Why shouldn’t you remove a nail from a horses’ hoof before calling the vet?

Sarah Birkhold B.S, DVM

A nail in the hoof of a horse can be a life-threatening issue. There are many important structures in the hoof that can be punctured requiring serious medical attention. To name a few, the deep digital flexor tendon, navicular bursa, navicular bone, and coffin bone are all within the hoof. Some of these structures, the navicular bursa and deep digital flexor tendon, require immediate care and a quick diagnosis of their involvement. A puncture to the coffin bone may be less severe of an issue but still requires a prompt diagnosis and treatment.

So why leave the nail or foreign object in the hoof?

Leaving the object in the hoof allows the veterinarian to take radiographs to see which structure(s) are involved. Often this is the most accurate way for us to determine which structures have been compromised. In some cases the location of the nail may be near the navicular bursa based on radiographs and this will prompt more thorough diagnostics. This can include positive contrast radiographs into the puncture site, or removing the nail and pressurizing the navicular bursa.

What happens if you already took the nail out of the hoof?

If you already took the nail out of the hoof call your veterinarian and keep the puncture site clean and wrapped until it can be examined. It is much more difficult to determine where the puncture extends to when the object is removed. A contrast dye can be injected into the site of the puncture, but sometimes it is difficult for the dye to travel into the entire extent of where the object was located. Your veterinarian will still take radiographs to ensure no pieces of the foreign body are left in the hoof capsule.

The faster the diagnosis of structure involvement is made, the quicker the correct treatment can be initiated. No matter the location of the nail, the faster the treatment is started, the better the prognosis for future soundness.

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