Hoof cancer -a word, a feeling of anxiety

Diagnosis of hoof cancer. That makes horse owners swallow hard. Not without reason. This rampant disease can have tragic consequences. But there is hope. The latest findings are encouraging. Many patients have already recovered and conquered this hoof disease. We do not want to withhold from you the details behind it, as well as an exact description of the equine disease.

What exactly is hoof cancer?

Well, actually hoof cancer (often called radiation cancer, wall cancer or sole cancer, depending on the location) is not a true cancer (carcinoma). Metastases, which are the norm in cancer, are not formed. Thus, no cancer cells can be detected.

It is rather a cauliflower-like growth, which can change the hoof skin (e.g. frog, sole, corner struts) and sometimes even the pads in a cancer-like way. Pathological spongy material is formed from this skin, which is highly sensitive. Even the slightest touch causes bleeding.

Layers of germs form extremely stinky horn, which quickly becomes further inflamed. Logical, since the open tissue can absorb all bacteria. There is even an "umbrella word" for this disgusting horn formation disorder. Parakeratosis.

The consequences:

- initial feeling sickness, later severe lameness due to severe pain

- Deformities of the hoof

- haemorrhages

- Lowering of the coffin bone/rotation of the coffin bone to the point of shoeing is possible.

- Breakthrough of the coronary band (due to migration of the canker)

- in the worst case, a death sentence


In the past, it was assumed that navicular cancer was only caused by rotting of the navicular bone. However, this could be disproved. Bacteria, viruses & Co are not solely responsible.

In fact, metabolic disorders, toxic impairments and severe mineral deficiencies (all of which can be checked at the equine clinic) can be the causes. Even improper balance of the hoof and especially feeding can play a role.

Many cold-blooded or thoroughbred horses are hoof cancer patients. A close look at their vitamin supply is a must! Often there is a clear undersupply of minerals/vitamins. At the same time, too much muesli or concentrated feed is being fed. In any case, the feeding history should be followed up.

A change of feed can also have a positive effect. Factory feed (with preservatives, high sugar content, flavourings...) damages the organism!

The affected animal really needs to be "screened". This means that several factors can interact. Maybe bad liver values, nutrient deficiencies, hyperacidity, skin problems and in addition lack of exercise or housing conditions that need improvement etc....

Sometimes one complements the other.

The diagnosis

Hoof cancer is diagnosed by a veterinarian. A biopsy and subsequent histological examinations can confirm this serious equine disease. This is important because in the early stages this condition can resemble another hoof disease.

Once the diagnosis is clear, rapid action is required. Cooperation between owner, veterinarian and farrier or hoof orthopaedist is a prerequisite, makes sense and is very helpful. Proximity to an equine clinic is advantageous. In case of an inpatient admission, specialists are always on site and can provide help quickly. The sterile environment is also a plus.

The procedure

As already mentioned, it is important to act quickly. In technical jargon, one speaks of: aggressive therapy. This includes an immediate surgical removal of all altered horn parts. And that can be a lot. For example, if corner struts are affected, large parts must be removed or hollowed out deep into the hoof. Not pretty, but necessary.

This procedure usually only requires sedation of the animal. It can be treated while standing. The leg is anaesthetised locally.

Afterwards, the horse gets a hoof bandage. Initially, the bandage is changed daily. Later, every few days. The vet will then prescribe various medications for changing the bandage. These are usually painkillers, antibiotics and disinfectant solutions.

Furthermore, a regular check-up by the veterinarian and the farrier must take place. Some blacksmiths use cover irons. These close the hoof, but still allow treatment and enable the patient to move again. Because: Movement is important! It activates blood circulation and promotes healthy horn growth. Disadvantage of cover irons: The hoof disease can progress underneath.

In many horses there was a clear improvement after the medical operation as a result of a competent hoof orthopaedist or hoof trimmer. Without irons, mind you! At the same time, however, the owner must continue to take absolute care of the bandages, tamponades and disinfecting washings.

Yes - it is a huge effort. And yes - it is time-consuming and costly and requires enormous consistency. But, and this is much more important, many horses have actually survived this hoof disease and could be treated. It is therefore curable.

The earlier the condition is recognised, the quicker a cure can take place for the animal. If the early stages of the hoof disease are treated, the chances are quite good that healthy horn will grow back within a few weeks. In more difficult cases of radiation cancer, it can take several months, including admission to an equine clinic and countless appointments with the farrier.

What does this tell us?

The conclusion is clear: prevention is the best measure!

If you want to protect your treasure from a horse disease, only one thing is important. YOU have to meet the needs of such a wonderful animal.

In other words: provide species-appropriate husbandry conditions (e.g. open stable/herd husbandry), provide sufficient exercise (in the form of work and free running, e.g. in the paddock), offer a social environment, ensure a good supply of minerals (organically bound) and carefully selected (natural) feed as well as daily coat and hoof cleaning.

If you take your job seriously, you will only see your vet again for vaccinations. That's how it should be, isn't it?