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Equine Sarcoids: What are they & what to do about them?

Sarcoids are skin growths that are often mistaken for other skin abnormalities. Sarcoids are commonly seen on the head, abdomen, thorax, or paragential region; however they can develop anywhere on the body. The growths do affect the immune system and can spread rapidly if not treated. The sarcoid on our little surgery patient is one that had been growing for some time. Luckily, the mini was rescued and placed in a loving foster home, where the appropriate actions could be taken before the sarcoid got any worse.

Why sarcoids develop is still a mystery. The bovine papilloma virus is thought to be a potential contributor. Research has yet to determine the method in which the disease is transmitted, but several theories exist. One theory is that the skin that has been wounded previously is more prone to development of sarcoids. Another theory is that flies act as a source of transmission of the virus, as they land on wound sites on various animals. Sharing tack and brushes between infected horses and other animals may also be a way the virus is transmitted.

Sarcoids do not seem to target any specific breed or sex of horse. However, there has been studies done that show it most likely occurs in younger horses, within the first 4 years of life. At Stone Ridge Equine Care we see sarcoids in all ages, genders, and breeds.

If the sarcoids are at an early stage and still small in size a topical ointment can be used to regress the growths. If the sarcoid is at a point that it is beyond using topical treatment, then the area can be injected with an Immunocidin to control the growth. In most cases, it is best to treat the sarcoid instead of removing it, because removing it can irritate and promote the spread of the sarcoid. Our surgery patient was an exception in this case. Due to the severity and location of the sarcoid, the best choice was to remove it completely while trying to salvage as much of the ear as possible. The miniature was placed on the surgery table, the ear was surgically prepped and Dr. Stone used the electrocautery machine to remove the sarcoid and the anterior portion of ear. The sarcoid was embedded in the tissue deep in front of ear and along the anterior border. A portion of cartilage was removed, the area was cauterized with the electrocautery, and the tissue was double froze with liquid nitrogen to prevent the sarcoid from coming back. Fortunately, the majority of the ear was able to be saved.  

While we are seeing sarcoids more and more often at the clinic, this miniatures case is one of the worse. Another severe sarcoid case that we started treating last year is a Quarter Horse gelding that has been affected with the sarcoids for several years. They were continuing to spread and greatly effecting the horse’s immune system. The sarcoids had spread over almost the entire left side of the horse’s face along with the throat and the girth area on both sides. Within the last year, regular Immunocidin injections, topical treatment, and oral supplements have improved the gelding’s weight, regressed the current sarcoids, and even prevented the spread of new sarcoids.  

There is still a lot that is not understood about sarcoids; however if the sarcoids are treated early before they begin to spread we do see a high success rate of regression with the sarcoid. Once a sarcoid has spread and compromised the immune system, they can still be treated and maintained. However, the sarcoids at that point will likely not completely regress, but they often dry up and are maintained without spreading any further. Sarcoids often begin about the size of a nickel or quarter. They can have several different appearances but are most often dry and scaly. If you notice a place on your horse that is not improving or even beginning to grow, it is best to contact your veterinarian to have the area looked so that it can be treated at an early stage.

Article written by Tia Tuttle RVT

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  • Penny King, Oblong IL

    I can’t say enough about Dr. Stone & his staff. They go above & beyond & take the extra mile to take care of your horses needs. They really care about what your horse really needs.

    They have been up all night with emergency colic surgery with a positive outcome. They saved a foal that was born three weeks early. I can’t even begin to tell everything we have been thru together. But I can tell you one thing, they don’t come any better than Dr. Stone & his staff. They are like family to our horses & us.”