"Cauliflower" of the Hoof

Now THAT is one nasty lookin' hoof! 

Along with all the black, nasty thrush we see this cauliflower lookin' thing that has taken over the frog. 

This is an un-common condition of the hoof that is called "Canker". 

And yep, it's nasty. Just plain nasty. 

It looks nasty, it smells nasty, and it makes the horse nasty sore and lame!  Not something you  ever want to see on your horse's hoof. 

But, if you do -- don't freak out. There is treatment for it. But first let's briefly see what the darn thing is to begin with ... 

Simply stated, “Equine canker is described as an infectious process that results in the development of chronic hypertrophy of the horn-producing tissues.”  (Dr. Steven O’Grady) What does hypertrophy in this case mean?  It means that the tissues cells in the hoof have gone crazy and are increasing in size exponentially. Even more simply – hypertrophy is defined as excessive growth (of an organ or tissue).

Most commonly affecting just one hoof, canker will sometimes affect more than just one hoof.  The cause of canker is yet unknown but it is hypothesized that wet environment and less-than-optimal husbandry can be causative. In Florida it has been noted that there is a correlation between the cases of canker and the seasons – the majority of cases are seen between July and December, the wettest season of the year in Florida. So, even those horses kept in immaculate conditions can also succumb to canker. Excess water in the environment seems to be the primary cause and while the disease is commonly seen in draft horses it affects other types and breeds of horses as well.  It appears that horses that are stalled with little exercise are those who are most susceptible to getting canker rather than horses that are exercises and kept outside.

So, how does canker present itself?  It doesn’t all of a sudden ‘appear’ on the hoof – it is frequently mistaken for thrush when it first begins. BUT … thrush eats away tissue whereas canker tissues proliferate.  A mere cleaning of the hoof with a brush and pick may cause the canker to bleed easily and is very sensitive causing pain to the horse.  One may notice some white or greyish tissue that is spongy and moist appearing in the collateral grooves as well as the central sulcus of the frog. It looks like cauliflower and will exudate cheesy like material.

Like I said, it’s just nasty.

Photo www.horseshoes.com

So what to do when you suspect your horse has canker?  The first line of defense is to call your veterinarian and have the tissue examined. Your veterinarian will most likely prescribe topical therapy that most likely will include the antimicrobial drug metronidazole in a peroxide solution. Along with the topical treatment debridement of the hypertrophic tissue is indicated.  On the other hand, I personally know of several cases that have been treated successfully simply with good, balanced hoof trimming, lots of turnout in dry conditions and diligent topical care in between regular professional hoofcare.  Notice the word diligent – this isn’t an easy fix. While most situations of canker will respond to intensive treatment well within 10 days, others can take up to months to be eradicated. Therefore it is truly important to tend to this condition aggressively. 






Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications includingThe Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here:  www.thepenzancehorse.com/2012/RESUME.pdf


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