An Off Step, A Bad Step, Lameness of the Hoof: Part II

By Michael Lowder, DVM, MS

As we are beginning to see from reading Part I, there are many hoof-related lamenesses. Research suggests that up to 90% of all lameness is due to a problem in the hoof, and the causes are many. Today we will discuss corns, abscesses, and quittorHorses, like people, get corns. Corns are the result of bruising of the sensitive sole at the junction of the hoof wall and bars of the sole. Lameness may vary from mild to extreme, and may present as both an acute or chronic condition. Bruising may be visible on the sole, but hoof testers may be necessary to identify the lesion in pigmented hooves.

Corns may occur when the shoes are left on too long. In this situation, the hoof overgrows the heel of the shoe, and the rear part of the shoe bruises the sole. Other causes include over-trimming of the wall, flat feet, unbalanced shoes, and heel calks.

Since the horse's fore hooves strike the ground first and bear most of the weight of the horse, corns are most commonly observed in the fore hooves.

Corns usually start off as a small reddened area (due to ruptured blood vessels) that may heal prior to being discovered by the horseman. In advanced cases, the corn will be yellowish and may secrete fluid (serum). At this stage, they will frequently become infected and develop into an abscess.

Treatment of uncomplicated corns involves removing the old shoe and trimming the sole a little lower than the outside wall to relieve pressure upon the affected area. In mild cases, a new bar shoe and pad can be applied. When an abscess is evident, the affected area may be 'pared out' to allow adequate drainage.

As this condition is often due to overgrown hooves, have your farrier schedule regular visits. It would be helpful to have him instruct you upon the procedure of removing shoes (Pulling A Shoe) in the event that he is not available. Prevention is the key.

Hoof abscesses are definitely one of the most common hoof conditions I see, and acute lameness is often the first sign noticed. Most start out as a bruise and then develop into an abscess. Others are the result of a penetrating wound. A history of recent shoeing or riding on hard or rocky soil is frequently recalled.

Hoof testers are applied to determine the location of the abscess. Once located, the veterinarian will often use a perineural nerve block to desensitize the hoof and open the abscess for drainage. Radiographs may be utilized to define the extent of the abscess. A hoof bandage is usually applied to the hoof after the abscess has been pared to prevent contamination and infection of the wound.

To soak or not to soak – that is the question! This question has been known to start a good barn fight. Although there are strong arguments on both sides, I've seen no substantial difference in the outcome.

In the past, I have recommended soaking the affected hoof in a solution of 1% betadine and Epsom salts, but now I favor simply applying a poultice. The function of a poultice is to draw the abscess to a 'head'.

Another cause of acute lameness is a penetrating foreign body. Punctures of the bottom of the hoof can be a potentially serious condition, depending upon the site. If a foreign body (such as a nail) is observed, radiographs are indicated to determine its location and if any vital structures are involved. DO NOT REMOVE THE NAIL!

Quittor is a condition in which there is an infection of the lateral cartilage of the third phalanx (pedal or coffin bone). It may be an intermittent cause of lameness, and often results from a penetrating wound or trauma to the area of the pastern just above the coronary band. A draining tract may be evident in the coronary area.

Quittor is often confused with another common hoof ailment called "gravel" as draining tracts are found in the same location. Although flushing the draining tract and applying a hoof bandage may resolve the condition of "gravel", quittor can only be resolved by removal of all necrotic cartilage.

Keep looking at those hooves.