Researchers Review Treatment and Outcome of Canker in Horses

The rare hoof ailment canker can cause lasting problems in horses, and can even be fatal.
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Most horse owners are familiar with the foul-smelling problem that frequents many horses’ feet: thrush. While it can be a challenge to treat, thrush often clears up with few lasting effects. However, another foul-smelling hoof ailment–canker–can cause more lasting problems than thrush and can even be fatal if severe enough. A team of Belgian researchers recently completed a retrospective study on the diagnosis, treatment, and outcome for horses suffering from canker in order to further veterinarians’ knowledge of this rare hoof condition.

"Equine proliferative pododermatitis, or canker, is a debilitating disease of the hoof characterized by chronic hypertrophy (enlargement) of horn-producing tissues, mainly in the frog region," explained Maarten Oosterlinck, DVM, PhD, a post-doctoral research associate at Ghent University. "As opposed to thrush, which causes destruction of horn tissue in the sulci (the grooves on either side) of the frog, canker is a proliferative disease affecting the horn of the frog anywhere throughout its structure."

A condition that produces "foul-smelling, cheese masses" with cauliflowerlike growths, canker has been noted most commonly over the years in draft horses, Oosterlinck relayed, but any breed can be affected. Canker is found in both the front and hind limbs, although previous research indicated it has a slightly higher prevalence in the hind limbs.

"The cause remains obscure," Oosterlinck explained. "Infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and spirochetes have all been suggested, but environmental conditions (such as wet or unsanitary conditions) have also been blamed as stimulating factors

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Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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