Treating pus in the foot


Foot pain is one of the commonest causes of lameness in the horse. The most frequent cause of foot pain is pus in the hoof, which is properly called a sub-solar abscess. This is particularly common during a wet winter, when moisture, dirt and bacteria track up through tiny cracks in the hoof. Infection then rapidly develops, with a build-up of pus within the confines of the hoof, which is extremely painful for the horse.

What to look for

In the early stages of an infection there may only be a slight lameness. However, this condition may progress to the point at which the horse is so sore, it will not put
the foot to the ground – it is literally hopping lame.

Other signs include:

  • Increased heat in the foot – the affected hoof may feel hotter than the others

  • Increased pulse – feel it at the side of the fetlock
  • Pain and discomfort
  • Swelling up the leg, which may be mistaken for a tendon injury
  • Pus discharging from the coronary band. If the abscess is not drained from the bottom of the foot, it will often burst out from the coronary band

What you should do

If you suspect your horse has pus in his foot due to an infection, you should contact your vet or farrier to attend to him as soon as possible. The cure is to drain the abscess, which will often involve removing the shoe. Once the abscess has been located and the pus drained out, the foot will begin to heal.

The degree of lameness should improve rapidly within 12-24 hours after the abscess has been opened and the pus drained out. If the lameness does not improve, this may indicate a more serious problem, which will require further extensive investigations.

To encourage the abscess to drain completely, put a poultice on the foot, and keep it in place with a bandage. You should avoid poulticing around the coronary band, because a hot poultice will burn the skin, and because it is best to encourage the infection to drain downwards rather than burst open at the coronary band.

Ongoing treatment

Once the abscess has drained, you should clean the whole foot. Sometimes soaking the foot in a tub of warm water with a little table salt or Epsom salts will help to clean it, as well as easing the pain.

Your vet or farrier will advise you on how to clean the actual area of the abscess. It may need to be flushed with hydrogen peroxide or other antiseptic solution to reduce the infection.

It is important that the foot is kept poulticed, or protected with a clean dressing, until it has healed sufficiently to prevent further dirt entering the area of damage and reinfecting the foot. Sometimes you can pack the hole made by the abscess with cotton wool soaked in an antiseptic foot spray until it has healed.

Keep the horse in clean, dry conditions until the hole is completely healed, when the hoof may be re-shod. It is best to keep the horse stabled until he has recovered, particularly while the hoof is bandaged.

  • For tips on the best way to bandage the hoof see the February issue of HORSE magazine.


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  • Originally published on

    Treating pus in the foot


    Pus in the foot is a common cause of sudden lameness. It occurs when an infection develops inside the hoof, normally due to a small puncture wound. In prolonged wet weather moisture, dirt and bacteria can track up through the hoof starting an infection. The build up of pus inside the hoof can be extremely painful.

    Signs to look for

    Slight lameness will be seen in the early stages, which can develop into the horse being unable to take any weight on the infected foot.

    Other signs include:

    • increased heat in the foot
    • increased pulse in the foot
    • the horse looking uncomfortable and as if he’s in pain
    • swelling of the leg – this may be mistaken for a tendon injury
    • In the later stages pus will discharge from the coronary band

    Treating pus in the foot

    If you suspect your horse has pus in the foot, call your vet or farrier as soon as possible. The abscess will need to be drained by the vet or farrier, who will par away the hoof with a hoof knife until reaching the abscess. This normally involves removing the shoe.

    Once the abscess is open and able to drain, the whole foot should be cleaned, according to your vet or farrier’s instructions. These may include:

    • Soaking the foot in a tub of warm water with table or Epsom salts
    • Flushing the wound with hydrogen peroxide or an antiseptic
    • Regular politicing to draw out any remaining pus

    It is vital that any horse with pus in the foot has up-to-date tetanus protection. The horse should be kept stabled with the hoof bandaged to prevent further contamination of the wound until it has completely healed.

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    Originally published on