Castration Conundrums

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A study from the veterinary college at UC Davis in the March 15 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association takes a look at risk factors and complications in routine castrations (geldings) of horses and other equines. The study looked back at 311 horses, 10 mules and three donkeys that were castrated on outpatient services through the university.

Castration techniques in horses can vary from surgery done standing but sedated horses that are down and out under general anesthesia. Some surgeries were done as ?closed? while others were ?semi closed,? referring to whether or not the parietal tunic (around the testicular vessels and testicles themselves) was slit open or not. Emasculators were used and in some cases, sutures were also tied around the tissues. All the incisions were left open to close on their own by secondary intention.

Of the 33 equines that developed a complication of some sort, 32 recovered nicely. One horse was euthanised due to intestines coming through the incision. Age when castration was done and breed were not risk factors for complications. (In other studies, Standardbreds and draft horses have been more likely to have complications.) Mild complications, such as some swelling at the surgery site or fever, were noted in 25 animals. Seven horses developed more serious complications, including hemorrhaging. As noted above, one horse developed a severe complication with intestines eviscerating.

The equines who had a semi-closed castration technique had a higher risk of complications, while standing versus recumbent didn't appear to be a factor in this study. Any equines who needed additional doses of anesthesia did seem to be at higher risk for complications. This could be that their surgeries were more involved for whatever reason or that the added anesthesia itself increased risk. The use of lidocaine locally seemed to cut down on the need for additional anesthetic drugs.

BOTTOM LINE.? The take-home message here is that castration or gelding is a safe procedure. Even the horses who developed complications were almost all easily handled with some extra post-operative care. Standing (if your equine is tall enough for this technique) and recumbency seem to be equally safe, though anesthetic considerations are different for the two techniques.

The one risk factor that did seem to make a difference was using the closed technique versus using the semi-closed technique.? Certainly you need to consider which technique your veterinarian may be more comfortable with, but given the choice, you might want to request a closed technique.

Article by Contributing Veterinarian Deb Eldredge, DVM