Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Penetrating Nail or other Object in Sole, Hoof or Frog

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

    A foreign body penetrating into the foot is a fairly common, and potentially life-threatening problem. Nails and screws are commonly scattered around construction areas, and horses step on them and drive them through the ground surface of the hoof. Nail punctures are potentially serious because the critical structures of the lower limb lie within the hoof. The severity of the problem depends on what structures are penetrated.

    Occasionally a shallow, simple nail puncture results in no problems once removed. Sometimes the object does not involve critical structures but results in a sub-solar abscess that, once drained, causes no long term complications. In contrast, sometimes the object may penetrate bone, joint, bursa or tendon sheath resulting in massive infection, severe lameness, and life-threatening complications. The absence or degree of lameness is a helpful indicator of severity and infection.

    Typically these injuries are discovered when you pick up your horse’s foot and see the offending object.


    Leave it in your horse’s foot and call your vet immediately. If your vet can examine the horse promptly, they may advise you to leave the foreign body in place until they arrive.

    If your vet instructs you to remove the object, first take a picture of the nail in place. Then clean the hoof well with antiseptics, and remove the object with your hands or pliers. The photo will help your vet determine the severity of the injury (location, angle, depth of penetration), cleaning will lessen contamination, and removal of the object may prevent it from penetrating further.

    However, keep in mind that it is often helpful for your vet to see the object in place and remove it themselves. This gives them the best opportunity to assess the severity of the injury.


    Your vet assesses the situation and degree of lameness. If the nail is still in place, they may take several radiographs to determine in 3 dimensions the depth and direction of penetration and the anatomic structures probably involved.

    Once the nail has been removed, the vet may open the external part of the wound up to encourage drainage, and may gently flush the tract to remove debris. Depending upon the specifics of the wound, they will advise you of a treatment plan.

    Helpful Terms & Topics in HSVGWritten, Reviewed or Shared by Experts in Equine Health

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


    We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.