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Injuries and Diseases of the Hoof I: Wall and Sole Cracks Disclaimer
Professor RR Pascoe AM, DVSc. FRCVS. FACVS
Cracks or splits in the hoof wall can result from drying out of the hooves with cracks from the ground surface up the wall, or lacerations to the coronary band with a 'fault line' crack that grows down the wall. Wide, flared out edges, or poorly fitted shoes, can also cause the hoof to crack where the forces are concentrated on the edge of the hoof wall.

Superficial cracks   Top
Superficial cracks usually indicate a dried out wall and are not often associated with lameness. Uncomplicated superficial cracks of the wall are treated by dressing the feet early with a mix of 50% Neatsfoot (or horse foot) oil and 50% Stockholm tar.

Deeper cracks on the toe or quarter are treated by several methods, depending on the availability of shoes, farrier and the severity of the injury.

Deep cracks   Top
Deep cracks with pressure on the sensitive laminae may cause lameness. Haemorrhage or purulent discharging sinuses and foci with movement of the wall have serious implications. Horses usually display lameness after exercise. Cracks may extend into the sensitive laminae.

Coronary band injuries are a common cause of clinically significant secondary cracks and horn defects. They become serious if they are extensive and when they have nearly grown out at the solar margin. Where the crack exudes blood or pus after exercise, pain and lameness can occur.

Sole cracks   Top
These are caused by a combination of excessive drying of the sole and standing on rocks or other hard objects in paddock or grazing horses. Diagnosis of sole cracks is sometimes more demanding. Lameness may be the first indicator of a problem. The extent of the crack and/or depth may be determined with a hoof tester applied before and after work. Discoloured horn and the actual line of crack may only be visible after careful paring of the entire sole.

Heel cracks   Top
Heel cracks usually have three fairly distinct causes:

  • Unshod foot has a wall tear (avulsion) usually at the heel
  • Coronet injury leading to a persistent defect in the coronary band and so to a wall deficit
  • Bearing-surface injuries occur more frequently from poor heel support and where the angle of the heel becomes more and more acute tearing of the laminae occurs

  • General treatment considerations   Top
  • Brittle and weak horn have both been improved by prolonged continuous feeding of biotin at 15-20 mg/day
  • Foot balance and regular farriery are very important at any stage in the development of a crack
  • It is important to ensure that the crack is not a secondary manifestation of a seedy toe area
  • All horses with suspected foot or skin penetrations should receive tetanus boosters
  • Treatments that involve the sensitive laminae often require regional anaesthesia. The wall of the fissure should be gently debrided using an electric burr and very sharp, fine hoof knives. Repair can be undertaken in two ways:
    1. Wire sutures can be placed across the wall defect and the whole area (plus sutures) filled with synthetic hoof resin material
    2. Synthetic hoof resin fills the debrided fissure and then place 2-3 layers of fibreglass cloth fastened with 10 mm self-tapping screws over the defect and completely cover with acrylic. Where any haemorrhage occurs the filler should not be used for 48 hours to allow sealing of the blood vessels in the area - abscesses may otherwise occur under the resin.

    Treatment and repair of heel cracks   Top
  • The damaged horn can be stripped off with shoeing pincers
  • The loosened wall is torn upwards, outwards and backwards
  • Tranquillizers and digital nerve blocks can be used but are often unnecessary. A twitch is usually the only restraint needed
  • Apply antibiotic powder to any area showing excessive haemorrhage and bandage
  • With larger cracks or with horses in training, a bar shoe may be used to protect the remaining wall from further injury after removal of the quarter
  • The stripped area can be repaired with a synthetic filler once it has dried out and is free of infection or necrotic tissue (14 - 21 days)

  • Treatment and repair of sole cracks   Top
  • Carefully pare out all discoloured horn until pin-point haemorrhage appears
  • Less severe cases will respond to daily dressing of the sole with 5% phenol.
  • More severely infected cases can be difficult to treat. The entire sole area may have to be stripped. Where this has occurred, the foot should be examined and dressed daily with antibiotic and metronidazole (or 4% povidone iodine-soaked swabs) to control infection
  • The area is covered with a steel or polypropylene treatment plate bolted onto the shoe.

    Professor Reginald Pascoe AM, BVSc. MVSc. DVSc. FRCVS FACVSc is an Equine Specialist and principal of Oakey Veterinary Hospital in Queensland. His research has covered many aspects of equine related problems and he currently holds four Veterinary Association and industry awards for veterinarians in his honour. More

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