Photo Credit: Neil Townsend MSc BVSc MRCVS, Three Counties Equine Hospital
Penetrating hoof injuries, although relatively uncommon in horses, can cause severe damage to the internal structures of the hoof causing permanent and severe lameness. Nails and screws are usually the main cause. If a horse has suffered any penetrating wound, a vet should be contacted immediately.
The degree of lameness presented by a horse with a hoof penetration injury varies depending on the location, how deep the object is and the amount of time it’s been embedded. Most commonly, the horse won’t be able to put any weight on the affected hoof, and can appear “hopping” lame. The opposite limb may also be swollen due to carrying the additional weight.
Ideally, the offending object must be left in place and the leg supported with a bandage while a vet is called. With the object still in place, further investigations such as x-rays can help establish the extent of damage to the internal structures of the hoof. Structures that are potentially affected include the pedal bone, navicular bursa, the digital tendon sheath and the deep digital flexor tendon.
Appropriate and rapid veterinary action allows treatment to be given before any infection develops and can greatly improve the outcome. Less severe penetrations can be removed by a vet and are often treated by cutting away damaged tissue, bandaging and poulticing. Antibiotics may be given, and careful use of pain relief made without masking signs of any deteriorating lameness. This type of injury is a recognised risk factor for tetanus, so it’s vital to make sure that your horse’s tetanus vaccination is up to date1.
Objects penetrating a synovial cavity, for example the navicular bursa, carry a more guarded outcome and require surgery to clear out debris and flush out contamination2.
Some penetrations may not be so obvious — for example, when the object has come out of the hoof on its own and the horse isn’t showing any signs of lameness. In this instance it’s important to routinely monitor for signs of infection. If you’re worried phone your vet — they may ask you to send them photos.
To prevent penetration injuries, pick out feet regularly and check for any objects. Keep fields and yards clear of rubbish and clear up well after replacing fencing or making repairs. Sweep up well after the farrier has seen your horse, in case any nails have gone astray (if shod).
1. XL Vets Equine. (2019) Penetrating Foot Wounds.
2. J. A. Findley et al. (2013). Outcome of horses with synovial structure involvement following solar foot penetrations in four UK veterinary hospitals: 95 cases. Equine Veterinary Journal ISSN 0425-1644
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