• Xena photograph
  • Xena photograph

Xena's Case Of Canker

Xena is a dark bay teenage Fresian-Percheron mare, who was referred to the University Of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital by her primary care equine veterinarian. The mare was actually rescued several years prior and had previously been living at a local equine rescue sanctuary. She was adopted by her owner, who is a regular volunteer for the sanctuary. Even from the day Xena first arrived at the equine sanctuary, Xena has always had poor quality hooves. They were often described as being rough in appearance.

Signs of Canker

One afternoon, while her owner was picking out Xena's feet, she noticed that they were more sensitive than normal, and that the frog tissue would sometimes start to bleed. To help stop the bleeding, Xena’s owner would apply betadine. Although this therapy method helped in the short-term sense, it did not treat the underlying problem—which gradually became worse. At that point, Xena’s owner realized that she should seek advice from her veterinarian. Xena’s primary care veterinarian made a visit to the barn where Xena was kept to perform a physical exam on her feet. Upon inspection, her veterinarian confirmed that all the signs pointed to a hoof condition known as Canker. This is when they referred Xena to the University Of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Arrival at the Referral Hospital

Upon arrival at the University Of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Xena was promptly greeted by the friendly staff at the hospital, who were expecting her arrival. Dr. Erica Secor, a veterinarian who was currently completing her residency at the hospital, was already familiar with Xena’s case as she had reviewed Xena’s history and notes obtained from the referring primary care veterinarian prior to her arrival at the hospital. Dr. Secor already suspected it was likely Canker, however in order to confirm this and to understand the extent of its severity, she performed a physical examination on Xena’s feet. Upon inspection, Dr. Secor noted that Xena’s feet had the very classic appearance to that of a horse with Canker. The frog tissue of the hoof is particularly prone to developing canker, however the soft tissues over the heel bulbs are also susceptible. This appears as a white, proliferative tissue on the sole of the hoof that bleeds easily (such as what Xena’s owner found when picking out her feet) and has a foul smell to it.

How Canker is Treated

Canker is not treatable with oral antibiotics. The mainstay of treatment is a combination of initial surgical debridement (to remove the infected necrotic tissue within the hoof), followed by strict long term environmental modifications and management, and daily wound management therapy. In order to help keep the hoof clean and free of contamination a special hospital plate shoe is often used for it provides many advantages over traditional bandaging methods—such as better protection and allows quicker access to the hoof for the daily treatments required. The hospital shoe consists of a piece of metal that is cut to the size and shape of the horse’s hoof print, which is then bolted onto the horse’s existing shoe to keep bandages and medication in place.

What to Expect During the Recovery Period

During the recovery period following surgery, it is essential that the horse’s environment remain very clean, dry, and free from contamination. Therefore, almost hourly stall cleanings are required, and horses must remain on stall rest during this period. Because it is often difficult for some horse owners to dedicate the intense management procedures required for successful treatment of this condition, many elect to keep their horse hospitalized during this time, such as in Xena’s case.

Because Canker is often a chronic condition, many times relapses occur following treatment. The best way to handle Canker is to prevent it----by cleaning out your horse’s feet on a daily basis and keeping their environment as clean and dry as possible. This means that stalls should always have clean, dry bedding and paddocks should be free from mud and water build up. Home remedies promoted by various backyard horse owners and vendors don’t often work and just allow for the condition to worsen.

Xena's Current Health Status Update (as of April 2017)

Since Xena was discharged from the University Veterinary Hospital several months ago, her canker has not returned, and her owner has reported that her hoofs are in great condition. She is currently in training under saddle.

About Dr. Erica Secor

Dr. Erica Secor has always had an interest in equine veterinary medicine, especially anything related to lameness and hoof problems! She was born and raised in Vermont and is a graduate of Cornell University’s undergraduate program and veterinary school. She actually graduated a semester early from undergraduate school, during which time she attended a 4-month farrier course with a focus on lameness and corrective shoeing. Following graduation, she performed a one-year internship in Dover, NH and then moved to Illinois to the University Veterinary Hospital in order to complete a three-year residency program in order to become a board-certified specialist in equine surgery. She has almost completed her three-year residency and will be finishing up in July of this year. Following her residency, she will be joining Wisconsin Equine Clinic as a board-certified surgeon. When Dr. Secor is not at the hospital with her patients, she is riding her horse Mocha, running with her rescued dog Annie, or hiking and cooking with her husband Andrew.

About the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine

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The University Of Illinois College Of Veterinary Medicine offers a four-year doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) degree program which was introduced into the college in 2009. Within the College, there is a Veterinary Teaching Hospital, a Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, and the Chicago Center for Veterinary Medicine which provide services to animal owners and veterinarians throughout the Midwest region of the United States. The Veterinary Teaching Hospital consists of a 230,000 square-foot facility consisting of two separate wings which separate large animal from small animal care. The hospital is accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association, and has more than 80 veterinarians on staff, including more than two dozen board certified specialists as well as interns and residents. The annual patient case load for the hospital is about 20,000 animals from across Illinois and beyond. Most of the patients are referred to them by their primary care veterinarian for specialty care.

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Website: vetmed.illinois.edu