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Sarcoids

Sarcoids are common skin tumors thought to affect up to 8% of the world’s equine population. They can occur almost anywhere on the skin of afflicted animals.

As well as having potentially significant welfare implications, sarcoids can be a significant cause of loss of commercial value. They are prone to multiply and can become ulcerated or infected, and when they occur at particularly dangerous locations such as the eyelids, over joints or major blood vessels they can quickly become challenging if not downright impossible to treat.

The simple rule of thumb is to treat early in the course of disease rather than waiting for development. The first treatment should be the definitive treatment – do not be tempted to try home remedies, as aggravating sarcoids frequently causes them to degenerate or transform into a more aggressive form of the disease.

Involving your vet early in the course of disease and intervening early where necessary will save you time and money in the long term.

Can my horse pick up sarcoids from his neighbours?

It is likely that there is a genetic susceptibility in some horses and/or breeds. Research is ongoing, but it is thought that sarcoids can be transmitted amongst vulnerable horses – nuisance fly activity is likely responsible, possibly by carrying a variant of bovine papillomavirus which then goes on to trigger disease. Flies are attracted to sarcoids, which can be distressing for horses involved, and effective fly control is an essential component of dealing with the disease.

What do sarcoids look like?

There are at least 6 different classifications of sarcoid: occult, verrucous, nodular, fibroblastic, mixed and malevolent. Some remain static, but many can progress from one form to the other. Owners are often able to spot the most obvious of these types independently, but the occult variety in particular can be very insidious, and is often picked up by our vets during routine examination or a visit for a completely different condition.

How will my vet diagnose sarcoids?

In many cases of skin disease a biopsy may be taken to aid in diagnosis, but this is not usually desirable when dealing with sarcoids as surgical trauma can trigger worsening of disease. Our experienced equine vets will often diagnose cases on sight, but in some cases we may forward photographs and history on to a veterinary oncologist for a specialist opinion.

What are the treatment options?

The simple fact is that there is no one treatment option for all sarcoids – the correct option is one tailored to the needs of you and your horse. We may prescribe or recommend one or a combination of the following:

  • Chemotherapy (including ‘Liverpool cream’) which will generally be administered by our vets at your horses’ home over a period of weeks
  • Radiotherapy – which takes place at a specialist referral centre
  • Cryotherapy – in which we expose the sarcoid to extremely low temperatures using liquid nitrogen
  • Laser surgery – in which sarcoids are removed using a laser scalpel. This may be performed under standing sedation or under general anaesthesia, and depending on the location of the sarcoid in question may require referral to a specialist centre.

Each treatment option has benefits and drawbacks and varying risks of recurrence. We will discuss these thoroughly with you before arriving at a treatment plan.