What is this thing growing in my horse's ear?


Being the totally diligent and overly obsessive Groom and horse owner that you are, you may have noticed one day a tiny, baby cauliflower starting to grow in your horse’s ear.  Kudos to you for noticing this, but gotta break the bad news to you, it’s not really a cauliflower.  It’s called an aural plaque, and they are pretty common in horses!  


There are some things that we do know about aural plaques:

  • The plaques occur in the ears.
  • The plaques are a papilloma virus.
  • They create a crusty, white-ish, flakey growth on the inside of the ear.
  • The skin underneath is shiny, and red (not your totally typical inside ear skin.)
  • You will want to chat with your Veterinarian about your horse if he starts to develop one. 



Photo by Monica D.  (Thanks!)



There are some things we have a pretty good idea about but can’t prove 100% about aural plaques:

  • The plaques are spread by biting insects (type not really known, but suspected)


And, as with all things horse, they vary from horse to horse:

  • Some horses are totally unaffected by them and not bothered at all by touching of the plaques.
  • Some horses develop an ear-shyness and/or general sensitivity to the plaques.
  • Some horses develop head shaking behaviors.  


Here’s what I know about these things, as my horse recently developed one.  I’m lucky, in that he really doesn’t care if I touch it or handle it.  During the hot and super dry summer, it started to crack a bit, and on one occasion was a bit bloody.  I was able to apply some triple antibiotic cream to it to moisten it up, it’s been disappearing since, and is now almost totally gone.  Chances are it wasn't a true plaque, but a scab that looked like a plaque. 


For some horses, the severe sensitivity, ear shyness, and head shaking interferes with their jobs as riding horses, or it makes them uncomfortable all day, every day.  In cases like this, there may be a solution in the form of an immune boosting drug in cream form.  This requires much diligence on the owner’s part, as the cream creates an inflammatory response (pain, swelling) in the ear.  For this reason, many horses that have aural plaques and are not bothered by them are not treated.  You and your Veterinarian will need to decide how best to proceed!


Anyone else out there familiar with these plaques?