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How to Treat Sarcoids on Your Horse

10th August 2017

Looking after the health and well-being of your horses is always a top priority for owners. So, what do you do if you find they are suffering from sarcoids?

What are Sarcoids?

This nasty affliction shows itself in the form of tumours on the skin. Sarcoids are a form of begin skin tumour that can look horrendous on your beloved animal but can be effectively treated.

Experienced vets will be able to tell you if your horse of dinkey is suffering from sarcoids, or another form of skin lesion.

Although they do not cause too many problems for the animal, they are horrible to look at and can become infected if left untreated.

They can also cause problems depending on where they grow, rubbing on tack or saddles, or causing vision problems if near the eyes

What causes Sarcoids?

A virus called Bovine Papilloma Virus (BPV) is the source of sarcoids and is thought to be transmitted through fly bites.

As the name suggests, it originally came from cattle. Nowadays, you are more likely to find sarcoids in horses, ponies and donkeys.

Typically, most animals will come into contact with the virus at some point in their lives, although not all of them will develop sarcoids.

What do Sarcoids look like?

The most common places to find sarcoids are found on around the tail and beneath the back legs, along the belly, between the front legs and occasionally around the eyelids.

There are many different forms of sarcoids, but you can use their individual features to identify them:

Occult Sarcoids

  • Flat
  • Hairless
  • Will look a bit dry and crusting
  • Has dark patches.
  • Area around them will be smooth, dark and hairless
  • Mostly found on the upper limbs, the neck and near the eyes

Verrucose Sarcoids

  • Raised
  • Knobbly
  • Splotchy
  • Patchy dark areas
  • May appear ulcerated

Nodular Sarcoids

  • Firm
  • Nodular
  • May be covered in a layer of normal skin over

Fibroblastic Sarcoids

  • Ulcerated
  • Weeping
  • Raised
  • May be sore for the animal
  • Some will form a stalk
  • Can form anywhere

Mixed Sarcoids

  • Will combine a mixture of identifies from other forms of sarcoid
  • If your sarcoid cannot fit into any other typography, it is likely to be a Mixed

Malevolent Sarcoids

  • Rare
  • Invasive
  • Can burrow deeper into the skin

Early Prevention of Sarcoids

It is important to find and identify sarcoids as early as possible, so you can monitor their effect on your animal.

Small sarcoids that are on the body, away from sensitive areas and with plenty of loose skin around them can be treated quite easily.

Sarcoids that form near sensitive areas, such as the eyes, mouth, ears and genitals, may need to be looked at by a professional vet to determine the best course of treatment.

Sarcoids that become infected or problematic for your horse or pony may require more aggressive treatment, though your vet will be able to advise on this.

How to identify a sarcoid

Many sarcoids can be identified with experience, or using our guide above.

However, if you believe you have found a sarcoid on your animal, we recommend you contact your vet immediately for a proper diagnosis.

To do this, they will need to take a biopsy or tissue sample for identification.

How to Treat Sarcoids

There are a number of effective treatments available for sarcoids, depending on the location and condition of the lesion.


Wherever the sarcoid has a stalk forming, the use of banding can be a very effective form of removal.

Large rubber bands or, occasionally, castration bands can be used to form a tight neck around the sarcoid, causing it to dry and fall off.

However, this treatment can only be performed if the sarcoid has a prominent stalk.

Liquid Freezing

Just as some doctors will use freezing to treat warts in humans, the same technique can be applied to sarcoids in horses.

This is the best course of treatment for Flat sarcoids.


There are a variety of topical medications that can be used in the treatment of sarcoids:

  • Immune response modifiers
  • Topical retinoids
  • Ointments with extract of Sanguinara canadensis
  • Creams applied directly to the sarcoid
  • Chemotherapy drugs can be injected into the sarcoid (this is typically used on particularly aggressive lesions)


This is often considered a last resort for sarcoids, as its use on poorly defined sarcoids has left animals with significant scarring.

However, on sarcoids that have well-defined boundaries, surgery can be a very effective form of treatment.

BCG vaccine injections

This is a vaccine used to protect humans against tuberculosis but it does have a practical use in the treatment of sarcoids. When injected into your animal, it causes the body’s natural immunities to fight against the sarcoid and reject it.

Recovery from Sarcoids

Treating sarcoids is more about maintaining the comfort and well-being of your animal than complete removal.

Sarcoids that are causing discomfort must be treated as soon as possible, but many smaller, less intrusive lesions can simply be controlled rather than removed.

If you suspect your horse has sarcoids, you can email us at to more advice and information.

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