Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Neoplasia, Tumor or Cancer, Guttural Pouch

The guttural pouches are paired outpocketings of the upper airway (pharynx). They are located near the throat-latch region of the neck. Major vessels and nerves supplying the head course through the walls of these pouches.

The guttural pouches are involved in cooling blood that passes to the brain through the large carotid arteries. They may also have a role in equalizing air pressure on the ear drum (tympanic membrane). The guttural pouch volume in an average horse is 300-500 ml each.

Guttural pouch tumors are rare. The most common is melanoma, usually seen in gray horses. Tumors in the guttural pouch may cause neck swelling and interfere with the nerves and vessels that run through the pouch. This may result in bleeding from the nostrils, difficulty swallowing and tongue weakness.

This diagnosis is made using biopsy through an endoscope. The pouches are accessed with an endoscope through the nasal passage, and into a small slit in the pharynx of the upper airway. A biopsy forceps takes a small sample of the mass to define the specific tumor type.

Prognosis & Relevant Factors

The prognosis is generally poor due to the difficulty of completely removing a mass from the pouch without injuring the critical structures that run through the pouch.

Prognosis depends on the specific tumor type, position/location of the mass and severity of signs. Laser surgery may be possible in some cases.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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