Sarcoids in Horses

Nearly every day, I get at least one e-mail or comment on the blog from someone asking me about a specific issue his/her horse is having.  While I love helping people and horses out, I don’t always know the answer to every question!  However, I did recently get a question about sarcoids in horses and this is something that I have dealt with before.  Since they are so common, I figured a blog post on the topic was in order.

Once upon a time, I fancied myself a horse ‘trainer’ (not really, but I took on the challenge of starting three horses under saddle).  Not long into training, one of those young mares developed a rather large and unsightly sarcoid on the side of her mouth.  I remember trying a few different topicals, but nothing seemed to work.  So I took her to my vet and he removed the sarcoid surgically.  The sarcoid did not come back while I owned the mare (which was for several more years), though I hear the reoccurrence of surgically-removed sarcoids is rather high.

Sarcoids are the most common skin disorder reported in horses and many veterinarians consider them to be a form of skin cancer (though almost always benign).  Often appearing in young to middle-aged horses, these skin lesions commonly appear on the abdomen, sheath, legs, ears, muzzle, or around the eyes.  They can also develop at the site of old scars, especially on the legs.




Sarcoids can vary quite a bit in their appearance and there are six types that exist in horses:

Occult: Flat patch where hair is absent with a grey, scaly surface. Often circular in shape and commonly confused with ringworm.  Usually occur on the face, neck, or between the back legs.

Verrucose: Wart-like and scaly but extend deeper into the tissue than the occult sarcoid. Often irregular in shape and multiple lesions may appear.

Nodular: Lumps form under the skin and often appear shiny. These vary in size–some being more than 5 centimeters in diameter.  Usually occur around the groin and eyelids.

Fibroblastic: Usually a fast-growing, fleshy mass which can begin as a complication of a skin wound.  Often become ulcerated and “hang” on a stalk. Can become extremely invasive into the surrounding skin.

Mixed: A variable combination of two or more types of sarcoids, often appearing at different times, forming a “colony”.

Malevolent: Most aggressive type of sarcoid. These spread through the skin and even along lymph vessels, with cords of tumor tissue interspersed with nodules and also ulcerative lesions. Can become large and difficult to manage.


What Causes Sarcoids?

Like many equine issues, the cause of sarcoids is debatable and it depends on who you ask!  Many say that sarcoids are caused by bovine papilloma virus (virus in cattle) or a related virus and are transmitted by flies and other biting insects.  Others say sarcoids occur when the immune system becomes compromised.  Either way, the immune system definitely seems to play a part and it would be wise to address it when you’re looking at treatment options.

So, once you’ve realized your horse has a sarcoid (or maybe several), what can you do about it?  Sarcoids are known for being difficult to treat and if they’re small and not causing a problem for the horse, you may not want to treat (at least, cosmetically) them at all.  Some sarcoids actually go away on their own with time.  Other sarcoids, however, can grow quite large and present a problem for the horse.  These are the ones that will need treatment– and the sooner, the better usually.


Standard Treatments

There are several standard treatments for sarcoids which have a moderate success rate:

  • radiation therapy (most successful, but most expensive);
  • cryotherapy (freezing with liquid nitrogen);
  • surgical removal;
  • laser therapy;
  • litigation (tight band place around sarcoid to cut off blood supply);
  • injection of immune stimulants (either systemically or into the tumor);
  • chemotherapy drugs (i.e.–Cisplatin); and
  • topical agents.

I also wrote an article a few years ago about electrochemotherapy for treating sarcoids.


Natural and ‘Not-So Standard’ Treatments

If you’d rather go with a less invasive and/or more natural (or not so standard) treatment, there are a few of these which also have reportedly worked for some horses:

Thuja:  This is a homeopathic treatment which can be used (given internally) and there is also a thuja cream which can be applied to the sarcoid itself.

Bloodroot Extract: This topical agent, derived from a flowering plant called Sanguinaria and marketed under the trade name Xxterra, is an economical option for some small sarcoids and larger sarcoids for which more expensive treatment isn’t an option.  (A caution with this treatment though–it works by ‘burning’ the sarcoid cells and can be somewhat painful for the horse).

Turmeric: This spice is known to be helpful for a variety of conditions and works as an immune-booster, among other things.  You may not find a lot of information on using turmeric for sarcoids out there in Google-land, but I’ve seen countless photos and stories on the Facebook Turmeric Users Group about the success of feeding turmeric to horses with sarcoids.  It can also be used topically in a paste.

Floride Toothpaste or Mouthwash:  This method of treatment is controversial.   Some horse owners swear by it while some professionals warn of the dangers of using something like toothpaste and forgoing ‘real’ treatment.  However, if you’re interested in learning more, you might check out this story.

Mushroom Matrix: Creating from a blend of medicinal mushrooms, this is a newer and lesser known treatment for sarcoids which also acts by boosting the immune system.  You may want to use it in combination with another treatment.  This brand is one of the more popular products.


Please keep in mind that not every treatment will work for every type of sarcoid.  If in doubt, seek the help of an experienced veterinarian.  Sarcoids are not life threatening, but they can be uncomfortable for the horse, especially if they develop around sensitive areas such as the mouth or sheath.


Sources and Further Reading:


Sarcoids and Melanomas

Evidence-Based Equine Sarcoid Treatments Reviewed





Hi! My name is Casie Bazay. I'm a mom, a freelance writer, and a certified equine acupressure practitioner.

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18 Responses

  1. Jessica Lynn says:

    Sarcoids are something that seems to be occurring more frequently, there are some veterinary homeopaths who are treating them successfully, and the alternatives that Casie has listed are some of the ways that can help to reduce and even cure them, and a healthy immune system is imperative to keeping them from spreading as well – Vitamin C in high doses(10,000 to 15,000 mg per day), vitamin E (1,200 to 1,600 iu per day) and of course high potency probiotics supplemented daily to give your horse a healthy gut (90% of the horses immune system is in the intestinal tract – if it is unhealthy then so is the horse) – in homeopathy the skin is the first place an dis-ease begins to show!

  2. Deby says:

    Hi Casie Thanks for the info on sarcoids. I am treating my appendix who had one on his sheath opening right in the fold. It was the size of a dime and elongated. I used frankincense and rotated Hawaiian sandalwood and roman chamomile too with the frankincense. I tried oregano and thyme, but they were to caustic for such a tender spot. To top off his treatment, I put a dab of cannabis indicus oil first and added the essential oils to it by the drop. Less than 2 months later it is almost gone. I use DT oils…I don’t know if I can say the brand, and I used muscle testing to see which oil was needed for the day. He also has a melanoma under his tail that seems to be reducing in size with the oils. I just wanted to share. While not every holistic approach is effective, it is non-evasive and not that expensive to use.

    • Casie says:

      Thanks for sharing, Deby and glad to hear the oils are working for your horse. I’m a big fan of essential oils too. 🙂

  3. Clissa says:

    Cassie thanks for this updated info re the sarcoids.
    My horse’s large sarcoid on his right front pastern right below the fetlock joint has reduced slightly since using the black salve.
    But I stopped using it because it seemed to keep eating/burning the cells months after use. I was concerned that it might eat right into his pastern & fetlock joint.
    Now I will try the fluoride mouth wash & toothpaste & see what happens.
    I’ll take some photos along the way as I have done before.
    Always hoping for a positive outcome since his is in a vulnerable position where it gets knocked a lot & often bleeds.
    I am concerned it might get infected & become a real issue.

    • Casie says:

      Hi Clissa, Have you tried addressing the immune system through nutrition as well? That might help.

      • Clissa says:

        Yes Cassie.. in a way I am addressing the immune system. I have been working on the 16ac pasture to get it in better balance. Also my horses get a mineral supplement designed for this area to take care of local soil problems. Hopefully as the pastures get better I can reduce the expensive supplement. This year all 3 of my horses have held their weight through winter better than previous years even though the rainfall has been almost drought level. I only feed a tiny 2cup sized feed every second day to give them the supplement. On the alternate day they get a handful of veggie scraps from my organic garden. So I am hoping since they are maintaining weight better, their systems should be generally healthier.

        • Clissa says:

          Hi there, I have a new update regarding my horse’s sarcoid.
          It continues to get smaller although now at a reduced rate. I may do another application sometime soon because it I open & bleeding now.
          But the sarcoid is now only a fraction of it’s previous size. It must be itchy because Sonny seems to rub it on the ground a lot when he lays down on that side.
          That rubbing is also reducing the size, so all in all I think in time it will die or reduce right back to the root.

          • Casie says:

            Great news! What have you been using on it?

            • Clissa says:

              The Black Salve, the bloodroot stuff Cassie. It never stopped working from earlier last year. I think it just has to be given time & not keep putting more & more on.
              I heard of a person who kept putting it on every second day, then every week & it ate a huge hole in her leg. I think once this stuff starts working you just leave it alone to do it’s job.

              • Clissa says:

                Another update on the sarcoid on my horse’s front leg. It is about a year since I last used the black salve but it continues to work. The sarcoid is slowly getting smaller & now beginning to dry up. Occasionally he bumps it, causing it to bleed a bit. Then it grows a little bit of new proud flesh but soon dies back. Leaving it alone now seems to be the best treatment.

    • Deby says:

      There is a black salve I use from Australia…HAMPL is the company. It has very little corrosive properties to it. The black salves available here, keep on being corrosive once they are applied. I have used them for 3 decades and have had massive scarring and burning. Fluoride is a neurotoxin…Personally, I never have used it and I would use caution if you do as it is very common for horse to die from fluoride poisoning in states that fluoridate their water. As I posted…frankincense works well as does using Hawaiian sandalwood and arbor vitae too. They are non evasive and there has been some trials done at VA Univ. some time back using frankincense for cancer, tumors, etc. Sometimes a baking soda paste works well.

  4. Johanna Dunn says:

    Ive had some success giving the homeopathic remedy thuja 30x. Give 3 tablets 2x daily with 12 hours inbetween. Dont give within 1 hr of food. Give for 7 days, stop for 7 days, give again for 7 days. I have a horse with 3 sarcoids and after a week of this, 1 fell off completely! You can also get thuja cream, which ive also heard works well. There is also a man in Monaghan with the cure. I will hopefully be trying him in the next week! I also heard the new “stinky stuff” works, and after alot of research, it seems its neem oil. Also havnt tried it! Johanna

  5. Melanie says:

    What a great article, Casie! Thanks for sharing. I especially like how you have outlined the different types of sarcoid growths, and offered various treatment solutions. I have used bloodroot paste with success. It left a clean hole about 1″ x 2″ on the side of my horse. PF Wonder Salve is a natural product (over 90%) that healed and dried up the hole after using the bloodroot. The sarcoid never returned or spread.

  6. Scott Adams says:

    I’m so glad you mentioned feeding the horse turmeric to treat sarcoids. I have noticed sarcoids on my horse, and I don’t know what treatment to use. I’ve heard of turmeric as a vitamin for horses, and it would be great if it also treats sarcoids.

  7. Melanie says:

    Hi Casie,
    I am having good results in using essential oils , green clay and Aloe Vera Gel. After extensive research ( one doesn’t want to harm the horse in the process) I started with a green clay recipe by Nayana Morag ( from her book “Essential Oils for Animals” ) . Then I read about a study on Frankincense applied on Equine Melanoma and decided it to give it a try – together with the clay recipe ( as not only does it dry out the sarcoid , it also keeps the flies away and seals it. Changes were enormous after using the Frankincense . With Frankincense one must go slowly and monitor well as we tried it on another horse and she had a severe allergic reaction. However Gregory’s sarcoid changed sizes and eventually fell off. I applied the Frankincense 3 x per week and the clay recipe was renewed on a daily basis. Now that only a flat surface remains I’ve changed to Lavender oil and the same recipe as with the clay – but exchanged the clay with Aloe Vera Gel. The whole process took about 2 months. We’re not done,yet, but considering the size (Huge fibroplastic growth on hind pastern ) I am confident. Now I’ve read that in Germany they are using Homeopathy with quick results. Product is Dr. Reckeweg R17 , 3 x a day (15 drops into the mouth of the horse). As Gregory has another sarcoid in his ear, that I didn’t want to treat with above options because of the potential danger of oils , clay and dead skin dropping into his ear, I’ll try that. By the way , just pure , high quality Aloe Vera Gel also worked on the sarcoid on Gregory’s leg.
    I documented ( took pics) of the changes in the sarcoid for reference.

    Best of Luck

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