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Shari Frederick ask Holistic Horse
abscess on a horse belly
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Moxabustion for skin abscess
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Plum Blossom Hammer Belly Abscess
An abscess is the body’s response to an infection or invasion of a foreign object. Abscesses can be found just about anywhere on or inside a horse's body. Among the alternative treatments for abscesses are Traditional Chinese Medicine, homeopathy, cold laser therapy, and essential oils.
Quite simply, an abscess is a pocket of dead neutrophils: dead tissue and white blood cells called pus that the body has walled off to prevent the spread of infectious materials to other parts of the body. The key signs of an abscess are heat and inflammation, swelling, and pain.
An erupted abscess allows toxins to drain, releasing pressure and reducing tenderness in the area. Drainage promotes healing. An abscess that constantly drains is called a fistula.
Always take an abscess seriously. Clean the area daily. Watch for thickening green mucous, foul odor, inflammation and signs of loss of appetite. Encourage water consumption to aid flushing. Supply detox support for the liver to filter and the kidney to release toxins while supporting the immune system.
If your horse suffers recurring abscesses, take time to consider if this is a reflection of something festering in your life, or with someone close to you.
TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE
Gloria Garland LAc, Dipl Ac & Ch, Whole Horse Herbs
From the Chinese medicine perspective, abscesses are defined as an accumulation of heat (infection and inflammation) and dampness (pus). The treatment strategy is to vent and clear heat and drain the dampness.
Chinese medicine has some handy tools for dealing with various types of abscesses including herbal soaks and poultices, moxabustion and the plum blossom hammer.
Moxabustion is the process of heating of an area with a roll of moxa (Artemisia vulgarious). A moxa roll is basically an oversized herbal cigar, which is lit on one end and held near the abscess. Moxa is a hot, slow burning herb with uniquely penetrating warmth. Moxabustion strongly moves qi, blood and lymph flow to the area and can facilitate the draining of an abscess.
When using moxa or the plum blossom hammer, take extra safety precautions. Rather than tie your horse, have a friend hold him or her. Moxabustion involves heat and fire. Use moxa outside, away from flammable materials. Always hold your hand next to the area being treated as a temperature gauge. If the moxa becomes too hot for your hand, it will be too hot for your horse as well.
The plum blossom hammer is a tool used by acupuncturists; it is a tiny hammer-shaped tool with a long flexible handle. On the hammer tip are small, short acupuncture needles. The plum blossom hammer is very gently tapped, not pounded, along the surface of an abscess. The resulting tiny skin punctures help an abscess find easy access to the body's surface and drain.
Used together or separately, the plum blossom hammer and moxa are very effective for venting abscesses of all types. The combination of the two is extremely useful for encouraging pigeon fever swellings and hoof abscesses, especially those around the coronary band, to vent and drain.
COLD LASER THERAPY
Doreen Hudson, Respond Systems, Inc.
Abscesses can be treated successfully with cold laser therapy, especially if you start treatments at the earliest indication that trouble is brewing. Don’t postpone treatment until the abscess bursts; instead, at the first sign of swelling and pain, begin lasing the area using 4 Joules/cm2. Lasing the abscess will help dilate blood and lymphatic vessels to bring oxygenated blood and nutrients to the area, and will carry away biologic waste products. Exposure to laser light can also inhibit bacterial growth, permitting a faster resolution to the infection.
Laser treatment can also help the pain caused by abscess, by altering the rate at which the nerves fire, reducing the number of pain signals the brain receives.
By catching the infection early, the laser treatments may cause the infection to subside. If the abscess has burst, keep the area clean by soaking and apply a betadine pack, or a poultice. Remove the pack and poultice prior to lasing to permit maximum laser light into the wound. Lase twice daily prior to the abscess burst and for the first two days after, then lase once daily.
Catherine Bird, author “A Healthy Horse the Natural Way”
For hoof abscesses that have broken out above the coronet band, make a pint of calendula flower tea, and to this add 10 to 20 drops of tea tree oil. Place this in a spray bottle (use PET plastic, as it is less reactive to the essential oil), and spray the area enough to ‘rinse’ twice a day. For a stubborn abscess, dissolve a dose of silica tissue salts into this mixture.
Manuka in medicated honey may be used as a topical application to pustulous wounds. Or add one drop of manuka essential oil to one tablespoon of raw honey (or medical grade honey) and apply to the wound.
Kim Henneman, DVM, FAAVA, CVA, CVC, Animal Health Options
Homeopathy can be used to treat abscesses, whether in the feet or elsewhere in the body. Effective abscess remedies are selected not only by possible cause (i.e., a foreign body or insect bite) but also how the body is choosing to respond to it.
Apis: great for the small pustules and abscesses associated with insect bites, infections with puffiness and swelling. Also excellent for abscesses after vaccinations.
Arsenicum: for abscesses with thick, stinky pus, especially around the nose, chin and cheeks.
Belladonna: for quickly developing abscesses with radiating heat, redness and marked pain. Excellent in early stages of abscesses and for foot abscesses with a strong, bounding pulse.
Calcarea sulphuricum: one of the best remedies for "pigeon fever" abscesses, and recurrent abscesses, especially with thick, cheesy, yellow discharge.
Gunpowder: for abscessed bites and glands, abscesses that have led to bone infections.
Hepar Sulph: for abscesses very painful to the touch, profuse bad-smelling, thick yellow or creamy discharges; promotes the opening of abscesses; Hepar sulph is often given after Belladonna.
Kali bichromicum: especially good for painful abscesses associated with the ear. Discharge tends to be creamy, tinged with dark blood.
Lachesis: abscesses with purple-tinged edges or skin, especially if associated with bite wounds. Very good for abscesses of the back of the leg (I use in fetlock puncture wounds). The pus is thin and has a putrid smell (versus sweet).
Ledum: use with abscesses that are cool to the touch or pain seems to be relieved by cold packs; they are often surrounded by puffy swelling and also have purple discoloration.
Mercurius: good for guttural pouch infections, ulcerated abscesses that don't heal well, thick discharge or hard abscesses without much discharge. Another good remedy for 'pigeon fever' abscesses.
Phosphorus: for abscesses with copious yellow, bloody discharge and fistulous draining tracts.
Silicea: promotes the expulsion of foreign material such as plant spines, wood splinters, porcupine quills. (If I suspect a splinter, I'll start by treating with Hepar sulph until it starts looking like it is going to break open, then switch to Silicea). Good for dental abscesses and abscesses that don’t like to heal.
DOSING: I prefer to use pelleted formulations (liquids may test positive for alcohol). I use lower C potencies (6 or 12) for older animals and higher potencies (30 or 200) for younger animals with higher vitality. The lower potencies can be repeated more often; give the higher potencies less often. For example, I might give a fairly healthy 20-year-old horse with a painful foot abscess 4 doses of Hepar sulph 6C in a day to try to get the abscess to open; I would give the same horse 2-3 doses of a 12 or 30C potency; I wouldn't administer a 200C potency. However, I would have no qualms about giving a vital, 4-year-old with an abscess 3 doses of a 200C potency. If in doubt, consult with a trained and qualified veterinary homeopath.
Bryan S. Farcus, MA, CJF, “Farrier Friendly”TM series
When a horse’s hoof is damaged to a degree that penetrates the deeper, sensitive tissue, foreign material (most likely gravel) can enter and cause infection. The pain experienced by the horse will often leave him “three-legged” lame.
According to most veterinary manuals, a hoof abscess is the leading cause of hoof related lameness. Generally speaking, abscesses will manifest in one of three ways:
- DRY INJURY: A bruising of the sole, usually visible as a reddish discoloration that occurs due to a minor subcutaneous bleed. Often, when we see the discoloration, the healing process has already begun and most likely the horse is showing no sign of lameness.
- MOIST INJURY: Weakening of tissue due to over-exposure to moisture, causing cracks on the surface of sole, which provides the opportunity for a friction-related irritation and/or hoof wall separation.
- SUPPURATING INJURY: An obstruction/puncture of the sole or frog which generates necrosis (death) of the infected sensitive tissue; often this injury is unable to be treated without veterinary assistance, since the puncture can be deep within the sensitive structures. If the object of puncture (nail, wire, long wood splinter) is still lodged within the hoof, you should resist temptation and DO NOT remove until your veterinarian is consulted.
Prevention of an abscess is primarily centered on eliminating any possible sources (dropped nails, buried wire, roadside trash) and committing to a regular farrier schedule. An experienced farrier will be able to spot the early symptoms that may predispose your horse to an abscess. Many people tend to overlook the benefits of a well-balanced hoof. In my practice, I’ve noticed that there tends to be a strong correlation between neglected, unbalanced hooves and the reoccurrence of abscesses.
Resources & References:
Understanding the Equine Foot, Fran Jurga.
Merck Veterinary Manual - 7th edition.
Veterinary Treatments & Medications for Horsemen, J. Giffin, T. Gore.
Principles of Horseshoeing (P3), D. Butler, J. Butler.
- Bryan Farcus, MA, CJF, is the creator of “Farrier-Friendly™” products and series of articles. www.farrierfriendly.com
- Gloria Garland is a Licensed Acupuncturist, Chinese Herbalist and the author of the Equine Acupressure Therapeutics Workbook Series. www.wholehorse.com
- Doreen Hudson is affiliated with Respond Systems, Inc., manufacturers of laser and magnetic therapy systems. www.respondsystems.com
- Catherine Bird is the author of A Healthy Horse the Natural Way. www.happyhorses.com.au
- Kimberley Henneman, DVM, FAAVA, CVA, CVC, is director of Animal Health Options LLC, in Park City, Utah. www.animalhealthoptionsvet.com