Aural plaques in horses 


Being the totally diligent and overly obsessive horse owner you are, you may notice 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 cauliflower. It’s called an aural plaque, and aural plaques in horses can be pretty common.


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Some things to know about aural plaques:


  • The plaques occur in the ears.
  • The plaques are a papillomavirus, which is common in cows.
  • They create a crusty, whiteish, flakey growth inside the ear.
  • The skin underneath is shiny and red, and your horse may not appreciate you picking at them to discover what’s underneath.
  • You will want to chat with your veterinarian about your horse if he starts to develop one.


aural plaques in a horse ear

Photo by Monica D. (Thanks!)


Things that can’t be proven 100% 


  • The plaques are spread by biting insects. The type of biting insect is not really known, but suspected. Lots more to work on here.  The general consensus is that flies carry the papillomavirus from animal to animal.


Plaques vary from horse to horse:


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


  • The aural plaques can sometimes resemble scabs, dry skin, or other skin infections.  



feeling the inside of a gray horse ear



Aural plaques can interfere with your horse’s comfort



  • For some horses, the severe sensitivity, ear shyness, and head shaking interfere 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 of pain and 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.


How you can help your horse if he develops aural plaques:


  • Of course, you should contact your veterinarian. The two of you should be able to come up with a pain to manage discomfort and treat the plaques themselves. Is there a topical cream your vet can suggest for pain if that’s a factor?


  • You may also find that using fly masks with ears helps your horse be less irritated. You can also find fly mask versions designed to be used while riding, which may or may not help with any head tossing.


  • You might also find that keeping hair trimmed around any plaques allows you to apply medicine more effectively. You might also find that keeping your horse’s ear hair fuzzy works better.



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Thank you!