Castrating (Gelding) Your Horse

Why we castrate horses

Castration or “Gelding” of colts or stallions is the most common surgical procedure performed in horses. Male horses that are not intended for breeding may be castrated for a number of reasons, however the most common reason is to avoid or reduce aggressive stallion behaviour.

Castration is considered an effective means of eliminating this aggressive behaviour in the majority of cases, however it is important to note that a percentage of geldings will continue to display stallion like behaviours such as mounting and aggression toward other horses.

Other medical reasons for castrating horses include correction of inguinal hernias, trauma to the testicle or treatment/prevention of testicular cancer.

Considerations when castrating a horse:

  • Age: Castration can be performed at any age in horses, however most colts that are not intended for breeding are gelded as yearlings
  • General Health: It is always important that your horse have a good general physical examination prior to any kind of surgical procedure, as underlying disease may increase the risks associated with the procedure. If your horse has been unwell, we may recommend postponing the procedure until the horse has recovered. It is also important to check that both testicles are present in the scrotum prior to anaesthetising the horse. Sometimes only one testicle will have descended into the scrotum. These horses are known as cryptorchids or “riggs”. Castration of a cryptorchid horse is a more complicated procedure, as the abdominal cavity may need to be opened in order to retrieve and remove the un-descended testis.
  • Weather: Following castration, the incision site is left open to encourage wound drainage. Castrating in wet weather is often avoided due to increased risk of wound contamination in wet muddy conditions. Castrating during cooler weather is also preferred, as flies are at a minimum.
  • Location: Castrations are performed under a short general anaesthetic. A large open grassy area is therefore required to ensure the safety of both the horse and people is optimised.
  • Handling: Following surgery, it will be important to exercise your horse (see post-operative care) to minimize the amount of swelling around the surgical site. This is often much easier to do if the horse is at least used to lead walking. Having horses well handled prior to castration will also make management of any post-operative complications far easier to deal with.
  • Performance Horses: If your horse is currently in work, it is generally advised that they be taken out of training and fed reduced amounts of concentrates for 5-10 days prior to surgery.

Post-Operative Care

After your horse has recovered from the anaesthetic, he may be a little wobbly on his feet for the first hour or two. It is important to keep him quiet and in a clean, dry and open area for the remainder of the day. Ensure he has access to water at all times. You may offer your horse his normal feed the evening of the procedure.

Excessive Bleeding: The most common complication associated with castration is excessive bleeding (haemorrhage). All precautions will be taken to ensure the risk of bleeding is minimised, however in a small percentage of horses, excessive bleeding may still occur. If left untreated, there is a risk of serious and potentially life-threatening complications. For this reason it is important to check the wound for bleeding over the first few hours following surgery to ensure there is no excessive blood loss is occurring. Over the first few hours the wound may drip blood and this is not of concern.

Please phone us immediately if:

  • There is a continuous stream of blood coming from the incision site
  • The blood is dripping from the incision site too quickly to count
  • Blood continues to drip from the site for more than four hours after castration

Infection: All horses will be given a single injection of antibiotics at the time of castration to minimise the risk of post-operative infection. The procedure is conducted in a sterile fashion; therefore further administration of antibiotics is not warranted unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian.

Horses are also given a tetanus booster and tetanus antitoxin vaccination at the time of castration, to minimise the risk of tetanus infection in the open wound.

Please check your horses wound daily for the first 7-10 days for any evidence of infection such as a discharge or foul smell coming from the wound. If there are flies around, it is advisable to apply fly repelling spay around the wound (avoid directly spraying the wound).
Should you see any signs of infection, or should your horse become unwell (e.g. go off his food or seem depressed), please phone us immediately.

Swelling: Swelling can be a common post-operative finding. To prevent excessive swelling around the surgical site, it is important to exercise your horse for the first 5-7 days after surgery.

Ideally, horses should be walked or lunged for 10mins 2-3 times daily over this period to reduce swelling formation. This is particularly important if your horse is boxed. Cold hosing the area for 5-10mins 2-3 times daily may also assist in reducing swelling. Should swelling persist, please phone us, as this may be a sign of infection.

Eventration: This is a rare, but potentially disastrous complication of castration where part of the abdominal contents (most commonly loops of small intestine) comes out through the incision site or down into the scrotum. Eventration usually occurs within the first few hours of surgery, but may occur days following the procedure.

Should you see anything coming out through the incision site, please phone us immediately!

We would like to stress that the above complications are rare, however good monitoring by you at home will ensure that any complication should it occur, be treated rapidly. It is recommended that you do not turn geldings out with mares for 2-3 weeks following castration, to be sure there is no chance of a pregnancy. Should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us!

The Pregnant and Whelping Bitch

Pregnancy in the dog lasts for an average of 63 days (9 weeks). This is generally taken from the time of the last mating and can vary in length (i.e.some bitches may go up to 10 weeks)

Confirmation of pregnancy can be achieved by:

  • Palpation of the abdomen, an easy, quick and inexpensive method performed by the Veterinarian, but is unreliable in early stages
  • Ultrasound of the abdomen is easy and quick which can reliably detect pregnancy 24-28 days after breeding
  • X-ray of the abdomen 40-45 days after breeding to determine the number of pups

Predicting Labor

The bitch’s body temperature will drop by 1.1 – 1.7°C, 6 to 18 hours before giving birth, so measuring the rectal temperature is a reliable way to determine the onset of the labor. Gain a baseline temperature by measuring the temperature 2 to 3 times daily during the last 2 weeks of pregnancy. Behavioural changes will also be a clue that labor is close – panting, nesting and restlessness are the most common.

Stages of labor

  • Stage 1 the bitch will exhibit nesting behaviour (looking for somewhere to have her pups), restlessness, shivering and will often go off their food. The most characteristic sign is panting. This stage will last between 6-12 hours
  • Stage 2 there is obvious abdominal contractions followed by delivery of the puppy. All the puppies are usually born within 3 to 6 hours
  • Stage 3 involves passage of the placenta or membranes. This usually takes between 5-15 minutes after the birth of each puppy. After the birth of each puppy, the bitch should chew through the umbilical cord and lick the puppy clean to remove the membranes. This is an important bonding action between the bitch and the pup. If the bitch doesn’t clean the membranes from the pup’s face, the owner should (but don’t jump in before the bitch has a chance to do it!)

When to be concerned

Illness in a bitch ready to give birth, or after giving birth Bitches that have previously had difficulty giving birth More than 24 hours since rectal temperature drop More than 12 hours of stage 1 behaviour If partially delivered pup present for more than 10-15 min (i.e. stuck) If more than 3 hours of abdominal contraction with no pup More than 1 hour of abdominal contraction between pups Constant, unrelenting, unproductive straining for 20-30min

Post birth

The puppy’s most important requirement is warmth. The 2nd most important requirement is colostrum from the bitch. Monitor all the puppies to ensure they each find a nipple to nurse. If a puppy doesn’t find the nipple, give the puppy guidance.

Note: During pregnancy and raising puppies, the diet of the bitch is critical, as there will be huge strains on her energy and calcium reserves. Feed the bitch a high quality commercial puppy food, from mid-pregnancy through to weaning the pups.

The Paralysis Tick

Apart from fleas, the paralysis tick (Ixodes Holocyclus) is the most significant external parasite domestic animals, their owners and their vets encounter, especially around spring/summer. It occurs in the coastal areas of Eastern Australia and is usually found on wildlife such as bandicoots, possums and wombats.

Tick paralysis occurs most commonly in dogs, though all warm-blooded animals, including humans, can be affected by the neurotoxin produced in the saliva of the tick. The tick attaches to these animals (to feed on their blood) in the final stages of its life-cycle, the female needing to engorge with blood before she can lay eggs (2000-3000 at a time.) After engorgement, which takes 4-7 days, the tick will drop off the animal.

Tick Paralysis: Signs

Clinical signs, due to the neurotoxin, can begin within a couple of days of attachment of the tick, and include the following:

  • Hoarse voice
  • Increased salivation / “frothing” at the mouth
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased respiratory effort seen as slowed and more pronounced breathing, often with a characteristic grunting sound
  • Wobbliness then paralysis of hind limbs and eventually four limbs

Death will occur due to respiratory failure, or can occur due to secondary pneumonia, due to “breathing down” saliva, food and water because of paralysis of their swallowing muscles.


A scale of stages 1-5 of tick paralysis is used to describe the degree to which the tick toxin affects an animal, as follows:

Stage 1 The mildest from, generally seen as a “wobble” or “weakness” in the hind limbs, with maybe a changed bark in the case of the dog.
Stage 2 Includes hind limb paralysis, the animal is able to sit up on its front legs, but can’t stand up on the back ones.
Stage 3 The ascending paralysis continues to affect the front legs and at this stage the animal can lie on its chest, but is not able to hold itself up with front or hind limbs.
Stage 4 The animal can only lie on its side, is unable to hold itself or right itself to lie on its chest, and is suffering from marked breathing difficulty /increased effort.
Stage 5 Respiratory failure is occurring and death is imminent


Variations in the number of signs, which occur, appear and the severity with which they affect an individual may occur, and depend on factors such as the number of ticks on the animal and any history of recent exposure to ticks. Because of these factors, no hard and fast rules can be made regarding how soon veterinary treatment should be sought, particularly during stage 1 of the tick paralysis syndrome. However we encourage you to follow these guidelines:

  • Step 1 If your pet shows any of the above signs, search him/her thoroughly for ticks. Please note: ticks can be very difficult to find and can be anywhere on the body, but tend to favour the head and especially under any collars! They can vary in size from a match-head to a thumbnail size according to how long they have been engorging with blood. If you can’t find a tick, go to step 3.
  • Step 2 If you do find one or more ticks, remove it but keep looking. Removal is best achieved by firmly grasping the tick with your fingers, or a blunt-ended tweezers, as close to the animal’s skin as possible and pulling straight out with a single sharp, strong movement. Aggravation of the tick through rotation, or application of metho, kero etc simply induces the tick to inject more saliva and therefore toxin into your animal.
  • Step 3 Keep any animal suspected of suffering any degree of tick paralysis quiet and cool. Do not place him/her out in the sun, wrapped in blankets or in front of the fire! This tends to make the signs worse. Keep searching for more ticks!
  • Step 4 Do not give any food! Only offer fluids to those animals not apparently affected at the front end and only offer small amounts at a time and if any coughing, retching or vomiting occurs do not offer anything by mouth at all. Keep searching for ticks!
  • Step 5 DEFINITELY contact your local vet if your animal has progressed to stage 2 or more ASAP
  • Step 6 In some cases, if a tick is removed when the animal is only slightly affected i.e. in stage 1 they may not get any worse, particularly if they have had ticks on them before and haven’t been affected, and if steps 1 to 3 are followed.

HOWEVER, BE WARNED. Although your animal may appear to be only slightly affected at the time of tick removal, progression of signs can occur from up to 24 hours after tick removal and what began as a slight wobble in the back legs and a funny voice, can become complete paralysis and severe respiratory distress overnight or during the day.

There is no doubt at all, that the sooner ticks are removed and the earlier the treatment is commenced the better the rate of recovery.

Veterinary treatment of tick paralysis involves primarily the intravenous administration of tick antivenene. Treatment also involves the administration of a mild sedative (stress is a major factor contributing to the severity of signs, especially in cats). Antibiotics (to aid in the prevention of secondary pneumonia developing) and subcutaneous fluids to maintain hydration of the animal.

Obviously, for proper treatment hospitalisation of your animal is required until he/she is able to walk around, eat and drink with no problems. If treatment is given in the early stages of tick paralysis, the shorter the stay in hospital: often only one night is required for stages 1-2.


From the above, it is obvious that prevention is far better than cure for all concerned. While it is impossible to obtain 100% protection for your animal from tick paralysis, if you are in tick area, it is very possible to minimise the risks. The best method and one which should never be entirely replaced, is checking your pet regularly – preferably daily. Running your fingers all over the animal, against the direction of hair growth, making sure you go down to the skin, in between the toes, under the collar, around the eyes, in and around the ears, and everywhere in between and beyond, (including the tip of the tail!), is an excellent habit to get into. Due to the difficulty in finding the very small ticks, even some of the bigger ones, and the practicality of this occurring daily in some situations, there are a number of products to be
used in conjunction with tick searches.

Come into either of our clinics to discuss what the best prevention product we have available for your pet.

Puppy Care: Diet

Puppies can be weaned from 3 to 6 weeks of age by gradually introducing solid food. We recommend that you use a good quality ‘complete and balanced’ diet such as Hills Science Diet. A ‘complete’ food is one that gives your puppy all the nutrition it needs so that you do not need to feed any other type of food. A ‘balanced’ diet means that all of the ingredients are in the proper ratios for your puppy’s health. The benefits of a good quality diet are faeces that are normal consistency and reduced amount compared to the cheaper brands. Puppies should never be fed a meat only diet as this can cause serious nutritional disease. We recommend that you feed your puppy twice daily until 6 months age.

Paralysis ticks

Paralysis ticks are commonly found in the areas surrounding Bega. These can cause a serious paralysis that can lead to death in severe cases. Some topspot formulations such as Frontline Plus and Advantix protect against ticks but ONLY when applied every 2 weeks. Frontline Spray also prevents ticks and can be applied every 3 weeks. Alternatives are Tick collars and Proban tablets which need to be given every 2 days.

It is important to remember that none of these preventatives are 100% effective and you should check your dog’s coat for ticks every day. It is important to NEVER apply dog tick products to your cat as many can cause serious and sometimes fatal reactions.

Puppy Care: Intestinal Worming

Puppies are susceptible to whipworm, roundworm, hookworm and tapeworm infections. Intestinal worms can cause diarrhoea, vomiting and poor growth. They can become infected through contact with other dogs, the environment generally or, most commonly in puppies, from their mother at birth. We recommend using a good quality allwormer product such as Drontal.

Puppies should be treated:

  • Every 2 weeks until 3 mtgs age
  • Then monthly until 6 months age
  • Then every 3 months for life

Intestinal worms can also infect humans especially children so we strongly recommend ongoing intestinal worm control.

Puppy Care: Vaccinations

Vaccination is an important way of preventing disease in your puppy. We recommend that all dogs are vaccinated against parvovirus, distemper and infectious hepatitis. These are all potentially fatal diseases. We also recommend vaccinating against two of the organisms involved in canine cough – Parainfluenza virus and Bordetella bronchiseptica. These diseases are all covered in the C5 vaccination.

Puppies require an initial course of 3 injections:

  • Initial puppy C3 (Due at 8 weeks)
  • Second puppy C5 (Due at 12 weeks)
  • Third puppy C5 (Due at 16 weeks)

After the initial course, we recommend that your puppy comes in for an annual booster vaccination to ensure ongoing protection.

Heartworm Prevention

Heartworm is an internal parasite that invades the heart of both dogs and cats. It is spread by mosquitoes and is better known for causing serious disease in dogs. Heartworm has been found to infect cats but the ability to cause disease in cats is not fully understood. Heartworm can be prevented through monthly top spots such as Revolution and Advocate. Heartworm is not common in the Bega region but becomes increasingly present as you travel north along the coast.

There are a number of ways of preventing heartworm including monthly tablets, monthly topspot formulations and a yearly injection. Please talk to our staff for more information.

Tick Control

Tick control is difficult in cats as many of the products cause toxicity. Frontline Spray is the only product registered and tested for preventing ticks in cats and should be applied every 3 weeks. It is important to NEVER apply any tick product that is not specifically for cats as these may cause serious fatal reactions.

Flea Control

There are many products currently available on the market. Products such as Frontline Plus and Advantage cover fleas only when applied monthly. Other products such as Revolution and Advocate cover fleas as well as some species of mites and intestinal worms. Our staff are happy to work out the best product for your situation.