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Cleaning the Sheath By Heather Smith Thomas The sheath and penis of a breeding stallion are washed periodically. But the sheath of a gelding may also need to be cleaned, and this chore is often neglected by horse owners. The sheath is a double fold of skin that covers the penis when it is drawn up. A dirty sheath can lead to infection. Glands in the lining of the sheath produce a secretion called smegma that becomes thick and dark when mixed with dead cells and dust/dirt from the horse’s environment. Sometimes these secretions and debris accumulate into a soft, wax-like deposit or dry hard flakes. Dr. Ahmed Tibary, Professor of Theriogenology, Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Washington State University says cleaning the sheath is an important part of the horse’s care. “The sooner the horse is trained to tolerate handling and cleaning of sheath and penis, the better. The biggest factor in being able to do a thorough job in cleaning is whether the horse is tractable or not,” he says. WHY IS CLEANING NECESARY? Melinda Freckleton, DVM (Haymarket Veterinary Service, Haymarket, Virginia) says clients often have questions. “Perhaps a friend told them they should clean their gelding’s sheath, but they are unsure about doing it,” she says. A few geldings manage fine their whole lives without having the sheath cleaned, but many develop buildup of secretions and dirt which can irritate the sheath and penis and cause discomfort or more serious problems. If the buildup is not periodically washed away, dried smegma may form a clay-like ball of debris (called a “bean”) at the end of the penis. This material accumulates in the urethral diverticuli, which are small pockets near the opening of the urethra (the tube that carries urine), at the end of the penis. “The urethral opening forms a high point with a little moat-like channel around it, and it is from this channel that a person can find the little openings to the diverticuli. In adult horses, these pockets are shaped like a kidney bean and may be as much as an inch across. The beans will be lodged in these pockets,” says Freckleton. You can feel into the diverticuli with the end of your finger, to tell whether or not there is a bean inside. A bean can cause pain and infection if it becomes large. Tia Nelson, DVM (a farrier/veterinarian in Helena, Montana) says many people think the black debris they pull out of the sheath is a bean and don’t realize that they need to check the pocket in the head of the penis. “The reason for cleaning the sheath and checking for (and removing) beans are to make the horse more comfortable and avoid possible infection,” says Freckleton. “Another reason to clean the sheath, especially in Appaloosas and Paints—or any horse with unpigmented skin in the sheath and penis—is to get a good look at these areas. These are common sites for squamous cell carcinoma to develop. Every year I find several cases just because I’m cleaning the sheath. If this 34 Miniature Horse World JUNE/JULY 2013


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