Duration of Lameness After a Hoof Abscess

How long does it take for a horse to return back to soundness after the abscess has burst? 

For most horses, once an abscess ruptures the relief from acute lameness is almost instantaneous, and residual tenderness will disappear in about 24 hours. For severe and more chronic abscesses though, recovery time can be several days and even a few weeks. This is because the abscess pressure creates a lot of local inflammation and also can compress and deform the adjacent tissues, which then take a while to bounce back to normal condition. Other horses suffer from lingering soreness because the abscess does not drain completely before closing over, resulting in repeat episodes of pain and drainage. In some instances, there is necrotic tissue or a damaged spot of coffin bone that forms a nidus of infection and will continue to drain until the revitalized tissue is gone. Your veterinarian can assist this process by surgically opening and scraping away the problematic tissue. If your horse has ruptured and drained an abscess but is still significantly lame, it may be worth having your vet take look and obtain some X-rays to see if there are any additional problems in the foot.

Melissa McKee DVM

Pedal Osteitis

Can someone enlighten me on pedal osteosis? My 15 y/o gelding was recently diagnosed with this through x-rays. No idea how it was created but my vet believes it was an old injury that came back to haunt us. 

A bit of his history from what I know…he had been for the past 14 years a pleasure/trail horse. No strenuous work load in the last, he was quite green when I got him a year ago but did some western tricks like neck reining and rusty spinning. Since I’ve had him, he’s been in a 5-6 days a week of work now. Work outs vary from hard to mild through the week. He was always barefooted from what I understood but when I got him he has started some white line desease so we put front shoes to keep his foot from falling apart in April 2014. He was sound all through summer. End of November we put corks on his shoes and he went lame in his front right within 2 weeks. Eventually took the shoes off in beginning of January. He got better but never 100% more like 98% better. Multiple vet visits later, he was diagnosed with PO and we put shoes back on his front. He is now mostly sound now. 

Pedal Osteitis is a commonly used term for chronic coffin bone bruising that has resulted in characteristic changes on xrays of the foot. The toe and weight bearing surface of the bone will often appear “fuzzy” or “lacy” with loss of clearly defined margins and low bone density. This usually is a result of a combination of chronic concussion on hard surfaces and thin soles, although this can also appear after a bout of white line disease or laminitis. Application of a steel shoe, and often some form of pad, is the primary treatment for this condition because it provides sole protection and shock absorption. Some horses require additional measures such as anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-osteoporosis medication, and time off in order for them to return to full function.

Shoeing these horses can be tricky because they often have thin walls, which can be sensitive to nails, and if there is too much sole pressure from the pads they can also become ouchy. In your horse’s case, the additional traction from the corks may have been enough to irritate the laminae and cause significant pain and inflammation. A good farrier is your biggest asset for managing this condition, and once affected with this condition a horse usually remains prone to it, so if you have found a shoeing solution that works, stick to it. He may be able to go barefoot during certain times of year when the footing is softer or he is not in work, but monitor him carefully for signs of foot pain.

Melissa McKee DVM


I have a horse that acts like she foundered but no hotness int he feet, no fast pulse, no pain when pinched.Could she have foundered? The vet thinks she has foundered but only shows some pain in feet but will walk out of it to some degree. I have not had her xrayed, will that tell anything?

A foundered horse usually does not get better when walked. You would also expect to find an elevated pulse in the hooves and reaction when the soles are pinched with hoof testers. To confirm if she has foundered or not it is essential to take x-rays to help with the diagnosis. Is your horse barefoot? Perhaps her soles are thin and that is why she walks tenderly. If she improves after walking a bit she might have some low level arthritis that is bothering her. We often see horses improve with activity in these cases.
I hope this information helps. If you search for founder or laminitis in the archives you will find more information on the subject.

Good luck,

Mike Pownall, DVM

Acute Laminitis

What causes acute laminitis?

The sudden onset of laminitis in an otherwise healthy horse is always a mystery. It appears that your veterinarian is doing a great job but you pose a question that many people may want to know the answer to. Contrary to popular assumptions, a horse can develop acute laminitis without any other prior signs. One moment they are healthy and two hours later they can barely walk.

Laminitis is the inflammation of the laminae that attach the coffin bone to the hoof. Think of the attachments as similar to velcro. Inflammation causes the attachments to weaken, allowing them to be separated easily. The deep digital flexor tendon is attached to the bottom of the coffin bone in the heel area, and a healthy foot maintains an equilibrium between the bonds holding the bone to the hoof and the pull of the DDF tendon. When the bonds weaken, the pull of the tendon causes the bone to separate away from the hoof and rotate downward. This is similar to when a team is winning a tug of war match. A little lead suddenly cascades into the losing team being pulled over easily. The body under certain conditions will release chemicals that weaken the lamellar bonds, leading to laminitis. Both carbohydrate overload and septicemia can allow the large intestine of the colon to leak these damaging substances. Horses that suffer from metabolic diseases such as cushing’s syndrome and insulin resistance are also prone to laminitis, due to disruption of glucose uptake by the laminae. Excessive repetitive trauma can also lead to inflammation and deterioration of the laminae (often called road founder ot mechanical founder).

Once your horse has laminitis it is necessary for your farrier and veterinarian to work closely together because your horse will need the expertise of both.

Mike Pownall DVM

Hoof Rings and Founder

My horse has rings around his hooves- is he foundered?

Horses can have horizontal lines on the hoof without having foundered. Some lines reflect a change in nutrition, fever or an abrupt change in shoeing styles. A rule of thumb to determine if the rings reflect founder is to check if the space between the lines is significantly wider at the heels than at the toe. When the lines are closer together at the toe it means that the coffin bone has rotated and has pinched off the blood supply at the coronary band. This will lead to a reduced growth rate. The blood supply at the heels is normal and the wider spacing reflects normal hoof growth. To truly determine if your horse has foundered I would definitely ask your veterinarian for radiographs of the feet. This is the only way to know for sure if your horse has rotation of the coffin bone.

Mike Pownall DVM

Chronic Laminitis

What could be causing chronic laminitis in my warmblood?

Chronic laminitis can have numerous causes. In warmbloods I often see this condition as a result of excess weight, improperly applied horseshoes, trimming too short, poor hoof conformation, or a hind limb lameness/stiffness that is forcing the horse to carry more weight in the front end. Rarely are bacteria or viruses triggers for repeated episodes of laminitis. They usually cause a sudden onset type of laminitis. It seems like you have addressed the weight issue with a strict diet. Has your farrier offered an opinion on a cause? They can be a great resource because of their knowledge of your horse’s hooves. Is your horse barefoot? Some thin-soled horses become laminitic if trimmed too short. Have you had repeat x-rays taken? Serial radiographs are helpful in determining the degree of rotation if any and the condition of the coffin bone. Horses with chronic laminitis can develop changes in the condition of the coffin bone that may predispose them to a constant lameness. Certain types of shoes and pads can help treat this condition. I would certainly suggest that you ask your veterinarian to assess the hind limbs of your horse to rule out a source of lameness from that region.

Unfortunately, we never learn the cause of laminitis in some horses. We are left to treat them through proper shoeing and trimming, nutrition and controlled exercise and turnout.

Mike Pownall DVM

Barefoot OTTB

I have a 4 year old OTTB mare. She came off the track late June and I pulled off all 4 of her shoes in the beginning of July, she was ‘ouchy’ for about 3 weeks but was then sound. Since then she has had two trims, after each each trim she is foot sore for about a week and a half to two weeks.. She is also much more comfortable on soft ground as opposed to gravel or cement. My question is should I keep her barefoot and work through it or put shoes on her front feet and see if that makes her more comfortable?

I agree that a horse is best barefoot if they are comfortable that way and don’t require shoes to address the needs of their job. The critical issue here is that a thoroughbred racehorse is about as far removed from a barefoot wild horse as a lumberjack is from a ballerina. Thoroughbreds have been selected over generations for speed, which has result in a generally finer frame, tender skin, and feet that lack sufficient mass and sole depth to protect them from constant pain and bruising. There are many that simply cannot cope without the protection of front shoes, especially if you want a riding horse. The fact that she is lame for weeks after a trim suggests that she does not have sufficient sole depth, heel strength, and wall quality to be kept as a barefoot horse at this time. This chronic cycle can lead to degenerative conditions within the foot, such as inflamed coffin and navicular bones, not to mention a predisposition to gastric ulcers, failure to gain weight, and poor attitude under saddle. Not to mention, she is more vulnerable to significant and lengthy lameness episodes should she step on a rock or unlevel footing without the elevation that a shoes provides. You don’t need anything fancy, just a plain wide-webbed steel shoe will provide protection and some shock absorption as she eases into her new life. Someday, when she matures physically and has grown a better foot, you may be able to try the barefoot route again. In the meantime, it’s causing both of you to suffer needlessly.

Melissa McKee DVM

Soft Hind Feet

I have noticed in the past month, with all of the snow, my guys hind feet have suddenly started to crack and chip off in large sections. He has always had strong hooves but I wonder with all the snow if they have just been getting a bit of a beating.

I have called my farrier and he is going to add snow pads to his front feet and look into giving him hind shoes (for what I hope is only for the winter).

I was wondering though, is there a supplement that can (overtime) help his feet become stronger? I know of biotin, but that’s about it. I have heard that horses cannot properly process biotin unless there are other minerals added – zinc, copper, manganese, etc. My barn owners has suggested MSM plus adding another good vitamin supplement, what I’m not sure. Currently my guy is on Recovery EQ (soon to turn into Renewal – same company, similar product). Is there a supplement that could help? I hardly know anything about this stuff, is there a combinations that can be suggested?

My guy weights approx. 1700lbs and is a clyde x thrb, so his feet are quite large.

During dry summer conditions, hoof walls are naturally very hard and resistant to chipping and wearing. Once winter arrives, the constant wet/dry cycle weakens the hoof wall and makes it susceptible excessive wear and tear. In addition, I find that the weight, conformation, and gait of horses with some draft breeding will predispose them to dubbing off the hind feet, leading to little stumpy nubs that looked rather like how I used to draw horse feet when I was five 😉 I have had the same problem with crossbreds of my own and found that the only way to stop the erosion of the hoof wall is to put hind shoes on for the winter months. In the summer, the feet harden up significantly and the addition of grass to the diet tends to stimulate more aggressive hoof growth. In the meantime, you can try to harden his feet with the application of Venice turpentine over the soles. You already have your guy on some excellent quality supplements but there might be room to improve by adding a biotin based foot supplement. You are correct that horses need a more complex formulation than simple straight biotin to improve foot quality, and there are many good products on the market. Although I try not to make specific recommendations on this forum, you can’t go wrong with the tried and tested original, farrier’s formula. You will need to keep him on this for at least three months to affect the quality of the new hoof wall, and you can’t do much to improve what has already grown out. Try it for this year and see if he fares better next winter. If the difference is not significant, you may be better of economically to just budget for hind shoes during those months. I’m not sure that MSM and another vitamin in addition to these other strategies will make much of a difference.

Melissa McKee DVM


Reading in my “Horseman’s Veterinary Encyclopedia” I came across Quittor. How do vets diagnose this? It says surgical removal is necessary to remove the necrotic tissue. Can this be done at home or must a horse be referred to an equine hospital? What is the healing time for such a procedure?

Quittor is the term that describes injury and infection to the collateral cartilage of the coffin bone, resulting in lameness and persistent local drainage of pus. The collateral cartilages are cartilage wings attached to the coffin bone on the both medial and lateral sides of the foot. When they calcify, we can see them on x-rays and call them sidebones. Traumatic injury to this cartilage, commonly from overreaching, can cause a loss of blood supply that results in death and necrosis of the tissue. While “sterile” injuries may resolve without undue problems, they usually become infected resulting, in chronic drainage of pus and debris just above the coronary band. Diagnosis is pretty straightforward based on physical exam but we do like to take x-rays to determine the extent of the infection and bone damage. The most effective treatment is thorough surgical debridement of the dead and infected tissues. This can be done on the farm in a clean and dry area with the use of local anesthetic blocks. Healing time depends on how extensive the surgical procedure has to be in order to completely remove the diseased tissues, since leaving any of this material behind will result in another episode of infection and drainage. Uncomplicated cases usually take a few weeks to heal, and the horse is usually given a tetanus booster and placed on antibiotics after the procedure, and regular bandaging is required until the wound heals. While the origin of the name “quittor” is uncertain, it is an ancient term for an ancient problem. This used to be a major issue in draft horse teams as these large breeds are already predisposed to enlarged collateral cartilages and would often tread on each other’s feet while pulling plows. When you consider the size of those horses and the extensive traction devices they would wear, it is no surprise that significant damage would occur if they stepped on their partner’s feet! Fortunately this disease is rare and usually not terribly severe when it occurs in riding horses.

Melissa McKee DVM


Gap Between Shoe and Hoof

I have had my new horse shod three times in the past 13 weeks. He keeps losing shoes after only four weeks, and the blacksmith resets him each time he comes. I just had him shod the other day and there is a visible gap between the shoe and the wall of the foot. This gap starts from just past the middle of the toe, and extends to the outside quarter. The foot has no cracks, or chips and appears to be healthy. Are these gaps likely to cause me a problem?

I would ask your farrier if he intentionally forged the shoe and trimmed the foot in order to create a small space there. This is a common technique that is used to address an imbalanced hoof, jammed heel, or ease pressure on a quarter crack. For obvious reasons, it is called “floating the heel” and is usually an effective way to safely and gradually correct problems. Unfortunately, this little gap is a handy spot to catch with the hind toe, leading to pulled shoes especially when they are coming due for a trim and the toes are getting long. This type of gap does not occur by accident when the shoe is applied by a knowledgeable farrier, so I am sure if you ask he or she will be able to explain why they chose to fit the shoe in this manner. This would also be a chance to discuss the shoe pulling problem- some horses with healthy fast-growing hooves need to be reset more frequently, and perhaps a set of sturdy bellboots would reduce the issue in between visits.

Melissa McKee DVM