Equine hoof problems are a major source of concern for horse owners. Hoof issues can lead to lameness and unsoundness, causing discomfort for the horse and potentially leading to early retirement.

In one study, 85% of horses were observed to have at least one form of hoof disorder when examined during regular hoof trimming. [7] In this study, 95.6% of horses were either stalled or housed in small paddocks, which can affect hoof pathology. [7]

Thrush was the most common hoof disease, followed by hoof wall cracks, growth rings, bruising, white line disease and laminitis.

The equine hoof is comprised of multiple structures and tissues that function in collaboration with each other to enable movement of the foot.

Multiple factors including trimming and shoeing practices, environmental conditions, nutritional status, and metabolic health affect the quality and integrity of the equine hoof.

Many hoof problems are preventable with a good nutrition plan and proper equine management practices. In this article, we will review seven common hoof issues in horses and discuss ways to help keep your horse’s hooves healthy.

To support your horse’s hoof health, submit their information online for a complementary review by our equine nutritionists.

Anatomy of the Horse’s Hoof

The outermost layer of the hoof structure is comprised of a hard wall that protects the inner tissues including the laminae (laminar layers) of the foot.

The white line is located between the hoof wall and the sole of the foot and represents the visible part of the laminar layers within the equine foot.

The insensitive laminar layers of the hoof connect to the inside face of the hoof wall. The sensitive laminar layers are the innermost layers of the laminae. They are filled with blood vessels and connect to the coffin bone, the foundation of the hoof.

Here is a brief overview of the external and internal structures of the hoof:

Healthy Horse Hoof Anatomy | Mad Barn Canada
Equine Hoof Anatomy Graphic | Mad Barn Canada

Common Hoof Problems in Horses

The equine hoof is vulnerable to a multitude of problems ranging from minor to life-threatening. Some of the most common problems that can affect the equine hoof include:

  • Abscesses
  • Thrush and other infections
  • Septic arthritis (joint infection)
  • Hoof bruises, punctures, and corns
  • Hoof wall cracks
  • White Line Disease (Seedy toe) or white line widening
  • Laminitis
  • Founder
  • Navicular Syndrome (Palmar Hoof Syndrome)
  • Bone cysts
  • Fractures
  • Pedal osteitis
  • Cankers or overgrowths
  • Contracted heels
  • Keratoma
  • Frog cancer

Below we explain seven of these common hoof problems in horses in further detail.

1) Abscess

A common cause of sudden and severe lameness, a hoof abscess develops when bacterial or fungal organisms enter the structure through a wound or opening and cause a subsequent infection in the inner tissues. [1][2][3]

The invading microorganisms generate purulent exudate which causes pressure to increase inside the hoof, resulting in extreme pain and lameness in the horse.

Hoof Abscess in Horses | Mad Barn Canada

Hoof abscesses are most likely to occur during the wettest seasons of the year including the spring and winter, although they can occur at any time. All horses can be affected by hoof abscesses.

Typical symptoms associated with a hoof abscess include variable degrees of lameness depending on the severity of the infection, a pounding digital pulse, and the presence of heat and swelling in the foot. [4] Not all of these symptoms need to be present to suspect a hoof abscess.

If left untreated, the symptoms of an abscess can worsen and potentially lead to permanent damage of the foot or cause sepsis of important internal structures. [5]

Diagnosis & Treatment

Hoof abscesses are diagnosed by visually inspecting the affected hoof and using hoof testers to determine the sites at which pain is present. In some cases, taking radiographs of the hoof is necessary to locate the site of the abscess within the foot. [6]

A critical factor in treating all hoof abscesses is ensuring proper drainage from the site of the abscess in the hoof. [2] A veterinarian and or farrier may need to be involved in the treatment of abscesses where proper drainage is not present.

Poultices and drawing ointments such as ichthammol are commonly used to promote drainage from a hoof abscess. Once drainage occurs, affected horses typically experience significant pain relief.

During the healing process, an antiseptic treatment such as betadine or two percent iodine should be applied to the drainage tract of a hoof abscess. Medicated putty may also be used within the drainage tract to ensure microorganisms cannot re-enter the hoof.

Horses being treated for an abscess should be housed in a clean, dry area, such as a well-bedded stall or small paddock. During treatment, bandages should be removed and ch