The Stubborn Abscess

In typical Duke fashion, he has caused trouble again. I mean, not intentionally but if I don’t make light of it and laugh at the troublemaker, I just might cry. I have dealt with lameness in the past before with Fizz, but never to this degree. It’s always been “Oh, you removed my shoes? I’m now crippled” or something else that is basically no big deal in the grand scheme of things. It’s never lasted more than 3 days. This had been going on since the end of September. It’s December now like really can Santa bring me an unquestionably sound horse?

On Sept 25th, we had the boys reset. Since we are going into winter in KY we had Duke’s show shoes (with the little leather pad) removed and plain plates put on. If you read/remember the post about Keratex, I was absolutely thrilled his feet were in good enough shape to even be able to do this. I thought, this will be GREAT for winter work. Then on the 28th, he turns up dead lame. My initial thought was, he’s uncomfortable after we took the pads off. Give him a bit for his soles to harden up, and he will be fine. So I waited a week, but he was the same. The farrier came out to put hoof testers on him and he removed a nail on one side where he noticed a little bit of heat, thinking it could have been a hot nail. I didn’t notice this heat, but I’m no professional. Anyway, it wasn’t that. He believed it was an abscess and suggested I soak and wrap for a week, and see where we were. I agreed and did as directed. Below you will find “how to” of sorts.

If you’ve never soaked a fidgety horses foot before, good luck, Godspeed. I hope you have the patience of a saint, especially if you’re trying to use a bucket or pan like normal people do. If you’re like me and have maybe just a smidge more patience than your horse who thinks standing still is stupid and knocking over buckets is funny, I highly suggest you invest in a product that stays with them as they move. There are multiple products out there but I got the little contraption below from my local Tractor Supply and it’s worked out well for soaking thus far (with the exception that Duke promptly broke one of the keepers for the velcro straps).

Dissolve some epsom salt in warm water with a splash of betadyne (if you have it or want to go buy it-my vet recommended it).

Soak the horses foot in the solution for a minimum of 15 minutes once daily.

I like to wipe it “dry” with a towel, inspect, then wrap.

There are some options with wrapping. You can just put some warm water and epsom salt into a baby diaper and wrap if you don’t have anything else on hand, but I find that an epsom salt poultice you buy is easier to use and stays “in place” better. You can also use something like icthamol drawing salve, or some sort of hoof packing like sole pack. In all instances, you still should wrap with a diaper (or other type of cotton) and duct tape boot on top. I use the diapers because the generic ones are cheaper than rolls of cotton and they secure on the foot so it makes wrapping slightly easier. I suppose you could put on a hoof boot or some other hoof wrapping if you choose but I haven’t found anything I like that works as good as the old duct tape way. If you have a better method, I would love to hear about it!

If you’re like me and you have never had to wrap a hoof by yourself before, again, good luck and Godspeed. haha. But really, don’t fear, for we don’t live in the stone ages and there is YouTube now.

This video will explain how to make a “duct tape boot”

Check out this video for some good wrapping tips.

After the initial week of soak/wrap process, nothing had changed. Another week of soaking/wrapping. Duke’s frog was soft and pliable and seemed to be bothersome, so the farrier came back out to trim his foot and make sure the shoes didn’t need anything. Still, the lameness persisted. I thought, let it go and give it a few more weeks. Still the same. Unfortunately.

I watched and waited about as long as I could tolerate him looking uncomfortable and to the point where I had exhausted all efforts that I knew of and that had been recommended to me. Then I called the vet. On Nov 3rd, they came out and performed an exam. He didn’t respond to hoof testers. His digital pulse was not elevated. There was no heat. But the lameness was evident. They did X-Rays to diagnose, since everything else looked normal. However, the X-Rays proved it is without a doubt, an abscess. As shown in the images below, the “pocket” of infection is clear. The vet was concerned about the infection spreading to the coffin bone, so prescribed antibiotics for that, bute to make him more comfortable, and ulcerguard to help ease his stomach from the bute. You would have thought I was poisoning his food, but he reluctantly ate it over the course of the next 10 days. The vet recommended to resume the soaking/wrapping and wanted a report in a week if he was still uncomfortable. It did not resolve.

The farrier came back on the 9th to trim and reset, and recommended another soak/wrap immediately following the trim. And then….I had surgery on Nov 11th!! I was not able to soak, wrap, or really do anything after the 10th! However, it still had not totally resolved. He seemed more comfortable on and off, but would still take “gimpy” steps trotting around the turnout and coming out of his stall. On Nov 17th, the vet returned to do magnawave therapy on his hoof to draw the remaining abscess out. They said improvement should be seen within 24-48 hours and if not, they could do another session, or more! At this point, I’m wondering (not for the first time during horse ownership) if I needed to find a street corner somewhere, or sell my soul to come up with enough money to pay for this insanity. How has it been 2.5 months and this thing is STILL hanging on?

Being the stubborn horse person that I am, I enlisted my poor non-horsey husband to help me soak and wrap… it can’t hurt, even if it hasn’t helped (yet). We did one day with epsom salt, then the second day we packed with sole pack. Left this on for nearly 24 hours. Yes, I realize the package says 18 hours max. But, being limited in what I could do, that’s the best I could manage. When this wrap was removed, a literal CHUNK of his sole picked away with a hoof pick. I was concerned, but it didn’t seem to bother him. I turned him out without soaking or wrapping and over the next several days, he seemed a lot more comfortable.

THEN, he threw a shoe. Actually, both of them did. They both threw one front shoe each. FAIL. Duke’s abscess side shoe was still hanging tight, but called the farrier anyway. Thank GOD for a good farrier, he showed up the next day. We had a nice chat about their work and living arrangements over the next few months and decided to pull ALL shoes off BOTH horses. I was SO nervous this was going to be a disaster, but the farrier assured me they would both benefit from it and if not, he would come back and nail shoes back on. Both barefoot boys pictured below.

He examined the abscess hoof and he thinks it may have blown out under the piece of sole that came off. I tend to agree. They have been barefoot for 2 weeks now and today, he was a hot mess but he looked like a SOUND hot mess! Praise the lord I (cautiously) think we are over this, but apparently this is the most stubborn abscess in history and soaking/wrapping usually works a lot faster! In extreme cases the vet can cut in and drain, but in Duke’s case the vet thought that would cause additional problems and felt it would be best to let it come out in it’s own time.

If you’re dealing with lameness, and everything you are doing isn’t working, PLEASE have your vet out to confirm an absolute diagnosis. It could be a (should have been more simple) abscess, but really while you’re blindly treating symptoms there could potentially be a bigger issue that if treated sooner, would have a better outcome. While my bank account may be drained, my heart is happy knowing I have done my due diligence as a horse mom and caretaker. I exhausted every effort I could do myself within a reasonable amount of time before enlisting professional help (and spending a small fortune) but at the end of the day, my horse is happy and comfortable now and I feel good that I didn’t let it go on and on without asking for help. As much as we ask of our horses, we owe them that much.


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