Swamp cancer could decimate NSW's livestock population post flood

By David Kirkpatrick
March 16 2022 - 11:00pm
A group of vets are concerned about the spread of swamp cancer among the horse populations after floodwaters recede.

A group of vets based on the NSW North Coast are concerned that a post flood epidemic of 'swamp cancer' could decimate NSW's animal population if it remains untreated over the next few days.

Swamp cancer is likely to affect horses that have been exposed to contaminated flood water as well as other animals such as cattle and dogs.



Owners who've had their animals exposed to flood waters are asked to get in touch with their local vets.

Dr Oliver Liyou, who's based at Grafton, has spent the past two to three weeks leading a group of 25 community volunteers rescuing animals from the floods.

Dr Liyou said the sheer size and scale of the disaster still gave him a "chill" when he talked about it.

"It is diabolical, when you talk about someone losing their dairy herd, and there are so many horses still missing it has an ongoing effect and it is unrelenting," he said.

He said swamp cancer was one of the main diseases to look out for in animals after the floods.

"It is a fungal-like mould organism that normally lives in plants and is very common on flood plains," he said.

"It gets into the skin and cuts on animals and it really sets off.

"It eats into tissue and if it gets into joints and tendons it can leave owners and vets with very few options.

"Owners don't ignore it. If the wound is oozing a honey-type serum and the wound is looking nasty and aggressive you need to get treatment very quickly to try and hold it and beat it."

"The extremely rapid rate of growth of these lesions and the generally fatal outcome in these cases means early recognition and appropriate treatment are the only hope for survival for infected horses."


In some cases vets on the NSW North Coast have been transported to properties by boat or chopper to provide vet assistance as the result of a $159,000 GoFundMe campaign.

Swamp cancer, or Pythiosis is an infection typically caused when a horse steps in water carrying bacteria. Pathogens can enter small cuts or abrasions and, in some horses, create itchy, swelling lesions that will eventually become tumour-like growths.

The other large risk diseases following a flood are pleuro-pneumonia, hoof problems, colics and diarrhea, and viral infections such as Hendra, Ross River Fever, West Nile Virus, Japanese Encephalitis and Murray Valley Encephalitis.

With support from local NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and Local Land Services NSW (LLS) the rescue team has been coordinating rescues on a larger scale and working with Vets Beyond Borders.

The group has personally funded the expenses of providing fodder, drugs, fuel, boat and helicopter transport of vet assistance, supplies and treatments.



To assist their efforts, they have so far raised over $159,000 via a GoFundMe campaign and still accepting donations.

If you are on the NSW North Coast log your horse for a Possible Comprehensive Equine Vet Examination and Blood Tests to screen for flood diseases: email floodsNR@goldcoastequineclinic.com.au

Elsewhere, contact your local vet for treatment options.