I wanted to write down my experience of Canker, which is a rare disease of the horse's hoof. When I first found out about it and googled day after day to try and find new ideas, I just kept finding what looked like the same copied and pasted text from a veterinary textbook that really wasn’t any help with living with this thing day to day. Or I found pages that were trying to push a wonder product that cost a fortune. So here is our story, (I apologise as it is LONG!) and maybe it will help someone out there who is feeling as lost as I was!
My horse is a traditional gypsy cob called Jimbob. 16 years old, mine for 14 years, we have been through lots together, but this is the hardest battle we have had to face yet. It began with smelly feet, and a deep central sulcus in the hind feet, with some white creamy stuff visible now and again. Farrier advised me to treat as thrush, so I did with various lotions and potions and expensive “thrush killers”, with no effect.
Around this time, Jim started to stamp his hind feet. Now he is a feathered horse, and we had struggled with mites years ago, but had eradicated them with pig oil and sulphur. So I reapplied the pig oil and observed for a few weeks, and I realised he wasn’t stamping in the stable, wasn’t itching his legs, nobody heard him stamping when I wasn’t around, and he would only stamp when he was trotting. So I started to wonder is it his arthritis? (Mild in both hinds) This carried on, rapid stamping for a few minutes then he would trot away fine. Then one day I had him out on the road and asked him to trot and he stopped dead and stamped his hind feet SO hard and SO fast on the concrete I really panicked and thought he was going to fracture something. I asked him to move on when he had finished and he started again, and again, and again. When he stopped I walked him cautiously home, and started researching what this could be, when I discovered it could be a sign of pain in the hoof. Have to point out at this point, Jim was not lame, and never has shown any unevenness in his gait.
This was when I also saw something on the internet that said about something called canker oozing white, cottage cheese like substance. I had heard of canker many years ago, but didn’t know what it was exactly. This rang alarm bells so I got another farrier to give me a second opinion. He had a good look round, warned me it might get gruesome and there might be a lot of blood. Eventually there was a slight bit of blood, and he said, “I don’t think its canker. I’ve seen it before and I don’t think this is it, it’s not bleeding easily enough.” I had read that it would bleed profusely with the slightest touch, so this gave me confidence, in fact I burst into tears with relief, so I carried on treating as thrush and tried another different treatment.
About this time I decided to switch to a barefoot trimmer, who also advised me to treat it as thrush, so I carried on some more. This was all happening around the same time, and the stamping was getting worse. In desperation I called the vet. She took one look and my heart dropped when she said “This is definitely Canker.” All that I had read was that this was a death sentence. It was DOOM and I was going to lose my horse, he was going to have to have operations I couldn’t afford, doom doom doom dooooooooom.
So the vet started to cut into the frog and cut all the Canker out. Jim was a diamond, just stood quietly eating fibre nuggets, and the vet remarked that he should be throwing her around the yard! There was much more canker under the frog than could be seen, and she got as much as she could. He also had some in the center of his right hind, but not as severe. Due to Jim not being insured, my funds being limited, and him having a previous history of Laminitis in both front feet, which could be kicked off again by the trauma, the full frog removal operation was ruled out. The vet had dealt with this before, and had some success with other cases with a treatment of Peroxide wash, Terramycin spray, and copper sulphate granules packed into the foot, so we tried that.
I don’t have any pictures of the immediate aftermath because there was a lot of blood, but this was several weeks later. I struggled massively to treat it by myself, and everything seemed to sting his foot. Occasionally I was able to borrow a strong man to hold his foot still while I applied the treatments, but it was a serious struggle when I was on my own.
This continued for six weeks until the vet was to return. I carried on treating where I could, without much improvement, he was getting more wary of me touching his feet, I couldn’t keep his foot clean, and I couldn’t find a way to wrap it up and for it to stay on. The vet came for a second visit, to cut the canker away again. This time was not so easy, he did throw her around the yard. He was then sedated, and was still lashing out with real venom. So he had as much local anaesthetic as possible injected into his frog, and still he threw the poor vet around like a rag doll. The yard was a bloodbath, it was awful. Again I didn’t get any pictures, as you couldn’t see anything with all the blood. But this is a couple of weeks after.
After that trim, we had to start all over again with him letting me treat it. I would start to see improvement, then the trimmer would come and trim the frog. This picture is about 2 weeks after the last.
By accident online, I found a product called NT DRY powder. Thinking it would be worth a go to help keep the foot dry at least, I bought some and used it for a week. It seemed to make him drastically more comfortable, and he started to trust me with his feet again. I started to see improvement again. This is about three weeks later.
I’m gonna warn you, if you are dealing with this, it is seriously demoralising. You think you are on top of it, you think it’s looking better, but that’s just the top layer, and the Canker will have closed itself in and be raging underneath. Each trim revealed it had either grown or moved to another place. Looks good ish here, right?
Two days later, after a trim:
Eventually the whole frog looked dry ontop, but would squelch when pressed. We then realised the canker had under-run the entire frog. At this point we had had the wettest ever winter on record in the UK. The vet had told me not to let it get wet or muddy, but he was confined to his box and getting fed up. He lashed out one day and although he didn't connect with me, he threw me clean across the stable and into the wall with the force. I gave up and turned him out in hoof boots, but they let the water in so he was standing in a wet boot. So I wrapped his hooves in several layers of plastic and duct tape, and somehow the water still got in. The girls on the yard bought me brightly coloured and patterened duct tape to cheer me up!!
Eventually I thought sod it, go and get muddy and enjoy yourself and I’ll just have to wash the hoof when you come in. I would rather a happy horse, than a miserable one locked in his stable, if it meant the canker got worse then so be it! I would wash and dry the feet with a towel, then use paper towels to get in the cracks.
Again I was seeing improvements, and again my hopes were dashed! Before trim:
Wasn't bleeding that time, canker seemed to be receding, dared to get my hopes up. Four weeks later, this happened...
That day my trimmer mentioned that one of her customers had tried Echinacea for sarcoids, and the sarcoids all dropped off! Now in my long late nights of scouring the internet, I had learned that there had been “Consistent detection of bovine papillomavirus in the cells of horses affected by hoof canker”. It’s not said that the virus has CAUSED the canker, but it is present, and the virus IS what causes sarcoids. What the hell, it can’t hurt, let’s give it a try!
By this time, I’ll admit, I had gotten a bit sporadic in applying the treatment. It was depressing and demoralising, soooo time consuming, it killed my back, he was trying so hard to be a good boy but he hated having it done. I tried wrapping in nappies and duct tape in the stable to keep clean, so many variations, we got quite the pros at wrapping a perfect hoof, but the plastic caused his hooves to sweat, and in the morning I would find that he had neatly stepped out of his little plastic slippers somehow, without damaging them, and his feet were full of shavings and poo again. I was going through so much duct tape, and everyone was saving me their empty feed bags to use as wrapping. I came to dread looking over the stable door to see these perfect little horsy booties stood there empty. I could not physically wrap them any tighter and yet he still got out of them, it was INFURIATING!
I started looking for breathable boots, and bought a Shires poultice boot, made of canvas, hoping it would keep his feet clean and dry. Nope. Trashed three boots in a row, maximum they lasted was two days and he walked through the bottoms of them, but in the days they stayed on, they made a big difference! I bought more and he trashed them too, at £11 a boot it wasn’t funny. They were either too small or too big. I sat up all night and made my own boot, made to measure! Made a wire model of his hoof, sculpted a 6 layer duct tape base around it, got some fabric and busted out the sewing machine, which wouldn’t stitch through it, so stitched it by hand. Yes, this is gonna work! Fit like a glove, perfect!
Came up the next morning and it was in shreds around the stable. I cried. Researched other options, like the moss creek hoof wrap, or the easy boot RX, or the equine slipper which was only available in the US, there were others but I was out of funds and they were all expensive.
So I was tired, in constant floods of tears, almost ready to give up, when I bought some Echinaecea in the form of Hilton Herbs Equimmune plus. I read all the info and thought what harm can it do, at best it will boost his immune system and try and fight it from the inside out! I don’t know what I was hoping for, desperation had set in, maybe a miracle? A few days went by, nothing happened. Then more nothing. After three weeks though, I noticed something. I wasn’t having to dry his gooey feet with paper towels. There was no cottage cheese. Pieces of frog and canker were starting to crumble off.
I got another passing farrier on the yard to trim off the flappy bits, which neatened it up. So with a little renewed hope, I decided to go on the attack again. I considered contacting Shires and buying a box of 100 boots, but while I was out on a photoshoot at the other side of town, I noticed a small tack shop and popped in. Bought another poultice boot of a different make, re stocked on the vets products and treated the foot again.
What a surprise, this IV horse poultice boot stayed in one piece! It had an extra layer of canvas, it was stronger, but far too big. So I got out the duct tape again and wrapped it just around the front, to give it an extra layer of tread, and to make it fit tight to the hoof to try and stop it slipping down too much. Well, it stayed on overnight. With the duct tape renewed every night, it ended up lasting about 3 weeks before wearing its first hole, but with added duct tape (LOL, I had enough of it in stock!) it lasted about 6 weeks!! I stopped using the peroxide altogether, as it would never dry up and seemed to be making things worse, and I read it kills healthy cells as well as unhealthy. I had also tried a hypochlourus solution called RenaSan, which again seemed to make it worse. So I just stuck with the dry method. Six weeks of a clean dry foot, poulticed up with blue spray and copper sulphate overnight, then off to let the foot breathe and used NT dry powder in the day.
I found another brand of poultice boot from “The little yellow tack shop” which are called “Hoof it”. Again, nice and strong, and with the added duct tape they are lasting for weeks. The foot can breathe. It seems like we have FINALLY hit on the right combination, as we are seeing BIG changes with the foot. It’s so dry now, that the trimmer is struggling to trim it, the hoof is like concrete. The canker is shrivelling up and going hard, which is then cutting off (with a bit of effort!)
Feeling renewed hope, I get the vet back, who is extremely pleased with the results. Except when she goes in with the hoof knife…. You guessed it, there it is again. It’s now burrowing through one of the bars of his hoof. This slayed me again. How does it keep running away! How can it keep hiding itself! What else can I DO!!!! I can’t do this anymore! However, the central sulcus on both feet had made a vast improvement, as had other parts of the frog. So we decided to keep on going. The vet couldn’t take much off as he wouldn’t let her without more sedation, but the trimmer was nearly due anyway.
In the picture below, the canker was headed under the sole, at the green arrow.
That piece of sole began to lift up ready to come off, so I called the trimmer.
I gave him a Danilon in the morning so we could really go at it, and we did, to discover it had gone through the bar and into the sole! Under what looked like perfectly healthy sole was a large section of diseased hoof. (Ignore the blue, it's stained from the spray)
BUT!! The frog was clear and healthier than it had ever looked!! We had BEATEN IT BACK! Something was working, and it was running away in a different direction. This has just renewed my resolve. If I have to chase it round the foot again and again, then I will.
A week later there is another big improvement. The canker is shrivelling up again.
The vet advised me to get a hoof knife so I can keep chipping off the very tops of the canker where it hardens, as it tends to seal itself in and the treatment stops working. There is NO odour, NO moisture. He is into his 7th or 8th week of the Equimmune supplement. The weather is drying out, so he is getting more turnout, and heading into spring in a positive mindset. He’s sound, happy, as feisty as usual, so bring it on!
Things I’ve discovered: