To castrate or not to castrate is the question many horse owners ask themselves when it comes to the prized young stallion in their barn. For some owners, castration puts an end to the dream of owning a stallion. Being educated on the entire process of castrating a horse can oftentimes help owners in the decision making process.
In actuality very few horses should remain stallions. The equine industry is full of quality equine reproduction options. High caliber stallions with solid credentials and bloodlines are available around the world to services the equine industries reproduction needs. Of course some young stallions where born to become top breeding icons for their industry and discipline, and should remain intact male horses, but for the majority of horse owners - a gelding can be a beautiful thing.
Equine castration is also known as gelding and is the actual removal of the testicles from a male horse. According to Dr. Jennifer Wickline of Equine Veterinary Services in Terrell, Texas, this also includes the nerves and vascular supply to the region. "By removing the testicles, a stallion’s body is removed of the hormone testosterone, which contributes to a stallion’s physique and behavior. The main reason to castrate is to avoid, or certainly minimize, stallion-like behavior."
Stallion like behavior can be aggravating at the least, and downright dangerous on the other end of the spectrum. Excessive vocalization, aggression toward other horses and/or humans can be just the beginning of these less than desirable actions stallions can present. Not all stallions are unruly, however, and many good horses still have their testicles intact. These stallions are typically under the direct supervision and handling of an experienced equine professional with facilities that are solid and safe.
"If you don’t have a good, concrete plan to train and breed your stallion," says Dr. Wickline, "the responsible thing to do is have him castrated. The ideal time for castration of a horse is between one and two years of age, when both testicles are typically descended. At this age the testicles are big enough to handle easily, but not usually so big that bleeding becomes an issue."
Before castration both testicles must be palpable within the scrotum. If only one testicle is descended, the stallion is a cryptorchid and it is unethical to remove only the one descended testicle and leave the other behind. "In cases like this, the patient is referred to a surgical facility for the procedure, where the abdomen can be accessed if necessary to find the undescended testicle. Testicular descent can occur at a later age in some stallions, depending on breed, but if your stallion has only one or no descended testicle by the age of two, he is likely a cryptorchid," says Dr. Wickline.
When is the best time of the year to castrate? Dr. Kent Arnold also of Equine Veterinary Services in Terrell says the time of year is not the main factor on when to castrate. "Flies are the biggest problem with castrations. We really like to castrate during the cooler months of the year but the most significant thing for owners to think about is the fly population."
Castration is a surgical procedure and horses are typically placed under general anesthesia for the surgery. "We lay all of our castrations down. Standing castrations are dangerous for the veterinarian and the horse and in our clinic we do not perform them," says Dr. Arnold. "The entire procedure generally only takes 15-20 minutes once the horse is laid down. Each testicle is removed individually and the cord (the blood and nerve supply) is cut and crushed using an emasculator. The cord is generally tied off to minimize bleeding. The surgical sites are then left open to drain and heal over the next week."
Although castrations are one of the most common surgical procedures performed in the equine industry complications can occur. Swelling is the main post-surgical complication encountered, which is mostly solved by adequate exercise. "Some bleeding is acceptable after surgery, but a continuous drip or steady flow of blood from the castration site warrants a call to the veterinarian," says Dr. Wickline. “Castration sites need to heal from the inside out. If the outside skin heals first, serum and blood can accumulate in a pocket and become infected.”
Eventration is a rare complication where a portion of small intestine drops into the surgical site and becomes exposed to the outside world. “This is an equine emergency. The first sign of intestine or anything protruding from the castration site warrants an immediately call to your veterinarian,” says Dr. Arnold.
The most important aspect of castration after-care is exercise. During the first 24 hours following the surgery, the gelding can be left in a stall to help the necessary blood clots form. Daily forced exercise consisting of lunging on a line or in a pen for 20 minutes is important to minimize swelling after the first day. This should continue for approximately 10 days post-surgery. Turnout is also encouraged, yet if the patient is sore he may not want to move around much on his own.
One warning for owners of newly castrated horses - In the case of herd turnout it is best to wait at least a few weeks after the castration to turn your new gelding out with mares. "Residual testosterone in the body will generally not subside for five or six weeks. Semen stored in the accessory sex glands (which are internal and not removed during castration) could potentially impregnate a mare during this time," adds Dr. Wickline.
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