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Are abscesses obvious to diagnose?

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  • Are abscesses obvious to diagnose?

    I will start off by saying I do have my vet coming out this afternoon, so I'm not looking to treat something by merely guessing, however, I'm curious about abscesses and crossing my fingers that is what we are dealing with.

    My question is do horses always come up 3-legged lame with an abscess or can there be varying degrees of lameness? I have no experience with them at all. My horse is slightly off at the trot and there is some heat/slight swelling above her hind fetlock. My friends are thinking abscess just based on the symptoms and the wet weather we have been having. I'm scared it's something more serious.

    I will do a search here for other threads on this topic, but thought it couldn't hurt to ask this question.

    Proud owner of a Slaughter-Bound TB from a feedlot, and her surprise baby...!

  • #2
    There can be varying degrees of lameness- I have had horses that by looking at them they certainly had a broken leg, I have also had ones that were just a bit off however that progressed in to dead lame till it popped. Personally I have never had an abscess that was not "easy" to diagnose. The hoof tester usually tells the story...
    That being said, you said she is off on a back leg? I have never had an abscess in a hind hoof.


    • #3
      One of my horses had an abcess on her right hind hoof in December. Most of the time abcesses make them so lame you think they have a broken leg, but sometimes they present in a more subtle manner. My horse ended up having a big abcess in there, but she was only slightly off and had some mild swelling around the fetlock. When the vet put the hoof testers on that spot she definitely let him know he was in the right area. Good luck with your horse, hope it is a simple abcess.
      Last edited by onthebit; Feb. 13, 2010, 02:57 PM. Reason: spelling
      Blogging about daily life on the retirement farm: http://paradigmfarms.blogspot.com/
      Paradigm Farms on Facebook


      • Original Poster

        Originally posted by onthebit View Post
        Good luck with your horse, hope it is a simple abcess.
        Me too, thanks!!
        Proud owner of a Slaughter-Bound TB from a feedlot, and her surprise baby...!


        • #5
          I've had horses that have had abscess blow outs that never took a lame step prior to or after the abscess blew. I've had them 3 legged lame, to just a bit off. It really varies. Sometimes heat, sometimes no heat. Sometimes the leg will swell. My farrier says he's seen the entire leg swell from bad abscesses.

          Any time they are 'off' and presenting pain in the hoof, I suspect an abscess now. But only because the past year has been the wettest I can remember. After not dealing with any abscesses for the last 10-12 years and suddenly dealing with 5 abscesses on 4 different horses all in the last 6 months, yep, I suspect abscesses now. I hate this rain and I hate the mud. I've had more hoof problems since last August than I have in all of my 25+ years of owning horses. Ridiculous.


          • #6
            I think it totally depends. My horse was getting frequent abscesses for awhile. The first few times I always called the vet. I suspected it to be an abscess every time. I always worry about the much worse alternatives that present like an abscess. (Fractured coffin bone for example.)

            Each time the vet has proved to be worthless. Charges me $300 to pull a shoe, feel around, and use hoof testers just to tell me, probable abscess but you should x-ray.

            My farrier told me every time it was an abscess and was usually right about the location.

            So, the short of it is when I suspect and abscess I start treatment. If it goes on too long I call the farrier before I call the vet.

            I also watch a woman spend god only knows how much on an abscess. The vet was out for months digging, x raying, you name it. I think she told the owner the horse had a deep bruise at one point. Needless to say, it was just an abscess.

            Just my experience.


            • #7
              Last spring, one of our clients' horses went a little lame. He wasn't 3 legged but he was just not right. We started with all the obvious stuff. Hoof testers? No reaction. No heat in any foot. No swelling anywhere. It was not looking good. He went off to the vet for a lameness exam and left them scratching their heads (I want to say we blocked a foot, but nothing came of it, but the details are foggy now). Long story short, he ended up getting a front end bone scan (thankfully his owner could afford it and has a "do what needs to be done" mentality when it comes to his horses). It was a freaking abscess! He was SO stoic and it was not presenting like an abscess at all. We were extra cautious with him, as there was concern that the infection had spread to the coffin bone (there was some unusual uptake in the bone). Thankfully, it never did and he was right as rain a week later. That was an expensive abscess! He has since abscess once more, and while we had a few more clues (more heat and a little sensitive to hoof testers) he was still only a little off.

              Some horses are very stoic. Some abscesses never cause any issues. Some present very oddly. Usually they are very cut and dry (lame, sensitive to hoof testers and lots of heat and digital pulse), but occasionally they are a real pain in the ass.


              • #8
                I'd say no. My horse was NQR for a couple of weeks. Took him to the vet for a lameness exam since there was no heat in the hoof. One week later an abcess appeared. It took 3 weeks to show up. It was a pretty bad abcess that blew out the coronary band and the bottom of his hoof. It took about a year to grow completely out. He was off for about 2 months.

                We asked the vet several times if he could be an abcess. He said no. This abcess definitely fell in the PITA category.
                Last edited by yankeeclipper; Feb. 14, 2010, 07:19 PM.
                \"You have two choices when a defining moment comes along - you can either define the moment, or let the moment define you.\" Tin Cup


                • #9
                  A local horsewoman was advertising a very nice horse as a giveaway because she believed it had a soft tissue injury and didn't want to spend the money on a vet, figuring the horse didn't have much of a future. Previously, the horse had hunter-paced, foxhunted, team penned, you name it - a real all-around 10 yo QH gelding. A family I know felt bad for the horse and decided to give it a home, because the horse was such a lovebug, he could be a pasture pet if worse came to worse. As they took him off the trailer when arriving at their farm, the abscess broke. He's been fine ever since and now has a 12 year old girl who loves and appreciates him.


                  • #10
                    The first time my mare came up with an abscess was about a month or so after I bought her. She was coming four.

                    She presented with an awkward swinging of the hind leg and jogged with an obvious hitch. We were all thinking she had whacked her hip on something or pulled a muscle in her hind end. Stall rest made it worse (which fit with the pulled muscle theory), so we turned her out and gave her a few days off. Three or four days after the initial symptoms, she popped out an abscess at her coronary band.

                    She started doing the awkward hind leg swinging again about three weeks ago and I went ahead and treated it like it was an abscess ... sure enough, a few days of soaking/doing a poultice boot, and we had an abscess come out the side of her frog.

                    She's also blown a few out her heel bulbs and never showed any signs of lameness, though sometimes she will drag the toe of the affected hind foot more.

                    She has never been three-legged lame with any of them, and she has presented with her abscesses differently than any other horse I've seen. There's usually little or no swelling in the affected limb.

                    But then my mare is proving to be rather "speshul," so I'm not sure how much consideration you should give my experiences with her, lol. She doesn't seem to go for the "textbook" approach to illnesses/injuries.
                    Full-time bargain hunter.


                    • #11
                      In the past few years I've gotten a pretty good feel about when a horse is abscessing. I'm a trimmer, and based on the way the horse moves and puts his feet down, I can often tell where the darn thing will pop.

                      I have had a few horses who were not sensitive to hoof testers later pop abscesses. The hoof testers are only as good as the person using them, and I can't say I've developed very good skills with them. Sometimes the area of sensitivity is very obvious, but not always. I can't tell if it is a case of "operator error" on my part, or if the abscess had already moved up and away from the sole.

                      Also, frog abscesses seem to come on suddenly and resolve just as suddenly. If you miss the eruption, you might not even realize it had happened. Later, when I'm trimming, I'll often see signs that the horse had had an abscess that the owner was not aware of.

                      To it varies tremendously from the horse looking like it has broken his leg to just being subtly off and uneven, to not showing any signs at all.

                      When it doubt, treat for an abscess while you are waiting for the vet. While I've gotten a good feel for when the horse is abscessing as opposed to a different cause of lameness, I cannot diagnose. That's veterinary territory. My clients usually take a wait and see attitude, and so far, when I suspect an abscess, it has turned out to be one.

                      There are other times when I've thought it wasn't an abscess, but the vet did, and the vet was right.
                      "Passion without knowledge is a runaway horse."


                      • #12
                        ditto on what everyone else has said. It's all over the map.

                        I've had abscesses that were "invisible" until the farrier came -- one horse has done that three times -- never lame.

                        Last time he abscessed, though, I came out to find a hot swollen leg all the way to his KNEE, very lame. Yikes! But...yup, abscess.

                        Other horse had one which presented as a very, very mild come and go uneven stride...finally seemed persistent enough that it was worth calling the vet. That day he was three legged lame (I know, this never happens), and pus started pouring out the nail hole when she took his shoe off.

                        If it is sudden onset, seems to be in the hoof, and possibly comes and goes, bute has no effect, stall rest has no effect, it's at least a worthy candidate for an abscess. It's nice when they have a pulse and are sensitive to hoof testers, but...
                        The big man -- my lost prince

                        The little brother, now my main man


                        • #13
                          So what was it?