Let’s talk about brain surgery! Or really, removing the part of a male horse’s anatomy that can make him forget his manners. Since we’ve been doing a lot of castrations lately before the weather gets too hot, I figured I’d answer a few of the more commonly asked questions that we get when we castrate.
What is the aftercare for my newly castrated gelding?
At Hayes Equine, we leave our castration sites open. This allows for the body to drain as it heals. It is thought that by doing this, you are less likely to have complications from swelling or infection (though you can still get this). We recommend that your newly castrated gelding be kept quiet for 24 hours after surgery. This means either a stall or a small paddock. This allows for the blood to clot in the remainder of the spermatic cord, and for swelling to occur around the inguinal ring, where the spermatic cord passes through the body wall. After the first 24 hours have passed, your new gelding MUST be exercised at a trot or faster for AT LEAST 15 minutes every day to reduce swelling. The thing to keep in mind is that the more exercise he gets, the less he will swell. Keep doing this until the surgical wound is completely healed.
Some new geldings will also really appreciate cold hosing of the area. And don’t be afraid to be aggressive after the first 24-48 hours after surgery. Angle the hose to go up into the surgical site. This will help clean any dead tissue out, and help with pain and swelling while keeping the site open. This can also help to prevent some of the complications I talk about later.
What are some complications I should be worried about?
The most common complications you are looking for are excessive bleeding, guts coming out of the surgical site, infection, and swelling. Remember, drainage can be expected from the surgical site for at least a week or two after surgery. Don’t mistake drainage for blood.
A small amount of blood dripping from the incision site for the first day is ok. What you are looking for is blood running out of the surgical site, or bright red blood shooting out in pulses. Some horses, especially older stallions, can drop fat or tissue out of the incision site. What you are looking for are intestines. The way to tell the difference between the two is that intestines will move if you “flick” them. If either of these are noticed in the first 24 hours, this is considered an emergency, and you should call your veterinarian immediately.
Some swelling is to be expected after all castrations, especially at the tip of the sheath. This is normal. However, if the area starts to swell to the size of a watermelon and there doesn’t seem to be any draining, it’s important to have your veterinarian check the incision site. Some horses tend to close the wound too early, and trap some of the drainage inside. Treating this involves re-opening the site and establishing better drainage.
Infection goes along with excessive swelling. You’ll know if the site is getting infected by the smell. In this case, your veterinarian will need to re-open the surgical site and start the horse on antibiotics.
A very rare complication of castration surgery is a scirrhous cord. This is when an infection develops where the spermatic cord was cut. Horses with this complication will continue to stay open and draining despite being treated with antibiotics. Treatment involves surgically removing the infected part of the cord.
How long is my newly castrated gelding fertile?
Technically, sperm can last in the ductus deferens (the tube that carries the sperm from the testicle to the tip) for four days. HOWEVER, every year we get a “miracle baby” where the new gelding somehow got in with the mares in June after being castrated in May, and out pops a baby 11 months later. To be on the safe side, it is best to keep your new gelding at least two fences away from mares for at least a month, or at least use an electric fence.
This means having a least two fence lines that separate your mares from your new gelding. During that first month after surgery, hormones are still circulating within the body, and any mares in heat will trigger stallion behavior. At best, your gelding may jump the fence to be with the mare, and at worst, he may try to breed through the fence. This can cause trauma to the penis, which leads to paraphimosis, where the penis gets stuck out and the horse can’t get it back in. This requires immediate veterinary care to avoid permanent damage.
How long until my new gelding stops acting like a stallion?
The rule of thumb is that in one month they’ll be good, and in three months they’ll be great. HOWEVER, this can be somewhat affected by the age in which the stallion was castrated. Older stallions, especially older breeding stallions, have already learned some of the behaviors associated with breeding. Some geldings may always squeal like a stallion when meeting new horses, or may even try to breed mares that are heavily in heat.
I think my gelding is “proud cut.” What should I do?
“Proud Cut” refers to a gelding that has only had the testicle removed, and not the rest of the male anatomy, including the epididymis and the ductus deferens. As you can see from the diagram, the epididymis is tightly adhered to the testicle via the ligament of the head of the epididymis and other tissue. So it’s actually really difficult to “proud cut” a stallion. More likely, your gelding has learned behaviors or instincts that never truly went away when he was castrated. You can take away the hormones, but you can’t take away the instincts or the memories.
How do I tell if my gelding is truly a gelding when he acts like a stallion?
The best way to rule out a gelding being “proud cut,” or even worse being a possible cryptorchid, is to do an HCG stimulation test. This involves taking a blood sample and then administering the hormone HCG. More blood samples are pulled at one hour and sometimes twenty-four hours post HCG administration. If any testicular (or epididymal) tissue remains, this will cause a spike in testosterone. If there is no spike in testosterone after the HCG administration, this means your horse does not have any testicular or epididymal tissue to secrete testosterone and you can rest easy knowing your gelding is truly a gelding. The behaviors you may be seeing are more memory and instinct rather than being hormonally driven.
My gelding is still getting “erect.” Is that normal?
Erections are normal physiologic occurrences in all species. This is not a hormonally driven response in horses, meaning that horses without testicles still get them. So if you notice your gelding doing this, it is not a cause for concern.
Gelding a horse is one of the easiest and best surgeries that can be performed. It improves their life and allows them to have more avenues for careers down the road. It also makes them much easier and safer to handle. Of course there can always be complications with anything. So be sure that if you have any questions or want to schedule a castration, call your veterinarian.