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Key takeaways

Canker is a rare bacterial infection characterized by irregular, smelly, cauliflower-like growths on horse hooves.

  • Canker is painful, and can spread into softer tissues as infection progresses
  • Diagnosis includes physical examination, and diagnostic imaging determines the extent of any soft tissue infection.
  • Treatment includes removing growths and applying an antiseptic dressing, sometimes alongside antibiotics
  • Prognosis is fair to good once completely healed
  • During treatment, growths may continue to recur if the infection is incompletely removed, making aggressive and prompt treatment key to successful recovery
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A closer look: Canker in Horses

Canker infections are rare, but are very painful for affected horses.

Infection can spread from the hoof surface into softer tissues, and in severe cases lead to portions of a hoof sloughing off entirely.

If a horse develops growths on their feet, emergency medical attention is required.

Risk factors

Horses living in wet, tropical environments, and throughout the southeastern US have an increased risk to infection.

Walking with a canker can be painful, which gives rise to stamping, limping, or an otherwise irregular gait in an affected animal.

Canker can spread inwards and upwards from the hoof sole into softer tissues within the hoof, potentially damaging these structures.

Possible causes

The bacteria causing disease is unknown. Although, climate may play a role in the possible cause as canker is more commonly identified in warm, wet, and tropical environments. Growths initially develop on the sole of the horse’s hoof, particularly in the sulci (grooves on either side of the frog). These growths are gray or white in color, may be soft and moist, and produce a foul smelling discharge. The surface of the growths is irregular and cauliflower-like.

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnosis includes a physical examination and diagnostic imaging to identify any spreading of the infection into softer tissues.

Steps to Recovery

Treatment involves surgical removal of the growths, and an antiseptic dressing applied to the affected foot.

It is important to follow veterinary directions, as dressings need to be regularly changed. Some horses may require special shoeing to protect the area as it heals. The area must be monitored closely as canker growths can recur after initial treatment, if the bacteria is not completely removed.

Canker growths thrive in wet, humid climates. Keeping a patient in a warm and dry environment encourages recovery. Severe infections require antibiotics.

Horses may recover from canker infections within two weeks with aggressive and timely intervention. Most cases have a good prognosis, although treatment can take several months in some cases. Recurrence is possible after healing, but rare.


The bacteria responsible for canker growths is not known, so preventative measures have not been established.

Stabling horses in warm, dry environments may reduce susceptibility.

Regular and proper hoof upkeep increases the chances of early identification.

Cankers are not known to be contagious.


Canker is rare in horses, although incidence is more common in larger horses.

Typical Treatment

  • Surgical removal
  • Applying antiseptic dressing
  • Bind hoof
  • Antibiotics
  • Antifungals

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