Hoof abscesses are a pain, literally. Epson salt is a great way of treating them effectively.
Hoof abscesses can be scary. The horse is often hopping lame. The hoof will usually be hot and there may be a strong digital pulse present at the fetlock. The abscess (pus in foot) will need to come out somehow to alleviate the horses pain and discomfort.
I have found epsom salt to be an effective and efficient way of treating hoof abscesses. Recently my 3 year old gelding had a hoof abscess to my horror as it was the begining of the week and we had a show at the weekend. After a few days of treating with epsom salt, he was sound again, the abscess was gone and we were able to go to the show. We came away with 3 first rosettes showing in hand.
If I had used the poultice previously recommended by a vet, we would not have been ready for the show. After another vet recommended the epsom salt, I will never use anything else.
With a hoof abscess, the pus needs to be released somewhere. I always call my farrier (the farrier is cheaper than the vet and also good at diagnosing lameness). He will usually locate the abscess and dig away the part of the hoof. If not it may find its way out of the corronet band.
It is possible to soak the hoof in hot water (not too hot) for 10 minutes at a time. This will help to draw the pus from the hoof. Whilst this can be succesful, there are two reasons why I would prefer to use a dressing. Firstly not all horses are prepared to stand with their hoof in warm water for a period of time. It can be very frustrating first of all getting them to put their hoof in the water. You may think you have success when they eventually put their foot in. It is even more exasperating then when they snatch their hoof out of the water and move away quickly, invariably knocking it over.
Secondly too much soaking in water can soften the hoof. Soft hooves can be a problem that may encourage abscesses. If the hooves have small cracks in or are soft, objects can work their way in resulting in an abscess. This does not remove the value of soaking the hoof in warm water and epsom salt to treat an abscess. It just means that care needs to be taken not to do it for too long.
Epsom salts and iodine are a great way of dressing the hoof to draw out the pus. When using this method I will first ensure that the hoof is clean. I will then cut gamgee to size, hoof size. I then prepare a mixture of epsom salt and iodine. This forms a paste. I tend to apply this to the sole of the hoof, packing some into the hole. I then spread some more on the bottom of the hoof shaped gamgee and apply to the hoof. I will then wrap some more gamgee around to protect the hoof. To keep this in place I will then wrap duct tape around the entire hoof, ensuring that there is a bit of gamgee underneath.
I prefer to keep the horse stabled for a few days whilst I am treating an abscess. The dressing will remain in place and it will be clear of mud. Duct tape is great anyway at providing a barrier, I just find it a bit easier. I change the dressing once in the morning and once in the evening. I only do this for 3 days maximum which is the recommended time to prevent softening of the hoof too much. I usually find that 3 days is more than enough. The epsom salt and iodine is so good at removing the pus that it is not necessary to continue any longer.
Some people chose to use poultice boots to use iodine and epsom salt to secure a hoof dressing. Others use nappies or diapers. It is personal preference and finding what works the best.
Hoof abscesses are not pleasant. The hoof is not the easiest place to dress. However I am confident since discovering epsom salt that I will be able to treat an abscess succesfully.