Sheath Problems #1


” at the time about how swollen his sheath was but was told that it was ok, “…


We bought our horse 9 months ago, I commented at the time about how swollen his sheath was but was told that it was ok, then about 3 weeks later he started biting at his sides and bucking. If you tried to touch his sides he would kick out. He has been on various medication over the last 9 months but nothing is working to clear it completely, the vet is baffled as he has had blood tests done they were clear, his urine was checked (it showed low nitric) nothing showed up on the scan that was done but when he is off the medication for a short time he starts having pain again then the symptoms start all over. We had to get the vet again last week and he has put him on medication for 15 days as he thinks that he may have chronic cystitis and hoping that the 15 days will shift it, then today he took blood to check for something sexual transmitted before he was gelded. But that came back clear, have you any suggestions that we could try?

Dr. Kimberly Gryl’s Answer:


Perhaps more diagnostic testing is in order, in the form of an ultrasound on your gelding’s sheath. This will look at the architecture of the tissue and see abnormalities that are deep to the skin. Also, a complete examination of the penis is in order, including having him completely dropped down; I assume this has already been done.

The more you try to persist in touching his sheath region, the worse his behavior will get. This is best reserved for the veterinarian only, who can sedate him appropriately and minimize the chances of getting hurt.

“he has a large amount of swelling, and obvious pain of his sheath”…

I have a 3 year old mustang gelding that was in great need of sheath cleaning. I cleaned his sheath 4 days ago. This was done gently with mineral oil with no problems at all. One day ago (three days after the cleaning) he has a large amount of swelling, and obvious pain of his sheath. What could be the cause and what treatment does he need. Can this be dangerous or will it resolve on it’s own? Please advise. Thank you

Dr. Kimberly Gryl’s Answer:


I never recommend using oil of any kind on the genital regions. This will be very difficult to remove, and build-up residue can be quite irritating. Your best bet would be to clean him again with plain water, and add a commercial sheath cleaner (Excalibur). To be sure you have him thoroughly cleaned, you need to make sure you can expose all of him – your veterinarian may be needed to give him some sedation appropriate to get him to drop his penis. At this time, you can ask about anti-inflammatories to help the swelling and discomfort. Good luck.


“My 5 yr old pleasure horse has a hard sheath area one one side, “…

I have cleaned the sheath twice now since 12/16. It is cold to the touch. The vet who cleaned it 1-14 said to wait a week or 1.5 weeks, but it is still hard and shows no sign of lessening. It was swollen to a mid-belly point, and that did reduce. I have ridden him daily. He is in a good mood, but would prefer I do not touch it. The hardness is the size of half a dinner plate on once side only. I did give penicilin at 20 cc for 5 days about 1/1. The barn is not heated. He does go out to pasture daily also & wears a long winter blanket. I have not crossed the straps for fear of rubbing it. Any ideas? Oh, when I first cleaned the sheath area, which was dirty only in the lower regions, I used 1 tsp of surgical solution as I could not find the sheath cleaner. It got hard after that. It was just swollen and loose when I noticed it. So maybe I got rid of all the good bacteria? When the vet came 1/14 she did get a lot of stuff out of there, again in the lower regions.

Dr. Kimberly Gryl’s Answer:

Gale and Pat:

Surgical scrubs, by design, are made to remove all bacteria from the skin, and as a result tend to be very drying. In tender spots those scrubs can also be irritating, especially to sensitive skin as in the penis/sheath region. It is possible that your gelding had some irritated skin already, and the scrub advanced that irritation. Is is also possible that a local infection took hold, in which case antibiotics may be applicable. In the case of penicillin usage, you may be under-dosing him, so be sure to ask your regular veterinarian for the appropriate dose. If he’ll tolerate it, you could try massage to soften it; just be careful to not get kicked. Continued exercise may help keep swelling from getting worse. Good luck.


” I still am not seeing improvement with him(swollen sheath) and am very concerned. “…

Thank you so much for your response Dr. Gryl. I still am not seeing improvement with him and am very concerned. Thankfully, he is eating and drinking, and urinating and defecating without problems. When I first noticed something unusual, about a month ago, his testicles seemed to be tucked so far up they were not visible. I asked my vet and he said the change in temperature (it was colder that day) could have been the cause, and also they just naturally change positions. At this time he was walking stiff in the hind, but I didn’t put much thought into it, just thinking he was frolicking and maybe pulled something. There wasn’t swelling until about 4 days after. 3 weeks later, and after treatment (including cleaning a couple times, cold hosing, a round of antibiotics, and 7 days of Bute), he is still very swollen. To add to the list of symptoms, his eyes were both almost shut the day before yesterday, as if they were swollen also, although today they look fine, and now it seems he is seeping some clear/yellowish liquid from his sheath area, but no place in particular, seems like the whole area. Maybe from the pores? Could he be having an allergic reaction to something in the pasture? He is in a wooded pasture, and chews on the trees when he’s bored, and also there are fallen leaves everywhere. Are these symptoms of an allergic reaction? Steroids are given for an allergic reaction, correct? What would we be looking for in blood work? Could we tell if he had eaten something poisonous? And the ultrasound? I’m guessing to look for trauma? If he had a hernia, would that cause the seeping? And would that show on an ultrasound? Thanks again for your help. I love my vet, but he is an all around animal vet, so we both seem stumped at this condition.

Dr. Kimberly Gryl’s Answer:


I am sorry to hear that your boy is no better. Now knowing that he lives in heavily wooded areas with lots of fallen leaves and chews on some of those trees, I am more concerned that he could be ingesting something toxic. Toxicity can be of varying degrees, and depending upon the toxic agent, he may be in more or less danger. Long-term exposure in low doses tends to cause smaller changes to the body over time, sort of spreading the damage out. These have a more insidious onset, and your horse’s sheath swelling may only be the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps his liver is affected, or other internal organs. I strongly recommend you run a blood test. This will check for everything general – including liver and kidney function, and protein levels which are a reflection of liver health.

The seeping from the sheath is likely from swelling and breakdown of the skin barrier. This usually occurs after some time of the swelling. An ultrasound will look for not only trauma, but any abnormalities, especially since he is a stallion. The testicles can be evaluated for normal vs. abnormal findings. Steroids must be used cautiously, especially in the face of potential toxicity. They are very useful and indicated for allergic reactions, but again must be used judiciously and do not come without side effects. Testicular hernias can be life-threatening and should be addressed immediately. (If your veterinarian suspected this I’m sure you’d know about it by now and would have already addressed it.) It may be time to seek a referral to an equine-only doctor, as they may have more experience with cases like this. In the meantime, I recommend you limit his exposure to the wooded pastures, try to evacuate as many fallen leaves as possible, ensure that your horse continues to eat and drink well, and his bowel and bladder habits remain normal. Hope this helps and please let me know what happens.


“I have a 4 year old stallion with a swollen sheath.”…

His sheath is thoroughly cleaned, this is not the problem. Bugs are not an issue on our farm this year due to the drought, and the temps have been in the 60s and 70s, so not hot enough to make him swell. Also, he is on pasture 24/7, so he has plenty of exercise. My vet guessed trauma or infection (although we could not locate a wound that would’ve caused infection). He has gone through 7 days of Bute, along with 7 days of cold hosing twice a day, and also 10 days of antibiotics, Tricopene I think it was called. While he was on the Bute and cold hosing, it seems to go down some, but it’s been a week, and has swelled as large again as it originally was. It has been a total of almost 4 weeks that he has been swollen. He is VERY sensitive in this area, which is unusual for him, he is used to being handled. It is painful for him. He walks stiff and does not want to bring his hind legs under him when he walks. Anything else we can test or look for as possible causes? Thank you.

Dr. Kimberly Gryl’s Answer:

Swollen sheaths are frustrating to deal with, as you are learning. I find them to be often-times recurrent, but not usually painful enough to make them sore to walk normally. Of course, each case is different. Swollen sheaths are generally due to edema, which is fluid between tissue cells. However, it can be due to irritation from dirt (which you have ruled out), bleeding (Hematomas), infection, or circulatory problems. Humidity can play an indirect part in swelling. Usually Bute, cold-hosing, and exercise all combined are effective in reducing swelling. If all those have not worked, you might inquire about using a dose of steroids. If this is not effective, the next step would be some diagnostic testing, including blood work and an ultrasound.



“Could this be allergies or do you think he is retaining fluid due to another reason?”…

Sunday we noticed the hind legs of our horse were slightly swollen. Tuesday we noticed his sheath was also swollen, so we cleaned it. Wednesday night we noticed a lump starting underneath his stomach…it is like he is holding fluid. We recently changed the hay and has had continuous feeding of it. Could this be allergies or do you think he is retaining fluid due to another reason?

Dr. Kimberly Gryl’s Answer:


Stocking up in the hind legs is due to edema, or extra fluid between the tissues. Generally it is harmless in the hind legs, and usually a consequence of standing around with not enough exercise. Usually this fluid dissipates with movement. The swelling of the sheath and bottom

of the belly is also from the same thing, however is uncommon and never normal. There are many reasons for edema in the sheath and bottom of the belly. I recommend you have your veterinarian run a blood test checking for protein levels and organ function. Also, increasing his exercise should help all of these go away. If they persist, he definitely should be examined.


“3 vets have seen him and all 3 have given him different antibiotics but he has a week at the best before his sheath swells up,”…


My horse’s sheath has a problem which has been going on for more than a month. He is a 10 year old Lusitano. 3 vets have seen him and all 3 have given him different antibiotics but he has a week at the best before his sheath swells up, he pulls his belly in and it is very painful. he doesn’t roll himself or lie down when it gets that bad. I have no idea what it could be and neither do the vets. I don’t know what to do. He eats, drinks urinates, has no fever. I cleaned him. I’d be greatful for any kind of advice, Thanks.


Dr. Kimberly Gryl’s Answer:


A thorough cleaning of the sheath and penis is in order. Assuming this has been done, anti-inflammatories (bute or banamine) can help to reduce the pain and swelling. Perhaps an ultrasound of the sheath would be next, to examine the internal tissues of the sheath and ventral abdomen (bottom of the belly). Horses can grow tumors in this region, which can be very aggressive.


12 Responses to "Sheath Problems #1"
  1. Liz says:

    My aged horse has a swollen penis. He doesn’t retract it into his sheath because there seems to be a swollen bulb in the middle. I have hosed it and cleaned it. He urinates and he doesn’t seem to be sore or sensitive in the area. He does show signs of Cushings. Could this be part of the metabolic syndrome? Also we have had a terrible Northwest winter so his activity is minimal. Can you help?

  2. Vernita says:

    My 10 year old geldings penis is out and has not went back where it belongs, its been a day and a half and its still out, I don’t understand or know what to do. Can anyone help me?

  3. Sarah Lee says:

    I got my horse about 7 months ago and cleaned his sheath about 4 months ago. He stood still and was nearly sleeping. Just recently, I saw him awkwardly kicking under himself and went to go see. I tried to touch it to see several times, and every single time he would kick his leg out and flinch. I have no idea what is wrong, but unfortunately I do not have the money to have a vet out right now. I had the vet out a couple months ago to float his teeth and would have had it looked at then, but this problem didn’t seem to exist then…. Please help. :(

  4. William D Reed says:

    My gelding and other horses were passing around a cough and runny nose we decided to run a week of penicillin shots for them all 3 days into the shots our geldings jaw swelled but was gone the next day then on day 5 each side of his sheath swelled up like tennis balls and are painful any thoughts or recommendations could this be an allergic reaction or what can we do thanks

  5. Clissa Townsend says:

    My aged QH (I live in Australia) gets a swollen sheath these days also. I have worked out it occurs right after I move the horses to new pasture. The grass must be too high in sugars. If I move them back to the old pasture the swelling goes away but returns once moved back to the new pasture. Vet said it was contact allergy but all pastures have identical grass & weeds. The advice to exercise the horse would work because the exercise will reduce the amount of sugar in the blood & therefore the reason for the swelling. I have not worked out why the swelling & the high sugar grass are connected but I just know they are. I guess the same might apply if the horse was getting a very high sugar content hand feed or hay.

  6. Ali Harvey says:

    My 19 y/o stud has a case of paraphimosis: incrediblly swollen after 3 days. Cold washing, Bute, and Penecyllin 2 times daily are not helping at all, he swells more everyday. On day 3 it has started to ooze and drip from the crease in the middle, slightly tinged with blood. (It seriously looks like there is a band in the middle where the swelling ‘levels’ change) Urinating well and otherwise is his lovable self. He’s beginning to dread the needle, but infection is there somehow. He lays and suns every morning in his hay, as he has done everyday for the past 8 years, except today. Local equine vet states “give it a few more days. It will either blow out, or go down”. HELP!!

  7. Bonnie says:

    I have a 19 year old gelding with a swollen sheath. Does not seem to be sore or tender. Cleaned him and he was not very dirty and had a small bean. Just wondering what might have caused this. It is winter here so no dust or dirt . Will butte and exercise help?

  8. Taylor says:

    Hi, i have been seeing lots of sweling on my horse as well. we are trying to keep his sheath clean. His prepuce is the most swollen. There are lots of crusty guncky stuff in the in side. He is irritated and allmost raw, but as we clean it the sweling gose down. He is not kicking or biting at eny one or his self. I notice that he will not drop his sheth for us but he pushes it out on his owen some times.

  9. megan says:

    Hi Robin,

    You are the third person to mention worming at the same time as swollen sheath. My horse was wormed on tues and now Sat his sheath is quite swollen. Did you have any luck treating this. I just heard about my horses swollen sheath and intend to clean his sheath tomorrow…but reading all about this problem, it sounds hard to treat….. thanks any advice you have about your solution to this would be appreciated,

  10. dave smith says:

    My 13 year old gelding has developed “new balls” . Obvious swelling. No heat or sign of infection, no signs of discomfort when checked. Manifested itself over last few days.
    Only change is box-bound due to water-logged field. Eating, drinking, relieving all fine, good in himself.
    Reply most appreciated. Thanks.

  11. Shanna Nickerson says:

    My aunt just got her old stallion back from some people she had given him to. A couple of days ago we noticed that both of his testicles are swollen, hard, and cold. It has started to go into his sheath now. He is eating, drinking , and going to the bathroom find, and doesn’t seem to be in any pain. Would you know what is going on and what we should do to help him?

  12. Robin McAtee says:

    I have a rescue horse that was really in bad shape..he had a swollen sheath..we asked around and they told us his sheath probably needed cleaned..and he probably had a bean..well he did have a bean, he had three large beans…we got them out and cleaned him. its been a while and now he is swollen again..he was not like this two days ago..we did a couple things different…we wormed him and changed his fly spray. i dont know if he was allergic to the fly spray that we changed or if it got inside of him by wind and made him infected or if he was allergic to something in the worm medicine. he is really swollen please help


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