Castration is a very common procedure, but should take careful consideration. There are many different factors to think about and more potential problems than many realise.
Most colts end up becoming geldings because it leaves them much easier to handle, particularly if they are kept with mares. The comment '...you can tell a gelding and ask a mare, but you have to discuss things with a stallion' is very true!
Castration makes sense and will make life easier all round, unless you plan to breed from a horse. Obviously, our aim is that the surgery will be straightforward and it usually is, but there are many possible complications. It makes sense for colt owners to discuss the options carefully with us first.
There are two options as far as the actual procedure is concerned. We can either perform the castration standing using sedation and local anaesthetic or with a full anaesthetic. The chosen method will be based on a risk analysis for the individual horse and considered alongside your vet's preferred approach and the facilities available.
What age can my colt be castrated?
Generally, we can castrate from 6-9 months old, although there are always exceptions. A colt should be well-handled prior to the procedure, whichever way it is done. As a vet, there is nothing worse than realising that a horse booked for castration has never even worn a headcollar. Apart from the danger for the handlers involved, think how frightening and stressful it must be for the colt, if his first close encounter with people is for a castration. We prefer not to castrate colts that are underweight in case there are any post-op complications.
What is needed for the standing operation?
Requirements are quite basic. We need a clean stable with clean bedding added 1-2 hours prior to the operation to allow any dust to settle. A clean bucket and some water, ideally warm, is all we need.
What is required to prepare for the full anaesthetic option?
The procedure can be performed in a clean flat field at home or brought to our clinic in Bodmin. The horse should be starved overnight but have access to water prior to the anaesthetic. A clean bucket and some water, ideally warm, is also required.
What do I need to do after the operation?
This depends upon whether the horse is stabled or turned out. If the horse is stabled it is essential to walk him out 3-4 times a day for 20 minutes to help prevent any swelling. If he is turned out and will not exercise sufficiently solo, enforced exercise may be required, either with in-hand walking or lunging. He may be prescribed a course of antibiotics and painkillers which will need to be administered in his feed or injected.
What are the potential complications?
Bleeding is a potential post-operative complication. A small amount of blood dripping from the wound is normal. The rule of thumb, is that if the wound is dripping faster than you can count, you should contact the vet.
Another common complication, as horses do not live in a clean environment, is post-operative infection. The sheath and scrotum can swell dramatically, and the colt may become lame behind due to the extent of the swelling. You may also notice that he becomes depressed and goes off his food if he develops a temperature. This will require veterinary attention: it may only require a course of antibiotics, but sometimes the incisions will need to be re-opened to allow drainage. This can usually be done under sedation.
A potentially more serious complication can arise, if anything is seen to be hanging down from the surgical incision. This may just be a small piece of the vaginal tunic – the fibrous sac within which the testicle sits, in which case it can either be left alone to dry or trimmed off, depending on how much is protruding. In more serious cases it may be a piece of intestine that can prolapse from the castration site. This is a serious emergency and you must seek veterinary assistance urgently.
Can a castrated colt still be fertile?
Yes, for up to two months after castration a mature colt can still serve mares.