Last Updated on July 26, 2022
A swollen sheath in horses is a common problem that can be very worrying for horse owners. Many people worry that a swollen sheath is a sign of a severe problem, but is it really a big concern? Let’s take a look at why some horses get a swollen sheath, and what may cause this problem.
What Does A Swollen Sheath In Horses Look Like?
The sheath of a horse is the tissue that surrounds the penis of the male horse. For the vast majority of the time, the male horse keeps the penis retracted inside the sheath, and it is only extended when the horse urinates or when an entire male is aroused by a fertile mare. The tissue of the sheath protects this delicate organ, as well as providing the ideal environmental conditions.
If you look underneath a male horse, you will see the sheath towards the rear of the abdomen, towards the hind legs. You will notice an opening at the front of the sheath, which is where the penis is located. If the horse has not been gelded, you will see the testicles located inside the scrotum, behind the sheath.
The sheath of a horse is normally quite soft and flaccid, but when it becomes swollen you will notice that it is enlarged and firmer to the touch. Other changes that may be observed include heat and swelling of the sheath. It is important to check your horse’s sheath on a daily basis to enable you to quickly identify any potential problems.
Swelling of the sheath in horses can be intermittent and may resolve spontaneously. Alternatively, it can be long-term and may be a symptom of other health problems.
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Causes Of A Swollen Sheath In Horses
Many people panic when their horse’s sheath swells, thinking that there is a problem with the penis. Another concern is that the sheath is swollen because of dirt and debris inside the sheath. Luckily, it is highly unlikely that either of these worries is the true source of the problem!
The most common reason a swollen sheath in horses occurs is a build-up of fluid. Fluid drains to the lowest point of the horse, which is why swelling of the legs is common in horses that are stood still for long periods. When fluid accumulates on the underside of the horse, it will be drawn to the sheath by gravity.
There are a variety of reasons why this fluid build-up occurs, creating swelling of the sheath. It is very common in horses that are stood still for long periods, such as those confined to a stall or stable. The movement of the horse is essential to facilitate the distribution and excretion of fluid, and horses that do not move enough will develop swellings of the sheath and legs.
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Underlying Health Problems
Some horses suffer from underlying health problems that make this fluid-filled swelling more likely to occur. This includes horses with low protein levels, or those with liver or kidney disease.
Whilst this swelling can be alarming, it should normally disappear rapidly once the horse is able to move around freely. Turn the horse out in a paddock or take him for gentle exercise, and the sheath should return to normal.
If the swelling does not reduce when the horse is allowed to exercise, there may be an underlying problem that is causing the sheath to swell. Check the sheath gently to feel for heat, pain, or swelling. If possible, look at the entrance to the sheath to see if there is any unpleasant smell or discharge, and observe the horse urinating to make sure he can pass urine freely.
Problems of the sheath in horses are very rare, but they can occur. Causes include bacterial infections and abnormal tissue growths. If you suspect that your horse’s swollen sheath is a symptom of a more severe problem, it is essential to seek veterinary advice.
Summary – Swollen Sheath In Horses
So, as we have learned, a swollen sheath in horses can occur for a variety of reasons, including horses that are stood still for long periods, such as those confined to a stall or stable. This leads to a build-up of fluid at the lowest points on the body, such as the sheath and lower legs, which normally dissipates when the horse is exercised. Horses who suffer from underlying health problems such as low protein levels or liver or kidney disease are more likely to develop fluid-related sheath swelling.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about why a swollen sheath in horses is such a common problem! Do you have a gelding that always gets a swollen sheath at certain times of the year? Or maybe you’ve been struggling to deal with a sheath infection in your male horse? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Why Would A Horse's Sheath Be Swollen?
A horse's sheath is normally swollen due to a build up of fluid. This often occurs when the horse is not able to exercise freely, and should dissipate when the horse it turned out to exercise.
What Do You Do If Your Horse's Sheath Is Swollen?
If your horse's sheath is swollen, check for any pain, heat, or discharge. If you can, observe your horse urinating to make sure he is not showing any signs of discomfort. Turning the horse out to exercise will normally return the sheath to its normal size.
How Do You Treat A Horse Sheath Infection?
Sheath infections in horses are very rare, and normally require veterinary treatment. The balance of bacteria in the sheath is very delicate, and the wrong treatment can disrupt this balance and make the problem worse.
How Do You Tell If My Horse Needs His Sheath Cleaned?
Male horses do not need their sheath cleaning. The environment inside the sheath may not look hygienic, but the sheath is lined with a substance called smegma which maintains the delicate bacterial balance of the sheath. Cleaning the sheath of a horse is a futile and pointless task, as within a few days the levels of smegma will have returned to normal.
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE