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Equine Health Resource

Hoof Tester Application

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You have probably seen your vet use hoof testers, a commonly used instrument in equine vet practice. Hoof tester application may look pretty straightforward, but as is true with many things, there is more subtlety to hoof tester use and test interpretation than meets the eye.

Hoof testers are large steel pincers designed to apply focal pressure to specific areas of the hoof. The primary goal in a hoof tester examination is to test for a pain response, usually indicated by the horse as a withdrawal of the limb. Additional information including the deformability or malleability of the tissues of the hoof, and hoof texture, is also gained from this diagnostic.

Hoof testing usually takes place after other parts of a lameness exam are completed. In rare cases, application of hoof testers may aggravate lameness by putting pressure on a sore area. In rare case, this can complicate the rest of the exam.

One of the most important aspects of useful hoof tester examination is consistent technique and instrumentation. It is critical that the same technique and force be used from one horse to another and from one hoof to another, in order to gain meaningful information.

There are many hoof tester designs. A vet’s choice of model is typically based on personal preference but different models do exert different amounts and direction of pressure on the hoof.

Benefits

Hoof testers provide a rough indication of sensitivity to pressure in different parts of the hoof. Hoof tester examination also provide valuable information about the deformability of the tissues of the hoof, especially the sole.

Limitations

Like many aspects of the lameness exam, effective hoof tester examination requires practice and careful interpretation in light of the specifics of the case. Hoof testers are only as good as the experience and objectivity of the vet.

There are great differences between vets in pressure applied, angles and general technique. These differences can be significant enough to drastically affect exam results.

Horse movements and responses must be interpreted carefully. Just because a horse responds as tester pressure at the moment that hoof tester pressure is applied does not mean that the horse is responding in pain. Repeated testing of specific areas is often required in order to filter out incidental movement.

Equines with extremely hard, dry hooves are much more resistant to pressure from hoof testers. Conversely, those with very soft, moist hooves may be extremely sensitive to tester pressure.

Equines with small hooves and little sole depth are very responsive to testers whereas those with very large hooves or deep soles are less so.

In my experience, mules and donkeys are generally less sensitive to the application of hoof testers than horses. For that reason, the results of hoof tester examination in these equines can be misleading. This may result from a relatively deeper hoof capsule.

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QUESTIONS TO ASK MY VET

  • What does this hoof tester response mean to your examination and the diagnosis?
  • How hard are this equine's hooves, and does that make a difference in this case?
  • How does this hoof compare to the other hooves?
  • Without lameness, how do you interpret an abnormal response to hoof testing?
  • Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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