Sheath Swelling in Geldings


Hi! My name is Casie Bazay. I'm a mom, a freelance writer, and a certified equine acupressure practitioner.

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42 Responses

  1. Robynne Catheron says:

    Thanks for a great post! I wonder if this is more common than we think? My TWH trail horse’s sheath swelled up two winters ago. Rather than call the vet out before I knew anything, I read everything I could find, including any mention on forums. The general consensus was that if it wasn’t injury or infection, it was due to inactivity, and pretty common in harsh winters. We live in upstate New York, so I just cleaned it well with Equi-Spa Sheath and Udder Cleanser (awesome stuff, minimal rinsing) and kept an eye on it. It lasted several days, but once the weather cleared enough to ride, it went away and hasn’t recurred.

    • then5925 says:

      Hi Robynne! I have a feeling that swelling of the sheath is pretty common. I’ve had horses’ lower legs swell from long periods of inactivity (usually on stall rest or being tied at weekend trail rides) so the same may be true for the sheath area as well.

  2. Debbie says:

    My 24 yr. old gelding has had a swollen sheath for about 3-4 yrs now. He has Cushings Disease, and cannot be ridden now, due to arthritis. But before, when I rode him, the swelling went down. His sheath is so swollen that the skin is tight!
    My vet is a small town vet, the only one for miles and miles, and has offered no help. I would love to find some way to naturally treat this problem.

    • then5925 says:

      Hi Debbie,

      Can your gelding be lunged? It sounds like exercise would certainly help. If that’s not an option, I would recommend creating something like a paddock paradise (Jaime Jackson has a book on it) that would increase his movement naturally (if he’s with other horses). Also, what’s his diet like?

    • Julie says:

      This happened to my old guy too. I called the people at silver lining herbs and was recommended their blood cleanse formula. The swelling went away in three days after I had tried everything else for almost two months. I have a suspicion that the swelling may have been related to daily dewormed that I had been giving him. Anyway the blood cleanse worked for him!

      • then5925 says:

        Hi Julie–glad to hear that the herbs worked for him! I have also seen horses become ‘toxic’ from the daily dewormers. . .

      • Megan says:

        hi Julie, My arab has a swollen, smelly sheath just noticed. I find it interesting that you mentioned worming. He was just wormed on Tues. Do you think there is a connection? Is silver lining herbs in the States or where can you get this cleanse? Any advice would be appreciated. His sheath often looks large..ever since I got him anyway, but now all of a sudden much worse.
        thanks Megan

  3. Sheila Richardson says:

    How can I get the silver lining herbs for the blood cleanse? My 5 yr. old TWH has had a swollen sheath for a year. He tested positive for cushings a month ago. Has been on pergolide for 5 weeks. Will the pergolide reduce the swelling in time?

    • Casie says:

      Hi Sheila–I don’t know if the pergolide will reduce swelling, but a low-sugar diet should help. No grains or sweet feeds and low-sugar hay (may need to get it tested). If you have lush pasture, grazing should be limited or eliminated with many Cushing’s horses. Here’s Silver Lining’s website: Not sure if you have to locate a dealer or if you can order online. Good luck with your gelding!

    • laura says:

      can you post the blood cleanse mixture ingredients/recipe? my 6 yr old gelding has been swollen for about 3 weeks now. went to the vet last week for the annual bean and clean, shots, coggins, floating, etc. and she did not know what the cause was either. also, he was the second horse she had that week with the same problem and was no curious as to what was going on. i’ve been washing him off daily with a mild detergent, epsom salt, plain cool water, iodine rinse. 2 days ago i gave him a penicillin shot. it stopped swelling but it isn’t going down either.

      • laura says:

        btw. i have been feeding all my horses some beet pulp with pellet feed and some alfalfa pellets. i recently took him off the beet pulp thinking that could be the culprit. the swelling has not gone up, but i also noticed that his stomach in that area looks to be swelling too. maybe stop the feed altogether and just feed hay. i have 3 other geldings that are fed the same and do not have any issues. the reason for the feed mix is the attempt to get them off grains. the only feed that is somewhat sweet is the beet pulp and that has molasses.

  4. Jennifer says:

    My horse sheath has been swollen he doesn’t seem like it’s bugging him. I thought at first it was a bug bit but his hasn’t gotten worst but hasn’t gotten better either. The right side seems to be more swollen and harder then the left. I have cleaned, I plan on going a trail ride in a few weeks. What should I do? Do you think he will be ok or should I have the vet coke look at him?

    • Casie says:

      Bob’s sheath used to swell on and off (he’s since passed away). Didn’t seem to bother him to be ridden. I think it had to do with insulin resistance in him though. Couldn’t hurt to get it checked though!

  5. Carolyn says:

    My senior horse has a swollen sheath. The only change has been adding chop to his diet. Would that make his sheath swell?

    • Casie says:

      Hi Carolyn, I’m not sure what ‘chop’ is, but fall is the seasonal rise in ACTH and a swollen sheath could indicate insulin resistance (also could possibly be Cushing’s). I’d ask your vet about testing.


      • Carolyn says:

        Chop – hay chop (finely chopped hay with molasses). My vet is coming the first of the week, but I would like to start him on a maintenance. The blood cleanse sounds promising. Is the product 9 Inflammaid?

    • laura says:

      i had added shredded beet pulp to my horses feed and of the 4 only 1 may have a problem with it, he has a swollen sheath too. i stopped feeding it to him and will add more alfalfa and hay to his diet. think its too much for him.

  6. Allison Fender says:

    Hi. I have read all of your comments with interest, as my senior gelding has recently developed severe swelling of his sheath and even of the belly area surrounding it. I have had my vet out twice. The first time she suggested cleaning the sheath every other week and using KY jelly every other day to make sure that dirt and smegma did not collect and would slough off more easily. I tried that for a couple of months with no change in the swelling, which was alarming, but did not cut off his ability to lower and raise his penis when he urinated. The vet came out again and ran all kinds of tests, including bloodwork. All tests came back fine. The vet said she thinks the problem is circulatory. She said this is not uncommon in older geldings who are not ridden a lot. She prescribed a Chinese herb, a powder that we add to his grain twice a day. It is called Shi Pi Yin. It is expensive. It has been 3 weeks and the swelling has come down somewhat, but is still triple to quadruple the size of his sheath area when normal. So, maybe it just takes some time to work. I am also going to try lunging or walking him so he gets more exercise to see if it helps too.

    I will check back to see if anyone has updated comments or information on the subject.

    Thank you for sharing your information!

    Allison Fender

    • Casie says:

      Hi Allison–It sounds like Shi Pi Yin is a Chinese herb and those can be wonderful as well. Glad it seems to be helping. Sometimes, sheath swelling can be seasonal as well and correspond to when sugars in the grasses are highest (spring and fall, usually).

      Glad you found the post and comments useful. 🙂

  7. Clissa says:

    My older gelding has had a swollen sheath on & off for several weeks.
    He has also has a lump inside the actual prepuce itself for a few years. I think it is an infected or inflamed sebaceous cyst. But why it is causing swelling now is a mystery.
    Each time I move them to a new paddock it swells up. I think it is due to the grass being too sweet. If I move them back to the previous eaten out paddock the swelling goes down. My thinking is that once the green grass is eaten they only have the rough grass which has little sugar in it.
    I got the vet & he just said it was a contact allergy. But there is no itching although it is sore & my horse is very uncomfortable. There is a hard, hot line that runs back up the sheath from the lump into his belly. Like if you had a really badly infected cut on your foot.
    I have some human medicine anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-biotic cream that I have been using on him giving some reduction in the swelling. But the cream is very expensive & I have to go to my doctor for a new script every 2 weeks. I told my doctor what I am using it for & he just laughed.
    But the vet had nothing similar nor was he interested in giving my horse some injections for the swelling & inflammation.
    I have to wash the sheath often because it fills with smegma very quickly & smells really bad. I thought maybe he also had some form of fungal infection?
    It’s got me a bit concerned & the vet just brushing it off like that made me quite angry & annoyed at wasting such a large amount of money for the bill that could have gone to better use to help my horse.

    • Casie says:

      Hi Clissa–So sorry to hear about your horse. I understand how frustrating it can be to find answers sometimes. Older geldings are especially prone to sheath swelling and it sounds like your guy might be insulin resistant (due to it swelling each time you move him). Has he ever been tested for that? He also may very well have some sort of infection since it is hot to the touch. Have you ever tried using essential oils with your horses? I wonder if something like tea tree oil (diluted in a carrier oil) would help topically here. It has anti-bacterial properties. I would try that and look into insulin resistance testing maybe as well. Good luck to you.

      • Allison Fender says:

        I am so sorry you are experiencing that too. I am having the same problem in my older gelding. My vet ordered a Chinese herb for him and I gave it to him for a month, twice a day, in his grain and it did help. My vet believes it is a circulation problem.The herb is called Shi Pi Yin and it was prescribed. It was $110 for 900 grams, which lasted a little longer than a month. There is another herb company I found online that advertises herbal supplements for liver cleansing, kidney cleansing, etc. and people whose horses had the same issue wrote in that these supplements helped as well.

        I hope this helps. If you find anything else that works, please write in!



      • Brandalyn Massey says:

        Do not ever give teatree oil to any animal. You will make them toxic and they will die. Period. I’ve seen dog’s die within hours of licking the oil off their coat.

        • Casie says:

          Hi Brandalyn–thanks for sharing–I wasn’t aware of that. I wasn’t suggesting to give it internally, just on the sheath. But perhaps this isn’t worth the risk either. I’ve used it on my horses’ feet before but I’ve never seen a horse lick their hooves!

          • B says:

            Tea tree oil is not toxic externally to horses, but it is to dogs and cats. Have used tea tree oil on wounds and terrible thrush many times over the years, with incredible results. Horses and Humans can both handle tea tree oil externally and it has extremely wonderful healing properties.

            • Clissa says:

              Please don’t put neat Tea Tree oil on sensitive skin such as the sheath area of a horse.
              Its fine on hooves but putting it on skin is just asking for trouble. It burns.
              For use as a fly control or similar, it is generally well watered down & kept in suspension using a dispersant.
              I can’t see any reason to apply TeaTree oil to a horse’s sheath in any case.

  8. Clissa says:

    Thanks for all that info re herbs. My daughter is a naturopath so she has been experimenting with different topical applications so I will pass on the names of those herbs to her.
    He has never been tested for sugar or IR but I am sure he is. We have had a 5yr battle with laminitis & abscessing leading to full blown founder which I am sure was IR connected. Vets here in OZ don’t really believe our grasses can cause IR! Therefore it is a very expensive test.
    Luckily our seasons are not always conducive to growing sweet rich grass. My place usually only has a variety of native grasses that only stay green for the 4month wet season, but last year I began a program of soil improvement to provide more mineral balance to my horses to help with general health. I think I have over done it!
    Earlier this week I put my horses in a paddock that hasn’t been mineral balanced & by last night his swelling was beginning to subside. Although the lump is still infected hard & hot, the rest of the sheath is not so swollen.
    I think it would have gone away if the vet had drained it with a syringe & given him an antibiotic. I think that’s why the human grade cream is working.
    So I will try some more herbals. Thanks again ladies.

  9. Vickie says:

    My 16 yr old haflinger gelding has a swollen sheath. Very large and hard. I had my vet out yesterday and he cleaned it and ran a lot of tests including insulin resistance tests….will get the results in a few days. His sheath was dirty and only a small bean. I checked him this morning and it’s still swollen hard. I got to thinking that when a goat gets edema in her udder they use peppermint oil. Has anyone tried that? I’m thinking I will and see if it helps reduce the swelling. I have owned him for 7 yrs and he came to me 150lbs over weight. Two yrs ago I got him down to normal weight. I am suspecting IR and hopefully not cushings.

    • Casie says:

      Hi Vickie–sounds like you’re on to something with the IR. I would be careful with the peppermint though as it can be pretty potent. (have you ever used it on yourself?) He might not like it in such a sensitive area either. If you do use, it I would make sure to dilute it quite a bit with a carrier oil. Hope you can get things figured out and get him some relief!

  10. Anna says:

    I’ve got the same problem with my 5yr old cob his sheath bus really swollen but doesn’t seem to be bothering him and he is also going to toilet alright I noticed it on Monday my friend is gonna contact her vet and send pic to her to see what she says. The trouble is he can be funny when trying to clean that area

    • Clissa says:

      Since my last message to this thread I have been testing my horse in various paddocks across my property & after rain once the grass has greened up again.
      Sure enough each time I move him to the new grass his sheath swells dramatically.
      It seems to be full of fluid that I can massage away fairly easily. He whinnies to me to come & ‘fix him up’! So it must get sore or at least uncomfortable.
      I can soften the hard swelling by gently rubbing upwards with the back of my hand for a minute, then sort of scrunching the affected side of sheath very gently which drains the fluid out of the cells. This seems to cause significant relief to Sonny who then wanders off happily.
      I asked my vet if there were lymph glands or drains from the hind gut that came down there because of the way it swells when he is put on sweet grass. Also the way I can massage to drain. Vet said no but I think there must be something in that region.
      Humans have lymph glands in the groin, why not horses?

  11. Lee Kingston says:

    Hello All
    my 10 year old gelding has had a swollen sheath for years, no one has been able to work out why.I am suspecting Insulin Resistance and I am about to get him tested. He also has UTI’s a bit and his urine ph is quite alkaline which can predispose to crystals forming, hence UTI. Does anyone know if any of these conditions are linked please?

  12. Clissa says:

    Hello Lee. Bi-carbonate of Soda (an alkali) is what humans use to remedy the ph of urine & relieve the symptoms of UTI which is usually acid based. I’m not sure how you would get Bi-carb into a horse. If the horse’s system was really out of balance he may like to lick the bi-carb out of your hand. Human dose is half to 1 teaspoon 2-3 times daily until resolved which should occur within 24-36hrs.
    As far as edibles go that would help, celery & hibiscus tea & another I cant think of just now will help too. For a horse to eat enough celery would take 3-4 bunches 2times daily I’d say.
    Other things which might make his urine alkaline are mineral supplements & bone supplements. Both have recommended dosages far greater than the horse can actually use in any meal time period. The rest is cleared from the system via the kidneys. If his urine is milky or he leaves a milky puddle on the ground its an alkaline issue. If the grass dies or weeds grow where he pees its usually acid based.

    Update on my old gelding:- keeping him quite lean through our winter months has helped to reduce his sheath swelling. But each time I move them to the next paddock it swells a bit. I don’t like having them so lean particularly in winter, but that’s what’s needed for IR horses.

  13. Clissa says:

    Right after I clicked the ‘Post Comment’ button I remembered a thing about bi-carb.
    What I didn’t mention in my post was that as a remedy for humans it is dissolved in a glass of water. It also softens water.
    When Sonny was foundered my equine dietition suggested giving him bi-carb in his drinking water to help his system. My horses loved drinking the softened sweet water. It got so bad I had to stop doing it because the 3 horses would stand there & drink the whole bath tub trough full of water in a morning which made them very sick!

    So you could try your boy with a 20lt bucket of water with 2tbspn bi-carb added & see if he likes it. Once daily should be enough until his urine runs clean with no strong smell.

  14. Renee says:

    I have a gelding n I have notice some swelling in the same area is there something i can do r do he need to go to the vet

    • Casie says:

      I would try taking him off grass if he’s on it and feed only hay. No sweet feed or high molasses feed. Also daily lunging or riding (or some kind of exercise). See if that helps. If not, may need to check with a vet.

    • Clissa says:

      Since my earlier posts to this thread I have done even more experiments regarding which grasses cause the swelling in my horse.
      It seems any grass under stress will do it. I have mostly tropical grasses & couch here.
      So during this past winter I lightened off all my horses by feeding a bit less than I have in past years. The grass dried out due to lack of rain so the horses were eating dried brown grass for the most part. None had fatty deposits in the usual places on their bodies.
      I held them at a body score of 3 so I could just make out their ribs. They got all the nutrients required via a supplement & had healthy coats but not an ounce of excess fat or weight.
      Since they are now retired, having less weight was not an issue.
      This allowed Sonny’s sheath to return to normal size which I was very happy to witness.
      Then the storm season came & the grass greened up overnight.
      Sonny’s sheath swelled again in 2days! I was very disappointed to see that happen.
      His sheath got hot & swollen & he got anxious.
      I moved the horses to a spelled paddock but the damage was done. With all the grass going green & therefore developing sugars again, his sheath just got bigger & bigger.
      As far as I am concerned that is sufficient proof that his swoollen sheath is caused by excess sugars from stressed grass.

  15. Lauren L Kime says:

    These issues are really great for my education. Thank you

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