Last Updated on March 15, 2022 by Allison Price
Regular sheath cleaning is a part of caring for horses. The sheath covers not only the interior of the prepuce (the exterior sheath), but also the head, shaft and inner folds of the skin (see image below). Normal horses can accumulate skin cells, dust, or sweat over time. This needs to be regularly removed. Horse owners may be able to clean their sheaths by themselves. Others prefer having the veterinarian do it under sedation. Regular thorough examinations are important to identify and treat any potential problems.
Many horse owners include sheath cleaning into their routine. However, I want to highlight some of the common errors I have seen in sheath maintenance. The following list contains things veterinarians recommend you stop doing to your horse’s sheath.
1. It is essential to clean your horse’s sheath at least once a year. Many people prefer to have their horse’s sheath cleaned during their annual dental exam. It is possible to inspect the penis and sheath more thoroughly by cleaning it while the patient is asleep.
2. Ask your vet questions while your horse is being cleaned. Water is involved, there are splatters, and no one wants to open their mouths. Please, wait until the end for your questions. We are more than happy to answer any questions afterward.
3. During sheath cleanings, don’t kneel under or stand behind horses. It is best to clean a sheath by standing directly next to your horse’s body, with your head higher than the level of its stifle. If your horse kicks out, you could be in danger of getting a head injury by kneeling down or bending too low. Every horse can kick, as all horses have legs. It is an unusual sensation for horses to kick or swing their legs out of sheath cleaning.
4. You shouldn’t pick at smegma using your naked hands. This is a personal preference and is directed at mostly female owners. I have never seen a male horse owner reach for his horse’s underwear without gloves. A male horse owner helped me with a procedure on his gelding. He refused to help me until I gave him full-length rectal sleeves that reached his shoulders. Regular wrist-length gloves are sufficient, but gloves should be worn in all seriousness. You eat with your hands, so smegma can be difficult to eliminate.
5. Don’t pick at your horse’s skin or smegma while he has other procedures. It is best to not disturb your horse while another procedure is going on or the sedation is in effect. You could cause him to go over the sedation, or put yourself and others at risk by startingle him or being in an unsafe situation around him.
6. Always check for a bean. It is quite common for debris to build up in the channels (urethral fossa), around the end of urethral process at the glans of the penis. The name comes from the fact that this buildup often forms a “bean-shaped” shape. If left untreated, this buildup can cause discomfort and obstruction.
7. Avoid being too aggressive, especially when cleaning sheaths without sedation. Although some horses will cooperate with you when sheath cleaning, there’s always the risk of them being kicked. Be gentle and don’t force your horse to do something if he isn’t comfortable. If there are a lot of tumors, sores, or debris attached to the sheath, it may make cleaning difficult for your horse. If your horse is suffering from pain, you should have your veterinarian sedate him and perform a thorough examination and cleaning.
8. Do not over-clean. Some horses may require more frequent cleaning than others, but an average horse needs only to be cleaned once a year. Frequent cleaning or using a harsh cleanser to clean your horse’s skin can cause irritation and lead to some bacteria being removed, making them more susceptible to infection. You should use a gentle cleanser that is suitable for sensitive skin or sheaths, and rinse off well. Because it doesn’t leave any residue on the skin, we use either warm water or ivory soap.
Bonus: Don’t forget about the Mares
Although they don’t have sheaths, the area between their udder and their skin can become very crusty. This is why it is important to clean this area regularly. The area between the teats is where the most buildup occurs, as you can see from the image. You can clean this area with warm water and a mild cleanser, similar to sheath cleaning.