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Sheath cleaning

From: Tiffany

Dear Jessica, I hope it's o.k. to ask about this subject. I have a horse that is a seven year old gelding. My first horse was a mare and Poco is my second horse. So I don't have any previous experiences with sheath cleaning. Poco is rubbing his tail really a lot and it looks sore, also he doesn't put his "thing" back in his sheath all the way. It looks pretty gross. I asked my instructor about it at my last lesson and she said that Poco has a dirty sheath and that it has to be cleaned right away. My instructor says I need to do it even though the vet will come out in another month for spring shots and a new Coggins and everything. She said if it isn't done by my next lesson I won't get a lesson because Poco is too uncomfortable. Do you think it is fair that I have to do this if the vet is coming out in a month anyway? Would it really be that bad if Poco had to wait another month? The vet would probably do it better than me anyway. If you say I should do it, then can you tell me just how to do it, and if there is any way that isn't real gross? And how often will I have to do this? I'm sorry if this is not a subject thats acceptable but I don't know who to ask about this.

Thank you for your time, Tiffany

Hi Tiffany! Yes, I'd say your instructor is right and it's time for Poco to get his sheath cleaned, by you or a vet or anyone, just as long as it gets done right away. A really dirty sheath is very, very uncomfortable for the horse, and that's why Poco isn't retracting fully, and it's also the reason he's rubbing his tail. If he stays this uncomfortable for another month, he could develop a sheath infection from the filth, a tail infection from rubbing his tail raw, and possibly even kidney trouble if he gets to the point at which it's terribly uncomfortable to urinate. This is one of a gelding-owner's responsibilities, and although there are geldings that need a sheath-cleaning only once a year, most need it more often, say every six months, and some need it much more often than that. Your horse is already showing strong signs of discomfort. Don't wait! Either call your vet and ask him to come out and clean Poco's sheath NOW, or do it yourself. It's not that difficult, and I'll give you detailed instructions.

If you have a wash stall with warm water, that will be great -- if you don't, you'll have to heat some water in buckets. Warm water is key to the success of this procedure. ;-)

Get an equipment bucket organized! You'll want the following:

Your vet can get you the gloves and cotton if they aren't available at your barn.

The process isn't complicated or difficult, although it can be messy. ;-) Here's what you do.

Put the gloves on BEFORE your hands are even slightly damp; surgical gloves are hard to put on over wet skin.

Open the trash bag and put it where you can get at it.

Fill the palm of one hand with mineral oil (or sheath cleaner), and put it up INSIDE Poco's sheath. If you're lucky and he has a very easygoing attitude about the procedure, he may drop down and you'l be able to work easily. If he retracts instead, don't worry, you can still get him clean. Squoosh the oil or cleaner around in the sheath, add more if you need more, and then leave it alone for at least five minutes. This will give the oil or cleaner time to go to work. The idea is that the substance you put into the sheath will soften all of the material that you want to remove, and that, at the same time, it will coat and soften the horse's skin so that the dirt and dead skin you're going to remove won't cause painful scraping on the way out.

After five minutes, you can open your roll of cotton and pull off a handful of large pieces. Dampen them one at a time, and use them to wipe out the inside of the sheath. Don't be tentative -- it's important for you to get your horse CLEAN. Be gentle, of course, but be definite, and clean your horse thoroughly. As you finish with each piece of cotton, drop it into the trash bag. When the pieces of cotton begin to look clean, rinse the sheath with warm water (remember those buckets? use one as a source for warm water, the other to rinse the sponge). If Poco is a patient, quiet horse and you have a wash-rack and hose with adjustable water temperature, you can make the water warm and use the hose to rinse out his sheath. Use one last piece of cotton to be sure that you've got ALL the dirt out, and then rinse again with warm water.

As you've never done this before, I suggest that you enlist the help of your vet the first time. If Poco is uneasy about the process, or in pain, he may need a mild tranquilizer the first time his sheath is cleaned. Your vet can administer this -- you can't. And your vet can also supervise you, help you to do it as quickly and easily and safely as possible, and help if Poco gets anxious or if you get confused. He can also show you how to look for and remove a "bean" -- a hard, painful lump of smegma that often sits just next to the urethra.

When you finish, empty and wash the buckets, drop ALL of the used cotton in the trash bag, and finally peel off your gloves and drop them in there too. Then tie the bag shut and put it in the trash.

You may be surprised to find out how easy the process can be, and how grateful your horse is -- and how quiet he will be the next time. And there WILL be a next time! Don't ever let Poco get to this point again -- keep him clean and comfortable ALL the time, which may mean cleaning his sheath every six months -- or every three.


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