By Your Horse
06 January 2012 09:36
Hooves take a hammering in winter time. First a prolonged wet spell softens the feet, then if followed by a cold snap, the hard rutty fields will cause bruising or even possibly ligament and tendon strain.
In winter most vets see at least two or three ‘pus-in-the-foot’ cases every week. A bruise under a soggy sole provides the perfect growing environment for bacteria, resulting in the formation of pus. As pressure builds up, your horse becomes so lame you may worry he has a fracture. The tell-tale signs are an acute, hopping lameness in one leg, a hot foot and a bounding digital pulse. Practise feeling for a digital pulse on your horse to help you recognise when it’s abnormally strong (see panel opposite).
Vets use hoof-testers to locate the pus. The sole or hoof wall is pared away to allow pus to drain, which often brings instant relief. The foot should then be poulticed to further draw the pus. Change the poultice once daily and keep the hoof covered until the sole has grown over any defect. ‘Hot-tubbing’ daily also helps to draw out pus and disinfect the hoof. Do this by placing the foot in a shallow bucket of warm water containing a strong solution of table salt with Epsom salts.
Generally vets try to avoid antibiotics for a foot abscess as they tend to suppress rather than cure the problem and so prolong recovery time. However, antibiotics may be prescribed if the leg becomes swollen with cellulitis. Bear in mind that foot abscesses are the perfect environment for the bacteria responsible for tetanus and so your horse will need an anti-tetanus shot at the same time.
If a horse stands in a mudbath outside and on dirty, wet bedding inside, thrush may take a hold. This is a foul-smelling bacterial or fungal infection involving the frog and its clefts. The frog becomes crumbly with a thick grey or black ooze. This is often seen in cob-types in particular but can affect any horse, especially those with contracted heels and deep clefts.
Treatment involves removing the diseased areas which can be done by your farrier or vet, to reveal the healthy frog. The area should then be treated with a strong iodine solution or antibiotic spray. If foot conformation predisposes your horse to thrush, make sure you clean all the nooks and crannies regularly then plug them with astringent Stockholm tar to help prevent a recurrence.
In winter, pay scrupulous attention to the health of your horse’s hooves. If your horse is kept on deep litter, make sure the top layer is always clean and dry. Pick hooves out at least once daily – thick mud left in the foot can harbour stones and bruise the soles. If the soles are very soft, try painting a hoof hardener on them. Regular routine farriery will keep the hoof in a strong shape and pick up early warning signs
of impending hoof disease.
Although more common in spring, laminitis can rear its ugly head in winter too. If your horse is susceptible because he’s already overweight or has suffered laminitis before, be very cautious of grazing him on frosty grass. This is high in a soluble sugar called fructans, which is known to cause laminitis. Grass stores fructans when there has been a cold, frosty night followed by a bright sunny day. Once thawed, the grass is safer to eat so avoid grazing your horse until the thaw. If this is not possible, fence him into a smaller enclosure and make sure you put out plenty of good hay to tempt him away from the grass.
An episode of laminitis is a veterinary emergency. Affected horses shift from foot to foot, are reluctant to move or pick up the feet and lean back on their hindquarters. The feet may feel hot with bounding digital pulses. If you suspect laminitis, immediately remove him from the pasture to a stable with deep bedding up to the door. Your vet will advise on the best treatment. Full recovery from a single bout of laminitis can take weeks to months. Every year we still lose many horses to this horrifying condition and so prevention is always better than cure.