Tuesdays with Tony
This week I’m going to open up to you about a topic that is a little personal for me: castration. Now I was as anxious as any tomcat would be about my own castration. All I could think about was the pain and the finality of it all. But I am here to tell you that it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. My vets put me completely under so I didn’t feel a thing; I didn’t even remember what had happened when I woke up! The pain was a non-issue; I was back to my usual routine later the same day. And best of all, now I never have to worry about those pesky hormones again.
I would imagine your spring colts are getting bigger now, and their nipping, striking, mounting behaviors that were so cute when they were first born are becoming a little less cute as they grow. Well, you are in luck because now is the perfect time to sign up for my 2018 Operation Gelding Clinic! The event, sponsored by the Unwanted Horse Coalition, will be held on December 8th. You will enjoy a greatly discounted rate of $50 for the castration, while offering veterinary students a wonderful chance to gain additional experience before they get out into the real world. I know December seems far away, but these highly sought-after spots are filling up fast, so call now!
For your entertainment, here are the answers to our top 3 most frequently asked questions about castrations.
Why don’t you do standing castrations?
The first and most obvious answer is because our docs like their heads! Their brains, with those 4 years of vet school knowledge crammed inside, are their most valuable assets. A vet’s head needs to get pretty close to those hind legs during a standing castration, and we would hate to have it kicked off by a naughty stallion trying to protect his special area.
Another thing we love is our anesthesia protocol. Our docs have just the right magic cocktail of drugs that allows for the perfect amount of time to castrate a horse, maybe pull a pair of wolf teeth, and let them recover smoothly. One of the drugs in their combo even has an effect on memory, so your horse likely won’t remember what happened to him when he wakes up.
Laying a horse down for castrations also affords the doctors a MUCH better view and improved access. Rather than bending at the waist and ducking under the horse’s abdomen, the vet can squat behind the horse’s tail, or lean over one of the horse’s tied hind legs. Everybody, right now, stand up and bend at the waist to almost 90 degrees, then stretch your arms out in front of you. Now imagine holding this pose for 20 minutes. Harder than you thought, right? If you’re planning on doing standing castrations, you better hope you have some tall stallions!
Is that a drill?!
Yes, as a matter of fact, the tool we use at Springhill Equine is called a Henderson, and it attaches and is powered by a hand-held drill! The twisting action of the drill spins the spermatic cord so tightly that bleeding is almost never a problem. In addition, the testicle is removed super fast, which cuts down on surgery time. Other castration methods involve clamping and holding, which translates to a long time while your horse is burning through his sedation and thinking about waking up. Most emasculators, as the tool is called, also require cutting the cord just above the clamp. Sharp transection with a blade is a great way to make a horse bleed. With the twisting action of the Henderson, no clamping or cutting is necessary.
In place of the Henderson, you may see our docs using a hand-held modification called an EquiTwister. This tool uses the same twisting motion to prevent bleeding, without the need for battery power that comes with the Henderson. In general, remember that twisting is good, cutting is bad. Plus, I think the docs secretly enjoy the feeling of castrating a 1000lb animal using hand-held power tools!
Wait doc, aren’t you going to stitch him up?
Nope! Equine castrations are typically left “open” for the best outcome. You may have noticed that these castrations are usually performed in a field, on the ground, outside…not exactly a sterile environment. And when you take your horse home, he is probably going to lay down in the dirt, in his manure, in the sand, and in his urine. Add on the fact that a horse’s scrotum hangs down where it will inevitably come in contact with whatever is on the ground when he lays down, and you have a perfect recipe for contamination.
For these reasons, we basically assume that a castration incision will get “contaminated”. Keep in mind, contamination is not the same as infection. Even though our docs utilize sterile technique and do their best to keep the site clean during surgery, it is virtually impossible to avoid any contamination from start to finish. By leaving the incision open to the environment, we allow all the contaminated discharge to drain back out before it has a chance to cause infection.
At our practice, we don’t typically give horses antibiotics with a routine castration either. Our rates of post-castration complications are very low. Using antibiotics as a preventative measure is irresponsible, and only contributes to widespread antibiotic resistance. In the unlikely event that your horse develops an infection after castration, the docs can always start antibiotics at that time if warranted.
So, all of you human parents of rowdy colts, or even older stallions that you just never got around to gelding, don’t miss this year’s Operation Gelding Clinic. The Unwanted Horse Coalition is generous enough to allow us to castrate 14 horses each year, but these spots are being claimed at a rapid rate, so don’t wait to reserve your place! Take it from me, castrating your animal is one of the best things you can do to give him a happy, healthy long life.
Until next week,
P.S. While I have your attention, let me remind you to A) subscribe to this magnificent blog down at the bottom, B) check out our podcast, Straight from the Horse Doctor’s Mouth, and C) add our 12th Annual Open House on September 29th to your calendar. There, that’s the recipe for a perfect horse owner!