There is nothing scarier than being a horse owner and arriving at your barn to find your horse standing on three legs.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
It only takes an instant for about a thousand thoughts to sear through your brain and stop your heart. How long has she been like this? Is her leg broken? What did she do? Should I call the vet now? Who else is here that can help me? Is she bleeding? How much is the vet going to cost? Is something dislocated? Was she limping yesterday? How long is it going to take for the vet to get out here? What, oh what in the hell is wrong?
Even though all these thoughts are going through my head, and even though she was so obviously hurting, one of the first things to do is see if she will bear any weight on it at all. So I put on her halter to see if I could even get her out of her stall.
It was rough, and my heart cracked to see how much pain she was in. There were two other ladies in the barn, just visiting, and both rushed over, exclaiming and speculating about the train wreck.
Could it be her back? Jabber, jabber, jabber. I think it's her knee! Horror, horror, horror. Maybe it's her shoulder?
The ladies went back and forth, and I was fatalistically silent. They finally concluded it must be an abscess in her hoof. Unless it was her back. Or her knee. Or her shoulder.
I was very grateful for all the advice.
Being around horses as much as me, a person can not help but hear about abscesses in the hoof. It's a relatively common ailment, and even though no horse in my direct experience has ever had one, still I'd heard the old adage that "If it's going to be something, then you wish it to be an abscess."*
Bully for me and Gazelle . . . she was a tripod of terrified pain.
*The reason they say that is because it's cut-and-dry problem with a cut-and-dry treatment that will lead up to 100% healed. Unless, it doesn't heal. Then you'll be back to the beginning with another abscess.
Thanks a lot.
What do I do? Should I call my vet or my farrier? I asked. Smiles all around . . . everyone was thrilled with my charming question, which has been echoed throughout the ages as frequently as "Why is the sky blue?" and "Where do babies come from?"
Well, what's the friggin' answer then? No one seemed to have a definitive response, so I did the next best thing and called the vet and the farrier. Neither answered, and I had to wait 30 tortuous minutes for the vet to finally return my call.
The vet never considered anything other than an abscess, so I felt appropriately relieved. Which really wasn't much. An abscess equals days and sometimes weeks of pain-in-the-ass soaking, and limping, and fussing, and back breaking.
Here's the deal: when a horse gets an abscess in their foot, it is basically on par with a human being getting a zit underneath their fingernail. Even though that doesn't happen as far as I'm aware, you can imagine what it would feel like. And what would you do? Nothing! A zit is very common, but if it's in a place you can't get to then you just have to wait.
And soak the horse's foot in Epsom salts.
Eventually the "zit" will travel either downward to the sole of the horse's foot, or upward toward where the hard part hooks on to their leg (the coronary band, it's called). Whatever trip it decides to take, the vacation ends with the abscess bursting forth from the skin ("popping," I say, because I think of it like a zit). Nasty to contemplate, but in all actuality should appear just as a small wound either right above their foot, or almost invisible on the underside of the foot.
The reason it's so painful for a horse is because just like a zit is a bump on your face (or your back, or your butt), the abscess within their foot is a swollen bump. But unfortunately, a horse has a hoof with a rigid wall, as opposed to the flexible skin of a person's face, so what on a human is a simple swelling on a horse becomes becomes acutely, cripplingly painful. You know when you press down on a zit and it hurts? Multiply that by a million.
All nastiness aside, it's the process of getting the trip of the zit to come to its conclusion that is so AWFUL. Sometimes the zit does some sight-seeing along the way, and takes its sweetass time. And it's a bloody pain in the neck to treat while you're waiting for it to pop.
In the old days, and still today, most people do not even call a vet to treat an abscess. The only thing a vet can do is dig around and shave off some of the bottom of the foot, in hopes that if the abscess is close enough to the surface that they will be able to drain it and relieve the pressure. But since the abscess will almost* always pop on it's own, most horse owners do not want the expense of an emergency vet visit. Trust me, it's expensive. We already got the bill; I'm next on the list for donating my kidney.
*Sometimes the abscess never pops, which to me is a horrifying amount of grief to go through with no finale. And sometimes the abscess doesn't pop, but then just re-festers and you're back to Square One. Both options to me are unacceptable, so as awful as it sounds, you really are hoping that it pops. All you can do is soak, soak, soak while you wait for it to pop. Unless it doesn't.
Rather than calling a vet, most experienced horse owners will simply soak the foot themselves. Unfortunately, standing with their foot in a bucket of water makes a horse feel very vulnerable, and a lot of them will barely tolerate it at all. They stomp and spill the water and scare themselves and generally make a swamp out of the aisle, until by the end of the allotted twenty minutes everyone is drenched and gritting their teeth and willing their blood pressure to come back down off the chart to an actual measurable level.
The boot was thus invented.
The boot is a bucket that you TIE around the horse's foot. Genius idea in theory, nightmare in actual practice. At least with a bucket (technically, a low, wide, rubber tub) the horse can step out of it if they get spooked.
While I waited for the vet to arrive, we decided to start soaking Gazelle's foot in the boot in hopes that it would soften her hoof up and help make it easier for the vet to find and lance the abscess. Everyone meant well, but I must admit it turned out to be a worthless venture.
The vet arrived and started testing for the abscess. They use a contraption that looks like a metal pair of enormous pincher/pliers, and squeeze the hoof to see when the horse flinches, then shave away that spot and hope for an oozing of pus.
Unfortunately, the abscess was too deep for the vet to find. She offered the next best thing, a "water boot." Different than the boot we were using to soak Gazelle's foot prior to her arrival, the water boot is something actually attached semi-permanently to Gazelle's foot and will remain on for a number of days. It will make it so we don't have to soak her foot in a bucket, which most people find most convenient.
For a price.
I had her put on the water boot, which turned out to be cotton batting, Epsom salts, Vetwrap tape (which is kind of a sticky/stretchy gauze type of wrapping material), an IV bag, some other kind of special vet bandaging tape, and duct tape. It stayed on for three days (pretty good in the horse world) but then it fell off and we had to figure out what to do from there.
The abscess had not yet popped, so we were still at the soaking phase. Luckily it had (apparently) moved through the tissues of her foot enough that she was no longer violently lame.
Online experts say there is a way to jimmy-rig the same type of boot using a "medium-sized" diaper, Epsom salts, Vetwrap, a plastic bag, and duct tape. I have decided to call this inferior boot a jimmy boot.
First thing first, I had to get the diaper. Stores do not sell diapers in packs of 5 or 10, and although the weight sizing is probably swell if you actually have a kid and know their weight, the 1 through 6 scale is completely unhelpful when it comes to sizing up a horse's foot in comparison to a kid's butt. I decided size 3 must be medium sized.
Size 3 was WAY too small. I fumbled my way through putting the jimmy boot on anyway, but the new development was that Gazelle's good leg is now sore from overuse and over-compensating, so she didn't want to stand on it while I tried to figure out how in the heck the vet got the water boot on so quickly. And the next day I had to go back and get another pack of 36 diapers, this time in size 6.
Because I'm so lousy at putting on the jimmy boot, it keeps falling off within a day or so. Watching my experience, there are still some that have concluded that the jimmy boot is a much better alternative to soaking. Happy day to them.
I'm not sure if I'm on the jimmy boot boat. I've been out every day, fussing and pulling my hair out, making sure the boot is on or mostly on, adding duct tape, adding water, and almost getting squashed when Gazelle tries to lie down on me because she's tired of standing on the "good" foot. Last week, with Dan traveling, I was walking around in a daze because I was so tired, and twice I didn't even get dinner because I was at the barn until 9PM and by the time I got home it wasn't worth it.
Last night I thought, "Why don't I just try soaking and see how she does?" I was so sure that Gazelle would tolerate it just fine, and that it will be better for me than this damnable jimmy boot. And, glory! She stood like a statue with her foot in the bucket. We were just testing the waters, so to speak, so I didn't have any salt in it, but there was none of the wild woman of Borneo behavior that I was expecting.
So looks like we're going to try out a combination of soaking and sub-par jimmy boots, and hopefully this stupid abscess will pop out and say BOO! before Halloween.
Oh, please! Don't make me keep doing this until Halloween!