Laparoscopic Ovariectomy (Spay)
Laparoscopic techniques for removing the ovaries of a mare are relatively new to the equine surgical industry. This surgical approach requires advanced surgical instrumentation and specialized training to accomplish it correctly. The patient is held off feed for a minimum of 12 hours (free access to water) and the surgical procedure is carried out while she is standing in a set of stocks. Pain control is accomplished by a continuous IV infusion of Detomidine hydrochloride, local anesthesia of the portal sites, internal local blocks of the ovarian nerves, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The procedure typically takes 1 to 1 ½ hours. She is usually discharged from the hospital within 12 to 24 hours post-operative. Complications are rare and usually consist of incisional swelling or mild discomfort. We usually recommend confinement to a stall or stall with run for 2 weeks with hand walking starting when she goes home. Some mares are comfortable enough to be ridden lightly within 2 weeks of surgery while most take 4 to 6 weeks until they are comfortable for riding.
During the laparoscopic approach the entire procedure is done under direct visualization with a camera inserted into the abdomen. This allows the surgeon to perform exact dissection of the correct tissues and ensure exquisite control of hemorrhage. This minimally invasive technique minimizes pain, decreases hospital stays, and allows for quicker healing.
Why choose laparoscopy over traditional approaches?
Complications following traditional approaches for this procedure deterred many people from pursuing this treatment in the past. The two most common approaches are: 1. open flank approach; 2. colpotomy (vaginal) approach. Although the open flank approach is the safer of these 2 techniques it is requires a long healing time, is associated with higher pain levels, and leaves behind a large visible scar for life. The colpotomy approach is likely the most common method which involves a blind approach to the ovary via incision(s) in the vaginal wall that are left open after the procedure. Severe, fatal complications have been seen with this approach including: 1. acute fatal hemorrhage, 2. inadvertent removal of intestine, 3. severe abdominal infection, 4. prolapse of intestine from the vagina. It is usually recommended to keep these mares tied standing for 4 to 5 days in an effort to minimize the chances for some of these complications.
Why would I spay my mare?
In my experience the reasons have been numerous. There are many questions and stories about what this will do to a mare: Will it take her spirit away?; Will it affect her athletic ability?; Will it help improve her poor behavior?; etc… Although many of these everyday questions go unanswered in a scientific fashion, some have. We know that following removal of both ovaries about 40% of mares still show some signs of being intact; however 91% of owners felt that the behavior problems were resolved. Although the 40% figure sounds high at first, it is interesting to note that 30% of geldings are reported to show some signs of sexual interest in mares and/or aggression towards other horses.
In my experience, the athletic performance of these mares following removal of their ovaries is much more predictable. How often have you or your friends been at a show or competition when your mare comes into heat? She doesn’t eat or drink very well, she colics, she doesn’t run good, she won’t stay focused, she ties-up, and list goes on and on…. By removing the ovaries you are removing the source of these cycles and hence these mares seem to be more consistent.
Other common reasons that I’ve had experience with are mares that consistently colic or tie-up when in heat and mares that have bouts of laminitis when they are in heat.