It is advisable that male domestic horses are castrated if you don’t intend to breed from them in the future. Once castrated, the procedure cannot be reversed.
Why should I castrate my horse?
There are many advantages to castrating your horse. The testicles produce many hormones such as testosterone which are important in the development of male characteristics. By removing the production site of these hormones it can help to minimise the development of aggressive behaviour as well as stopping sexual activity, which can affect athletic performance.
Other advantages include stopping the risk of testicular tumours developing, stopping the risk of testicular trauma occurring which can be irreparable and stopping the risk of the testicular cord twisting which can be incredibly painful.
At what age should I castrate my horse?
It is advisable to castrate your horse at one to two years of age. If we attempt to do this any younger, then the testicles can be very small and difficult to handle, any older and the blood supply is much more developed, increasing the risk of complications such as haemorrhage.
At what time of year should I castrate my horse?
Castration is generally carried out in the spring or autumn. In the summer it is hotter and there are flies about which can increase the risk of infection developing. In the winter, horses tend to be in, increasing risk of infection and also the development of swelling since they cannot move about at much.
How is the procedure carried out?
There are two main techniques which can be used for the castration of horses, either a closed or open technique. With both techniques we incise through the scrotum to exteriorise the testicle. The only difference is, is that if we do it closed we don’t incise through the vaginal tunic.
If your horse is being castrated at home then an open technique tends to be used since to do the procedure closed a general anaesthetic is required and the horse would need to be hospitalised. By doing the procedure closed it minimises the risk of herniation after the procedure, where abdominal contents can come down into the scrotal sac. However, the open technique allows better access for removal of the testicle and better drainage post operatively and does not require general anaesthetic.
For open castration to be performed the horse needs to be sedated and then local anaesthetic can be infused into the testicle and around the spermatic cord. We then make an incision in the scrotal sac and remove the testicles.
We can perform the procedure either at home or in our practice. Doing the procedure in the practice ensures that the procedure can be done more hygienically and we can have better control of the level of anaesthesia.
Prior to the procedure it is important that your horse is healthy and up to date with tetanus vaccination. If it has not recently had a tetanus injection then we can give an injection at the time of the operation.
What if my horse only has one testicle descended?
Occasionally only one of the testicles descends into the scrotal sac. These are called cryptorchids or rigs. In 75% of cases it is the right testicle that does not fully descend. Embryologically the testicle originates up by the kidney so has to descend from there down into the scrotal sac. Therefore the testicle can be found either inguinally in the groin region or abdominally. In these cases, we need to admit the horse to our hospital and carry out the procedure under general anaesthetic.
What post-operative care will be needed?
After the procedure is carried out it is important that you keep a close eye on the wound area. Haemorrhage is a complication of the procedure, the general rule is that if you can count the drops then it is ok but if there is more of a stream coming out then contact us and we will need to investigate where the bleed is coming from and stop it. If it’s just dripping then with time a clot should form and the bleeding stop.
As noted above, if we do an open castration then it is possible that abdominal contents can herniate down into the scrotal sac. Keep a close eye to the scrotal sac, if you notice ANY sign of intestine coming down through the incision hole please call us immediately. We can offer you immediate tailored advice whilst you wait for us to get to you. Try to keep the horse calm, bandage the tail and keep the guts clean. It can be useful to place a clean bag around the intestines.
If it is summer then ideally you should turn the horse out once the sedation has worn off. If you cannot turn them out then walk them in hand since movement aids lymphatic drainage and therefore minimises inflammation around the surgical site.