VET’S DIARY: Winter coats can hide a whole host of problems

As the weather warms up, the prospect of summer is just round the corner, writes Edward Chinn.

In the equine clinic it’s a busy time for pre-purchase examinations or ‘vettings.’

The five-stage vetting is a very thorough examination to detect any abnormalities and to determine whether a horse is suitable for its intended purpose – be it leading rein pony or world-class eventer.

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. Horses in all parts of the world are affected.

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

Sarcoids are commonly reported to multiply on an individual horse 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.

We are holding an equine first-aid practical workshop on Monday, June 9, at Fairmoor Equine Clinic, including the treatment of wounds.

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 than standard surgery and most patients go home the day of surgery.

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

The equine clinic is holding its next laser clinic on Tuesday, May 13.