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Hoof Bruising with Dr. Luke Wells-Smith

This article is from the November 2020 Horse Deals magazine.

Hoof bruising is a common occurrence in the horse and can be associated with lameness. This article aims to describe the different types of hoof bruising that we can see in our horses.

What is hoof bruising?

The function of the hoof capsule which is made up of the wall, sole and frog, is to protect the underlying sensitive tissue surrounding the pedal bone. This sensitive tissue is known as the corium and is made up of blood vessels and nerves. The corium is also responsible for hoof growth i.e. the coronary corium produces the hoof wall and the solar corium produces the sole and frog.

Bruising occurs, like in any other part of the body, when blood vessels are damaged, causing blood to leak out into the surrounding tissue. Damage to the corium can occur from blunt trauma such as kicking out or standing on something hard or an inflammatory reaction such as a foot abscess or laminitis.

An abscess which could later show up as bruising of the hoof wall in a non-pigmented hoof

An abscess which could later show up as bruising of the hoof wall in a non-pigmented hoof

When the corium is damaged, blood leaks out into the hoof capsule and becomes ingrained in the wall, frog or sole. This is a very important fact as it helps us to determine when the bruising occurred.

For example, if a horse stood on a rock and the underlying solar corium was damaged, would you expect to see the bruising right way? No — because at the time the damage occurred all we could see is healthy sole. The bruising will show when the sole that was closest to the corium at the time of the damage has grown out towards the ground surface. The sole, like hoof wall, can grow at approximately 8-10mm per month. Now depending on the sole depth at the time of the injury, you may not see the bruising show up for 6-8 weeks.

Another factor that reduces our ability to see bruising is the pigmentation of the hoof capsule. It is far more difficult to see hoof bruising in a black, pigmented hoof than a white, non-pigmented hoof. Commonly we see white hooves with rings of hoof wall bruising associated with inflammatory events such as laminitis or a hoof abscess. This is much more difficult to see in the horse with a black hoof - but it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

A condition that is associated with hoof bruising are corns. Corns are essentially damage and bruising to the bars of the hoof. They typically occur in horses with a low/flat heel angle and a collapsed digital cushion.

Hoof wall bruising

Hoof wall bruising

Can hoof bruising cause lameness?

In short - yes, but not as common as you may think. Hoof bruising is a common occurrence, even in the healthy hoof. As mentioned, the hoof capsule is designed to take hard knocks and occasionally this causes bruises.

When hoof bruising causes lameness is when the horse has poor hoof health. In particular, when a horse has minimal hoof depth, the ability of the hoof capsule to protect the underlying corium is compromised. This results in inflammation and pain, which in turn causes lameness. Depending on how little hoof depth the horse has, will determine the severity of the lameness. For example, a horse with a very thin sole that stood on a sharp rock may have a very obvious lameness and take some time for the lameness to resolve. The hoof needs to produce new sole to protect the area.

Other causes of hoof bruising such as a hoof abscess or an episode of laminitis, may take many weeks to months to resolve depending on the severity.

Solar bruising caused by a chronic laminitic episode

Solar bruising caused by a chronic laminitic episode

White line bruising in a horse with minimal hoof depth

White line bruising in a horse with minimal hoof depth

A low heel angle increases the likelihood of heel bruising

A low heel angle increases the likelihood of heel bruising

How can we treat hoof bruising?

If the hoof bruise is associated with a blunt trauma, providing protection such as a boot can help alleviate some of the pain in the initial phase. In some cases, particularly if the bruise is severe and associated with a large degree of underlying corium inflammation, a wet poultice may be required to expand the hoof capsule and allow the swelling to subside.

As with many hoof bruises, it can be associated with poor hoof health and minimal hoof depth. To improve these cases, we need to allow the hoof to grow. To help determine the current status of hoof health and hoof depth, hoof x-rays can be very helpful. From there, recommendations around how best to improve hoof depth and protect the hoof in the short-medium term are important. As the hoof starts to grow, we can unload areas of focal bruising by using shoes like a heartbar to shift load to the frog, particularly in the case of a heel or bar bruise.

In conclusion, hoof bruising is a common occurrence in the horse. If you maintain your horse with adequate hoof health and depth, hoof bruising will rarely cause lameness. In horses with minimal hoof depth, bruising is more likely to cause lameness and this lameness may persist for a long period of time or reoccur.

Luke is a veterinary podiatrist providing a high level of service to the Australasian horse industry through affiliated veterinary practices and an online consultancy portal. Luke is the founder of Motion Equine Podiatry Consulting and is available by appointment in multiple locations along the east coast of Australia.

Luke is a veterinary podiatrist providing a high level of service to the Australasian horse industry through affiliated veterinary practices and an online consultancy portal. Luke is the founder of Motion Equine Podiatry Consulting and is available by appointment in multiple locations along the east coast of Australia.

luke.wellssmith@gmail.com | www.motionepc.com.au


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