Tuesdays with Tony
This past Saturday was one of my favorite Saturdays of the year. I hosted veterinary students from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine for a day of fun. Every year I have the students out to the clinic to get hands-on experience with my docs performing castrations on horses and donkeys of all ages and sizes.
This year was a little different because of COVID but we made it work. I hosted 24 veterinary students and 16 horses for Saturday’s festivities. All the students got to practice basic physical examinations, medication dosage calculations, intravenous catheter placements and routine castration procedures all while under the watchful eye of my docs. I spent my time monitoring the lunch portion of the day and making sure that each and every student checked in with me for mandatory petting prior to starting the day. Needless to say, a “ball” was had by all.
While overseeing the activities on Saturday I got to thinking about how many castrations my docs do every year, when and why they perform castrations, and what sort of complications can occur. Then I starting thinking, if I’m wondering about these things, you all must also be wondering about them, and luckily for you, I am here with the info.
Saturday was utterly exhausting for me. I only got 20 hours of sleep instead of my usual 23 hours. But nonetheless, I woke up early for you all on Sunday and started my research on castrations. What I found was pretty interesting. There is conflicting information floating around out there about what the best age to castrate a horse is. Some think that the earlier it is done the better and will allow the horse to grow large. Others think if it is done too early that the horse will not grow enough. Still others think that waiting until the horse is at least a year old is the way to go. My motto and the motto of my docs is if it has two testicles that are dropped and easily palpable, it’s time for them to go. My docs do not set an age limit young or old on castrations. I have seen them done on horses as young as 4 months old to as old as 21 years old. Age is just a number. That being said, it is possible that the complication rate may be slightly higher for the younger and older age group of horses. However, there are very few situations in which a castration would not be recommended by one of my docs.
The time of year is also important to consider when performing castrations. Castrations in the summer are more prone to complications from insects. But who wants to do a castration in the freezing cold of winter? Not me, I am a warm weather kitty! Ideally spring and fall when the temperatures and weather are mild are the best times to have your horse castrated. A little heat, a few bugs, and some cold temperatures will not stop my docs, though.
There are a countless number of reasons to castrate your horse. The number one reason people get their horses castrated is behavior. When your horse’s testicles are removed, their testosterone levels drop, aggressive behavior decreases, and the urge to breed is decreased. It is a stallion’s natural instinct to be protective and to want to be involved with mares. This can become troublesome when it comes to performance horses. Schooling areas are busy places and a stallion who is following his instincts can be dangerous to the other horses in the area. Similarly, the world is a lonely place for stallions. They don’t get to be turned out with other horses, so they live a solitary life. This is for protection of the stallion and others. Castrating your horse will alleviate the stress that comes along with owning a stallion.
Another reason to consider castration is horse overpopulation. There are unwanted horses throughout the country and across the world. Unwanted horses can end up in horrible situations. They can be neglected, starved, and even sent to a kill pen at auction or slaughtered. Castrating horses who are not intended for breeding purposes helps to lower the unwanted horse population and decrease the horse overpopulation situation.
While everyone here at Springhill Equine thoroughly loves a good castration (I mean, I have an entire day dedicated to castrations, so if that’s not love, I don’t know what is), as with anything horse related, there are complications that must be considered when a castration is performed.
First and foremost, all castrations that my docs perform are performed under injectable anesthesia. This means that after a thorough physical examination, the horse is sedated and then laid down for the remainder of the procedure. This ensures the safety of my docs, my techs, owners, and the horse. That being said, anytime a horse is sedated and placed under anesthesia there is the risk of death. Death is extremely unlikely, but it also has to be considered when deciding to perform any kind of surgery, including castrations. Recovery from anesthesia also presents some risk and possible complications. Such complications include tendon and ligament injury as well as the possibility of breaking a limb during recovery. Again, these complications are rare but must be mentioned.
Some other complications that are slightly more common include bleeding from the surgical site, excessive swelling, and infection. A small amount of blood after surgery is normal and expected. Testicles being the annoying little suckers that they are, are extremely vascular. This opens the possibility that a horse may not clot well or may become too active shortly after surgery and disrupt the clot resulting in excessive bleeding. Horses are giant creatures and can stand to lose a large amount of blood safely, but if the bleeding does not stop it can be a life-threatening situation.
The aftercare protocol my docs follow after a castration is designed to reduce the risk of swelling. Occasionally some horses will develop more swelling than expected at their surgical site. Luckily, this usually can be resolved with some anti-inflammatories, controlled exercise, and cold hosing.
Finally, any surgery, including castrations, opens up the patient to infection. Some infections can be minor and easily treated with systemic antibiotics. Others can become more serious and travel up the surgical site into the body and form abscesses. These kinds of infections can cause the horse to become systemically sick and may require surgery to correct the problem.
Needless to say, I really love castrations, particularly when they involve students who provide me with all the love. Castrations make for some really lovely geldings in this world. Who doesn’t love a gelding? Be sure to talk with my docs about any questions or concerns you may have prior to scheduling your horse’s surgery.
Until next week,
P.S. Looking for more information on castrating your horse or donkey? My docs have spent a lot of time working on their podcast, be sure to check them out on the podcast page of our website. While on our website, be sure to check out our Wellness Plans. We are currently signing up for the 2021 calendar year.
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!