VET’S DIARY: Prompt care is key to sarcoids

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Winter coats can hide a whole host of problems and as the weather warms up the prospect of spring is just round the corner. In the Fairmoor equine clinic it’s a busy time as we prepare for events, shows and the usual clinics.

As horses shed their thick winter coats, hidden skin lesions can become apparent. A commonly-found abnormality is a sarcoid – this is best regarded as a form of skin cancer. Sarcoids can affect any type of horse.

The most common sites for sarcoids to be found are those areas with thin skin, limited or no hair cover and areas that have a tendency to sweat – such as the groin, ear base and girth regions. These sites attract flies, and these may help in the spread of sarcoid across the horse.

Sarcoids are commonly reported to multiply over the summer and grow over winter. Good fly control seems like a sensible precaution.

Horses with sarcoids that injure themselves can develop aggressive sarcoids at the site of injury. Prompt and appropriate treatment of any wound is important, but this is particularly so in those horses who already have a sarcoid.

Sarcoids can range from quiescent right through to very aggressive lesions. In certain locations, such as the saddle and girth regions, they can even render a horse unrideable as tack can’t be fitted comfortably. Most sarcoids will get larger with time and many will ulcerate and bleed as they do so.

Treatment can be difficult as sarcoids are unpredictable, however, they can rapidly re-grow more aggressively than before if not completely removed. Treatment options depend on many factors and particularly the site of the sarcoid; each horse and sarcoid is individually assessed.

One treatment option that we have had great success with is laser diode surgery. Laser surgery is generally carried out with the patient sedated but standing. Local anaesthetic is injected around the site and the skin is surgically cleaned. The advantage of the laser over traditional sharp dissection with a scalpel blade is that there is minimal bleeding and the heat produced kills tumour cells, significantly reducing the risk of recurrence. Post-operatively there tends to be less pain and swelling.

The laser is also used for upper airway and urogenital surgery in the horse.

The equine clinic is holding its next laser clinic on Wednesday, January 27. For more information, call 01670 897597.