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Cosmetic Surgery - A Step Too Far?
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Cosmetic Surgery - A Step Too Far?

Everyone likes to win but it seems that some owners are really pushing the envelope by asking vets to perform cosmetic surgical procedures on their horses. But why would someone take such drastic action? The main reasons given to vets for such requests are: to speed up recovery time and get the horse back into work in the shortest possible timescales; to improve the horse's chances in the show ring and to try to increase its value for sale.

Whilst few would object in principle to the carrying out of minor operations in order to return a horse to soundness and to a happy, working life most owners would question the ethics of potentially risky surgical intervention purely for cosmetic reasons. The ever increasing range of "miracle" products crowding the shelves of tack shops does not help matters. Despite the glossy, convincing advertising campaigns and impressive "before and after" photos, there is little clinical evidence that any of these products actually work. Owners, having set their hearts on perfection, are left disappointed and some then resort to costly surgery in an effort to cure the "problem".

Splints are without doubt unsightly but if there is no associated lameness, joint range is not compromised and they are not in a position where they are continually knocked as the horse moves, is their removal really necessary? Treatments available include; surgical removal, blistering or injection of the affected area with a sclerosing agent. Many youngsters pick up splints, often before they are even backed and ridden. Frequently, the initial swelling gradually dissipates in time and in many cases the resultant "blemish" all but disappears without any form of intervention.

Minor lumps and bumps are best left alone as interference can actually cause an inflammatory reaction resulting in a worse blemish. Sellers often request vets to remove small sarcoids before the horse is placed on the market for sale, although they are morally duty bound to inform a purchaser of this as sarcoids are prone to return.

Soft tissue swellings such as capped hocks, bog spavins, windgalls, thoroughpins and bursitis are usually just unsightly rather than problematic as long as they do not interfere with the range and movement of a joint. It is possible to drain the swelling using a needle then apply pressure bandages to the site which will reduce the inflammation temporarily. This is however merely a quick fix and the fluid will quickly return once the pressure is removed. Surgery is possible but is not straightforward and may leave move scarring and swelling than was originally present and vets will not go down this route unless X-rays or ultrasound scanning reveal some underlying condition which justifies invasive action.

Retained testicles (cryptorchidism) are generally dealt with at the time of castration although there have been cases recorded of the implantation of one or even two false testicles in order to pass the horse off as a stallion for showing or to enable it to be sold as a fully functioning entire. This is of course totally unethical and most vets would refuse point blank to entertain such a request.

Cat-neck is a term used to refer to the heavy, floppy crests developed by some breeds as they are brought into show condition. It is becoming increasingly common practice in some European countries for vets to perform liposuction to remove this excess fat in order to improve the horse's appearance in the show ring.

Many conditions will resolve themselves over time without the need for risky and costly surgery. In some instances, tendon injuries for example, overly aggressive treatment to get the horse back into work as quickly as possible is merely a quick fix and the original injury is likely to reoccur because insufficient time has been allowed for the damaged tissue to repair and strengthen itself naturally.

Beauty is surely in the eye of the beholder and your horse's unsightly windgalls or lumpy splints will not mean that he will be any less willing or affectionate and should not make you love him any less.

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  1. PonyGirl
    PonyGirl
    Good grief. Liposuction for horses. Really? At least that's one thing no one can accuse the racetrackers of. We don't care what they look like- if they can run, they're pretty. :D I did see one splint surgery. A filly somehow managed to break the tip of her splint bone off. (Probably playing around in her stall.) The vet made a small incision with only local anesthesia administered, popped the bone fragment out, and wrapped the leg up. The wound was completely healed in about 2 weeks.
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    1. Toots
      Yes I know, it's scary isn't it? As I say, it depends what the reason for surgery is. Chipped bones are routinely removed successfully but lipo is indeed a step too far; and as for the pretend naughty bits for stallions ...!!! x
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