Sand-crack is a solution of continuity of the horn of the foot, occurring usually in the wall, and following the direction of the horn fibres.
It is usual to classify sand-cracks according to:
1.) Their Position. — Toe-crack when occurring in the middle line of the horn of the toe, and quarter-crack when occurring in the horn of the quarters.
Sand-crack of the frog and sand-crack of the sole may also each be met with. They are, however, of rare occurrence, and are seldom serious enough to merit special attention.
The toe-crack is met with more often in the hind-foot than in the fore, while the quarter-crack more often than not makes its appearance in the fore-foot, and is there, as a rule, confined to the inner side. The reasons for these positions being so affected we shall deal with when treating of the causes of sand-crack in general. It is interesting to note that the portions of wall known as inside and outside toe are seldom affected.
2.) Their Length. — Complete when they extend from the coronary margin of the wall to its wearing edge; Incomplete when not so extensive.
3.) Their Severity. — Simple when they occur in the horn only, and do not implicate the sensitive structures beneath; Complicated when deep enough to allow of laceration and subsequent inflammation of the keratogenous membrane. Such complications may vary from a simple inflammation set up by laceration and irritation of the sensitive structures by particles of dirt and grit that have gained entrance through the crack, to other and more serious changes in the shape of the formation of pus, hæmorrhage from the laminal vessels, caries of the os pedis, or the development of a tumour-like growth of horn on the inner surface of the wall known as a keraphyllocele.
4.) Their Duration. — Recent when newly formed; old when of long standing.
5.) Their Starting-point. — This last distinction we make ourselves, and, referring to cracks of the wall, term them high when commencing from the coronary margin, low when starting from the bearing surface.
Causes of sand-crack
We have already classified sand-crack as a disease arising from faulty conformation. Thus, in just so far as a predisposing build of body may be handed down from parent to offspring, we may regard sand-crack as hereditary. If we do so, however, we must afterwards make up our minds to sharply distinguish between the sand-crack plainly brought about by accidental cause, and that occurring as a result of hereditary evil conformation.
With regard to the latter, we need hardly say that feet with abnormally brittle horn are extremely liable. But with this, as with many other affections of the feet, we shall find it necessary to consider several causes acting in cooperation. In this case, for instance, given the brittle horn, it becomes necessary to further look for exciting causes of its fracture.
We will take conformation first. In the animal with turned-out toes a more than fair share of the body-weight is imposed on the horn of the inner quarter. Here, then, three causes exert their influence together: The horn is brittle; the wall of the inner quarter is thinner than that of the outer; additional weight is imposed upon it. Fracture results.
Take, again, the vice of contracted heels. Here, in the first place, we have a variety of causes tending to bring about the contraction. With the contraction, and its consequent pressure upon the sensitive structures in the region of the quarters and the frog, has arisen a low type of inflammation. The horn of the part has become dry and brittle. The exciting cause of its fracture is found in an excessive day's work upon a hard, dry road, with, perhaps, a suddenly-imposed improper distribution of weight, due to treading upon a loose stone, or a succession of such evil transfers of weight due to travelling upon a road that is rough in its whole extent.
An injury of the same character may also be sustained in various other ways—treads from other animals when working in pairs, accidental wounding with the stable-fork, blows of any kind, or a self-inflicted tread with the calkin of an opposite foot—each with the same result.
So far as causation is concerned, toe-crack stands in a class almost by itself. It is met with nearly always in a heavy animal in the hind-foot, and is directly attributable to the force exerted in starting a heavy load.
Unskilful shoeing also plays a part in the causation of sand-crack. Removal of the periople by excessive rasping of the wall is most certainly a predisposing cause. Cracks, or their starting-points, may also be caused by using too wide a shoe, or by the use of nails too large in the shank. Also, they may arise from unskilful fitting of the toe-clip, especially in the hind-foot of a heavy animal. It must be admitted, however, that the part shoeing plays in the causation of sand-crack is not a large one; far more depends upon the state of the horn and the animal's conformation than upon the exciting cause.
Symptoms of sand-crack
In every case the fissure, or evidence of its commencement, is a diagnostic symptom. It is well to remember, however, that this may be easily overlooked, especially when the crack is one commencing at the coronary margin. The reason is this: Sand-cracks in this position often commence in the wall proper, and not in the periople. They may, in fact, be first observed as a fine separation of the horn fibres immediately beneath the perioplic covering.
A crack of this description may even show hæmorrhage, and have been in existence for some time, without the periople itself showing any lesion whatever. Thus, unless lameness is present, or a more than specially keen search is directed to the parts in question, the sand-crack goes undiscovered, until of greater dimensions.
Further, the fissure may be hidden, either accidentally or of set purpose. It may be covered by the hair, filled in and covered over with mud, or intentionally concealed by being 'stopped' with an artificial horn, with wax, or with gutta-percha, or, as is more common, be hidden by the lavish application of a greasy hoof-dressing.
In like manner the lameness from toe-crack also varies in degree with the rate of progression and the character of the travelling, though not to such a noticeable extent as in the lameness from quarter-crack. A greater variation may in this case be brought about by moving the animal on ascending and descending ground. Descending an incline, with a more than ordinary share of the body-weight thus thrown upon the heels, the lameness is most marked.
The reason would appear to be that the greater expansion of the wall of the heels thus brought about leads to a proportionate contraction of the wall at the toe, especially at the edges of the crack, thus causing undue pressure upon the exact spot of the wound in the sensitive structures. Ascending—the weight in this case transferred from the posterior to the anterior portion of the foot—the expansion of the heels becomes a contraction, with a corresponding lessening of the contraction at the toe and a distinct decrease in the lameness.
In the case of a deep but recent crack there is always more or less haemorrhage. This favours risk of infection of the lesion with pus-forming organisms, and so leads to a more or less pronounced lameness, a degree of swelling, heat and tenderness in the coronet above, and a certain amount of surgical fever.
Sand-crack of the toe always follows the direction of the horn fibres. That of the quarter, however, may on occasion run a course that is somewhat zigzag, first following the direction of the horn fibres for a short distance, then travelling in a horizontal direction, and finally continuing its course again in a line with the horn fibres, commonly at a point posterior to that at which it commenced.