Alternate Way To Castrate Horses Promoted, Critiqued

Alternate Way To Castrate Horses Promoted, Critiqued

In an attempt to abrogate castration-related complications, veterinarians developed a laparoscopic procedure as an alternative to traditional castration methods (seen here).

Photo: Courtesy Dr. Krishona Martinson/University of Minnesota

Despite being one of the most common surgical procedures performed by equine veterinarians, castrations aren’t as cut and dry as they seem.

At the 2009 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, for instance, Liberty M. Getman, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, of Tennessee Equine Hospital in Thompson’s Station, Tenn., , noted that approximately one-third of all castrations develop some form of post-surgical complication.

Such complications include swelling, infection, hemorrhage, eventration (evisceration, protrusion of intestine through the inguinal ring into the scrotum), peritonitis (inflammation of the lining of the abdominal and pelvic cavities), damage to the penis, and hydrocele formation (a collection of fluid in a cavity; in this case fluid within the vaginal cavity, where the testicle resided).

In an attempt to abrogate castration-related complications, veterinarians have developed a laparoscopic “keyhole” procedure. That technique, endorsed by a Dutch veterinarian in a recent online article, involves using a scope (similar to the endoscope used to examine horses' upper respiratory tract) to place a stainless steel “LigaSure” device on the spermatic cord, which supplies blood to the testicle. The device is designed to seal and cut the spermatic cord, ultimately causing the testicles to shrink and cease producing testosterone (the hormone responsible for undesirable stallion behaviors) and sperm.

Because the testicles remain in place after this procedure, owners require an official statement from their veterinarian stating that the horse is indeed a gelding. Blood testosterone levels can also be measured one week postsurgically to prove the testes are indeed nonfunctional.

“Although the idea is interesting, it has not been deemed to be effective enough to be recommended for routine use,” warned Claude Ragel, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, ABVP (Equine Practice), associate professor of equine surgery at Washington State University. “Just the use of a LigaSure to divide the cord does not address the lower blood supply issue.”

Ragel referred to one study in which transection of the spermatic cord without testes removal in postpubertal stallions proved unsuccessful in 7-11% of cases due to an alternate blood supply to the testis (i.e., blood vessels outside the spermatic cord, such as those branching from the cremasteric and/or external pudendal arteries).

In that study the researchers concluded that “laparoscopic castration without orchidectomy (removal of the testes) cannot be recommended as a trustworthy method for the castration of normal stallions and inguinal cryptorchids.”

Ragel added, “One could argue that an 11% failure rate that would require additional surgery is worth the trade off, but with the cost of hormonal follow-up and the cost of the procedure, it's advantages over a primary closure (a more standard) castration may not be that great.”

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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