H&H sought veterinary opinions on the importance of seeking appropriate treatment for sarcoids rather than using home remedies, after an owner who did the latter was prosecuted
Tracey Atchison’s New Forest pony Sonny had to be put down as a result of his severe, malignant sarcoids, which were “ulcerated and oozing”, having not been appropriately treated for years.
The 57-year-old, of East Howe Lane, Bournemouth, was found guilty of one count of causing unnecessary suffering, and sentenced at Poole Magistrates’ Court on 24 June.
RSPCA inspector Tina Ward said: “Sonny had large areas of skin covered with sarcoids of different types and sizes on his chest and between his front legs, between his back legs and around his sheath. Some had thick rough scabs with deep cracks that appeared to be oozing, others were bulbous with angry red areas, which were also oozing.”
Two independent vets concluded that Sonny had to be put down as a result of his condition, owing to the fact he had not had appropriate treatment in time. Atchison had been treating him with a cream she had mixed herself.
One of the vets said in a report: “He was clearly showing signs of pain around these sarcoids and would anticipate that someone touching them would be painful, and would step away and clench his muscles.
“The sarcoids on this horse were ulcerated, bleeding, oozing pus and serum, they ranged in size from approximately 0.5cm to 14cm and there was significant invasion of the local tissues. Many of them were pendulous and rubbed on the adjacent sarcoids or limb as the horse walked. Sonny smelt of necrotic tissue up close.
“In my professional opinion, this horse was suffering from pain associated with sarcoids in multiple locations and was likely to have been ongoing for a minimum period of two years. This owner failed to meet this horse’s needs by failing to seek veterinary attention when this horse required it as a result of a chronic, malignant cancer.”
H&H vet Karen Coumbe said saroids, and many other “lumps and bumps” are far simpler to treat when they are small.
“Vets don’t pretend they can always cure them; far from it,” she said. “But getting rid of them when they’re small is a far more minor procedure, and treating them inappropriately can have catastrophic consequences, as shown here.”
Mrs Coumbe said owners should not just consider what they can see on the surface; the problem could be spreading under the skin and be more serious than it appears, and that all sarcoids are different.
“Also, what you think might be a sarcoid isn’t,” she said. “Occasionally, you see people treating melanomas or hernias as sarcoids. You need to get your vet to identify it, and treat it appropriately. Coincidence can be a wonderful thing; there’s no evidence to show that toothpaste or turmeric or whatever cures sarcoids; if they were magic cures, we’d all be using them.”
Having spoken to Professor Derek Knottenbelt, a specialist in equine oncology, British Equine Veterinary Association president Lucy Grieve told H&H sarcoids are a form of skin cancer and should be treated as such.
“It always pains me to hear of homemade remedies or unsubstantiated (and often irresponsible) products being used by owners to ‘treat’ them,” she said. “If it was so easy to cure skin cancer with the flour and salt mixtures and herbal creams you find used, we wouldn’t be in the situation we are with these conditions.
“Invariably the ‘treatment’ causes temporary dehydration of the tissues or a reaction that resembles a reduction in size of the sarcoid tissue. But those sarcoids tend to reactivate with a vengeance far more aggressive than the sarcoid was in the first place. Frequently the aggravation caused by the product used causes inflammation and this can cause the tumour to become more aggressive and develop its own blood supply.”
Ms Grieve said skin cancer in horses should be treated as it is in humans.
“All we ask is that we do for our horses what we would do for ourselves in the same situation,” she said. “Just like in human cancer, no cancer in two individuals is exactly the same, and a whole raft of factors must be considered when choosing treatment. How would you feel if your doctor prescribed toothpaste or tying a tumour off with a hair for a cancer on your own body or on one of your loved ones?
“Evidence-based treatments such as recognised anti-cancer creams, specific injections into the tumours or surgery, including conventional surgery, laser or cryosurgery, should be carried out by veterinary professionals who can select the best possible treatment taking all factors into account.”
Atchison was fined £120 and ordered to pay £200 costs. It is understood that she was not banned from keeping equines owing to the length of time since the offence was committed, from 2017 to 2019, during which she had proved she could look after another horse, and because she was of previous good character.
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“He has such a lovely life,” she said. “But if I hadn’t washed his willy that time, he’d be dead
“Just treating at fixed and frequent intervals with no testing is the equivalent of fumbling in the dark. You will