Equine Canker

As most everyone knows, I lost my dear horse Jake this spring to canker. But what is canker? Unless you’ve heard me hop up on my soapbox, canker might be new to you. This is my canker research in a nutshell. I hope one day Jake’s experience will help save the life of another horse.

Canker is a debilitating equine disease which affects the frog and hoof wall. Thankfully, not every horse will get canker, as it seems to manifest itself mainly in the hooves of draft horses. Thankfully, not every draft horse will get canker either, but if your horse has it, typically it’s because you have a heavy draft horse, and probably live in Florida.

Research by Dr. Stephen O’ Grady has shown that being a draft horse in Florida is difficult. Knowing there are many draft horses in the country, arm yourself with the knowledge to protect your horse.

Canker is usually first noticed when the hooves are being routinely picked; you know it’s canker by the foul odor and a softness around the sulcus. The odor and softness could also be indicative of thrush, so it’s highly recommended to treat for thrush until the next farrier visit.

The biggest difference between canker and thrush is the color of the tissue. Thrush tends to be black and canker is white due to the tissue dying or becoming necrotic. In order to treat for canker, the necrotic tissue needs to be removed by a highly skilled farrier, usually with a vet in attendance, cauterized, and then treated with a topical antibiotic, and then diaper and duct tape the hoof for at least one week. 

While this treatment is no guarantee the canker will be removed permanently, with only a 65% success rate, it does give the horse relief from hoof soreness. If left untreated, canker will form large cauliflower type growths, destroying the frog, and leaving the horse lame, and in considerable pain. Eventually, the infection will take over all four hooves and the animal will need to be put down.

In Jake’s case, when the canker started taking over the other hooves, we were able to ‘cure’ three, leaving the fourth, the worst hoof still infected. When he foundered, it surprisingly appeared to help the other three hooves. At the end though, it appeared that Jake was literally about to walk off his left front hoof. According to the vet, I had anywhere between one day and one week left with him. That was my goal, keep Jake around as long as I could, putting him down one day before he couldn’t get up anymore. The vet told me I reached that goal.

If you have any further information regarding equine canker, please let me know. This is a horrible, debilitating disease that needs a cure – and all cure’s start with information!

About Heather Hamel

Growing up with horses is a little girls dream come true. Heather’s dream in life was to be a horse trainer - how dreams change - sort of! She moved to the wonderfully historic town of St. Augustine, Florida and was a historic tour guide and a ghost story teller while putting herself through college to become a special education teacher. After graduating, she felt the pull of horses in her life again. That's when she met Kobi! She learned quickly that when you own horses you become a part time vet, part time nutritionist, and full time equestrian. She wouldn't change a thing! In addition to being completely obsessed with her herd, she still teaches and tutors students with learning disabilities, and more specifically, dyslexia.
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