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Posted on Jun 25, 2015 in Articles, Veterinary

Thomason and Ritchie Equine vets talk about Sarcoids

Thomason and Ritchie Equine vets talk about Sarcoids

A sarcoid is a benign skin tumour that can occur anywhere on a horse’s body. They can develop at any age, but most commonly first occur in younger horses.  There, at present, does not appear to be a sex predilection for developing these tumours. Sarcoids are a tumour of the fibroblast cells in the skin, however occasionally can develop just beneath the skin, however they are no point develop/spread to internal organs!

It is currently considered that sarcoids are initially caused by the same virus that causes “warts” in cattle, which is known as the papilloma virus. The disease is not the same but the initial causative virus does seem to occur in both cases.

The most common areas on a horse affected by sarcoids are axilla (armpit), groin, face (eyelids, mouth and cheeks), scrotum and sheath. Often these areas are where the skin is thinnest, the horse often sweats, and where flies will congregate and feed.

There are 6 recognised “types” of sarcoids.

  • Occult – The round flat lesions, often mistaken for ringworm. Initially though these can be noted as coat discolouration, skin thickening and colour/quality change.
  • Verrucous – Often have a grey and warty appearance. Normally hairless, and the skin where the sarcoid is present is often firm, and may crack if moved or folded.
  • Nodular – There are 2 types of nodular sarcoid, A which is under the skin, and B which involves the skin directly. They can be single or multiple, and can be prone to ulcerating or bleeding.
  • Fibroblastic – These are large fleshy masses that can appear anywhere on the body and often bleed easily. They commonly occur at the site of a skin injury on a limb. They may have a thin stalk or a large wide base.
  • Mixed – Exactly what it states. It has an area where multiple types of the above are present. Treatment for these are normally determined by identifying the main contributor and treating accordingly.
  • Malignant – This is classified when there is extensive localised or diffuse infiltration of the sarcoid to the skin and subcutaneous tissue. This form is rare, and is not based on the size of the lesion, but may develop as a result of failed or repeated incomplete treatments of other sarcoids. Self cure does not occur!

If you are concerned and think your horse may have a sarcoid, then the MOST important thing to do is get your vet to assess it. The longer treatment is delayed the harder it is to treat appropriately. Home remedies/cheap therapies are often ineffective and may encourage develop of the milder cases to become more aggressive and advanced.

Sometimes your vet may recommend leaving alone and monitoring, as in certain cases this is the most appropriate thing to do, in other cases it isn’t and appropriate treatment will be recommended.

There is rarely a 100% cure rate with sarcoids, but we always endeavour to get the best outcome possible.

There are over 40 treatment options for sarcoids, there applicability and prognosis is highly variable, but often vets will discuss cases with each other and referral specialists to come to a conclusion as to which treatment is the most appropriate for the individual case. Sadly finance does often come into play here as although, for example, radiation therapy has currently the best prognosis both for cure and cosmetic outcome, it is also the most expensive, there are only 2 or 3 centres worldwide that can do it, and depends on the location of the tumour.  So obviously there are many considerations to be considered with regards to treatments.

For further information on sarcoids please talk to your vets or call 01270 766455, email


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