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Managing Horse Hoof Wounds

Managing Horse Hoof Wounds
By Hoof Care, Hoof
Four types of hoof wounds and how to treat them
A horse’s hoof, with its solid exterior, can appear impenetrable to the uninitiated. But wounds do occur at various depths and severities in the hoof and surrounding tissues, and they can be challenging to treat. They lie close to the ground, with all its various contaminants, and the injured structures are constantly in motion. Key to resolving hoof wounds is cleaning them appropriately, relaying information about them to your veterinarian and getting them assessed, and managing the lesion carefully until it resolves. In some cases, not following the right protocol can mean long-term struggles with lameness.
Here are four types of hoof injuries and how to manage them.
But First: Clean and Examine
Upon discovering a hoof wound, the first step is to clean it enough to determine the extent of the injury. If the hoof capsule is intact or a puncture is not yet open, Andrew Parks, MA, Vet MB, MRCVS, Dipl. ACVS, head of the Department of Large Animal Medicine at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine, in Athens, suggests using a wire brush to remove debris.
“A wire brush is too traumatic for underlying and exposed soft tissue, so it’s best to pursue other cleaning methods in those cases,” he says.
Next, use a soft fiber scrub brush to further clean the surface so you can get a better look at the insult.
Ray Randall, DVM, of Bridger Veterinary Clinic, in Montana, sees many lower leg and hoof wounds caked in mud and manure. For these he suggests using a water hose for initial cleaning: “It’s best not to use the nozzle, as that amount of water pressure can drive contamination deeper into the wound. Once the bulk of debris is removed, scrub the hoof with tamed iodine or chlorhexidine scrub, and rinse well.”
On the whole, says Parks, “the hoof is the skin of the foot so, with respect to how the tissues heal, whatever is done to wounds of the skin elsewhere is likely to be appropriate for the foot.”
Randall emphasizes the importance of understanding basic lower limb anatomy terms (see before a hoof emergency happens, so you can help your veterinarian grasp the problem at hand when it does.
“Communicate a succinct description of the wound to your veterinarian,” says Randall. “Follow up with a photo sent by e-mail or text so your vet can determine the urgency for (tending) to the horse.”
After a thorough physical exam of the hoof, your veterinarian might deem some hoof injuries, such as a mild overreach injury of a heel bulb or the hoof wall broken out near old nail holes, less serious than others and unlikely to have a harmful long-term effect.
“Mild abrasions of the hoof capsule or coronary band that never reach underlying layers tend to heal quickly with little intervention other than routine cleaning,” says Parks.
1. Broken Hoof Wall
As the hoof wall grows down and out, the foot might prune itself on the ground and hard surfaces, causing pieces to break off. Or, the horse pulls a shoe, resulting in the same. “A lot of hoof wall can be missing, yet a horse does just fine,” says Randall.
“As long as a piece of hoof wall that pulls away with the shoe is confined to the hoof capsule (and not compromising the tissue above or within it), it usually grows out normally,” adds Parks. “It may be a nuisance that needs patching until the wall has grown down.”
Farriers can choose from various products to patch hoof wall defects. However, “it’s important to consult your veterinarian before a farrier applies a hoof patch,” Randall says. “A deep defect that involves laminar tissue might harbor bacteria that fester when sealed beneath a hoof patch.”
Make sure exposed soft tissues have begun to keratinize (harden) before placing a patch, Randall says. Remove the patch if your horse becomes lame suddenly.
If the missing hoof wall involves underlying dermis (the layer beneath the outer hoof horn) or subcutaneous (beneath the skin) or even deeper tissues, apply a bandage (see page 40) and allow the wound to heal with granulation (scar) tissue and epithelialization (skin or hoof horn replacing granulation), says Parks.
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