoof abscesses, but here are a few steps you can take to reduce the chance of your horse developing one.
1. Frequent (every 4-6 weeks) trimming by a trusted farrier to help your horse maintain good structural integrity of the foot and to prevent and treat white line disease. This is especially important for horses dealing with chronic laminitis.
2. Avoid turning your horse out in muddy conditions for a prolonged amount of time. Consider roping off areas that get especially muddy during rainy days, or housing horses in a stall with dry bedding for at least part of the day.
3. Treat underlying metabolic disease. Horses with metabolic syndrome and Cushing’s Disease (PPID) are prone to developing abscesses.
If your horse is showing clinical signs, ask your veterinarian about testing and treatment options.
The Healing Effect of Horses on Humans
Institute of HeartMath provide a clue to explain the bidirectional "healing" that happens when we are near horses.
According to researchers, the heart has a larger electromagnetic field and higher level of intelligence than the brain: A magnetometer can measure the heart's energy field radiating up to 8 to 10 feet around the human body. While this is certainly significant it is perhaps more impressive that the electromagnetic field projected by the horse's heart is five times larger than the human one (imagine a sphere-shaped field that completely surrounds you). The horse's electromagnetic field is also stronger than ours and can actually directly influence our own heart rhythm!
Horses are also likely to have what science has identified as a "coherent" heart rhythm (heart rate pattern) which explains why we may "feel better" when we are around them. . . .studies have found that a coherent heart pattern or HRV is a robust measure of well-being and consistent with emotional states of calm and joy--that is, we exhibit such patterns when we feel positive emotions.
A coherent heart pattern is indicative of a system that can recover and adjust to stressful situations very efficiently. Often times, we only need to be in a horses presence to feel a sense of wellness and peace. In fact, research shows that people experience many physiological benefits while interacting with horses, including lowered blood pressure and heart rate, increased levels of beta-endorphins (neurotransmitters that serve as pain surppressors), decreased stress levels, reduced feelings of anger, hostility, tension and anxiety, improved social functioning; and increased feelings of empowerment, trust, patience and self-efficacy."
Detailed and educational PowerPoint on How to Handle Colic.