What is Canker?
The bacterium associated with canker will cause an overgrowth of the horn or abnormal keratin production. Lack of oxygen to the frog can cause canker to start. Canker is not solely associated with low hygiene conditions and can happen to any horse, but is more susceptible in Draft horses with the longer hair or feathering on their feet.
Canker can be extremely painful to your horse. Proper hoof care will help in the prevention of canker. Regular visits by a farrier will allow you to stay on top of any disease or condition affecting your horse’s hooves.
Canker in horses starts in the frog, or the underside of the hoof that touches the ground if the horse is standing on soft footing. It is an infection that can affect not only the frog but also the adjacent sole, bars and hoof wall. Canker can affect just one foot or it can affect multiple feet.
Book First Walk Free!
Symptoms of Canker in Horses
Canker can oftentimes be misdiagnosed as thrush when diagnosed in its early stages. Canker, unlike thrush, affects the horn of the frog and there is an increase of tissue. Should you notice any changes to your horse’s hoof or hooves, contact your veterinarian immediately and schedule an appointment.
- Gray or white matter on the hoof
- A thickening of the tissue on the frog
- Foul smell
- Holding the hoof off the ground
- Unwillingness to stand or walk
Causes of Canker in Horses
The actual cause of canker is still unknown, except that researchers do know that it does occur when there is a lack of oxygen to the hoof or more specifically the frog. Canker is considered to have many factors that can contribute to its development.
Early research suggested that canker developed in cases where hygiene was low and the horse’s hooves remained covered in mud and feces. This has been disproved and while some still believe it is a contributing factor; researchers have not been able to duplicate instances where canker developed.
Diagnosis of Canker in Horses
Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough examination of the leg and hoof. Generally, a presumptive diagnosis will be made during the physical examination. To make a definitive diagnosis, your veterinarian will take a biopsy of the affected tissue. The biopsy should include both normal and abnormal tissue for a comparison.
Treatment of Canker in Horses
Your veterinarian will set up a treatment plan and may also suggest that your horse be seen regularly by a farrier to prevent further recurrences of canker. Debridement will be performed to remove the horn that covers the affected area. This should be done superficially and do not draw blood. By drawing blood, you could introduce bacteria and cause an infection.
Keep the infected site open to the air and apply an antibiotic and microbial cream. Be sure to keep the area clean and dry. Oral or injectable antibiotics may also be given to combat any infections.
Bandage the affected area with a clean dry bandage. A waterproof bandage is preferable. All bandages must be checked and changed regularly while the area is healing. Limit exercise and typical daily routines while healing. This will give your horse a chance to rest and heal more quickly. If you notice that the affected area is staying moist or other hooves are beginning to look suspicious, call your veterinarian and have your horse re-checked.
Recovery of Canker in Horses
Canker can take some time to heal, ranging from a week to a few months, depending on the size of the affected area. Canker is treatable and when caught early enough, a relatively easy treatment plan can be put in place for a quick and full recovery.
In cases where the hoof is severely affected or multiple hooves are affected, a more aggressive treatment may be necessary. Until the canker is completely gone, a recurrence can happen. It is imperative that you monitor the healing process and keep the area dry and clean.
If medications have been prescribed, use as directed and finish all medications. Have your veterinarian complete follow-up visits to ensure that the canker is completely healed and the risk of recurrence is minimal.
Canker Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
What do you do when you have tried all the suggested treats listed for treating canker and your horses still have it?
I work on a horse farm that has three Clydesdale mares, ages 10 years, 7 years, and 2 years. All three have canker in all four hooves to varying degrees. The two year old has it the worst, as there are a lot of deep pits (holes) in each hoof. The owner of the horses is very meticulous in caring for her horses but no matter what she does, she hasn't seen any improvement in the 2 year old. The hooves have gotten so bad that she is reluctantly talking about putting the two year old down. Money is tight so she isn't able to call in a vet as often as you recommend. What can be done??
My Clydesdale had canker in 3 of his feet. I had them all surgically debrided. Recovery took a year. I changed his bandages every other night and used a paste my vet made. It was a combo of antibiotics and DMSO. I also sprinkled copper sulfate on before bandaging. He's finally canker free. It's very time consuming but I would do it again!
Add a comment to Eden's experience
Was this experience helpful?