With special thanks to Dr. Peggy Williams of Refugee Canyon Veterinary Services, Inc., Hebron, Ohio, for her help with this article.
Removal of the horn tissue is normally done within the first two weeks of a kid's life when the new horn bud is just emerging from the head. Late dehorning is done after the horn has been present for some time and requires general anesthesia.
Some people prefer horns on their animals for aesthetic reasons. Horns are actually dangerous weapons to adults and children, not to mention the devastation they wreak on barn walls, fences and trees.
Once the decision to dehorn is made, the veterinarian is consulted. The doctor will schedule an appointment for the surgery at the farm or the clinic. Preferably, this surgery is done during the early spring, fall or winter months. Summer brings flies and maggots and is not an opportune season for open wounds.
An accurate weight is essential for general anesthesia. Vets may differ in the type of anesthesia used. The Handbook of Veterinary Anesthesia, by Drs. Hubbell, Muir and Skarda, of Ohio State University, recommends a mixture of Ketamine [2 mg/lb, IV] and Xylazine (RompunTM) [0.40 mg/lb, IV] for small ruminants. These drugs may be mixed together. If used IV, immobilization should occur in less that one minute and allow general anesthesia for one hour. Recovery (standing) normally occurs two hours or more following induction. Intramuscular induction may also be given at the above dose. Induction will take 3 to 10 minutes with an increased recovery period.
Side effects are common with any type of anesthesia. Possible side effects of Xylazine and Ketamine are: decreased heart rate, respiratory rate and temperature; irregular breathing; and excess salivation in ruminants. Some doctors may give an anticholingergic to decrease salivation. In ruminants this can be dangerous as it also slows gastrointestinal motility and may lead to bloat.
Once the goat is asleep, the hair is clipped from the head and the area is scrubbed with a surgical cleanser and rinsed with water. Do not use alcohol: a cautery iron will be used to control bleeding and a fire could ignite. Once prepped, the vet will make an elliptical incision with a scalpel blade around the horn base to include the scent gland at the rear of the horn. This incision is a guide for the wire saw which will remove the horn at the base. An assistant should firmly hold the head as the doctor works the saw. Not only does the holder stabilize the head, but also manipulates the angle the wire takes.
The initial sawing embeds the wire in the horn base. As the wire continues to saw, the holder lifts the head slightly to allow the wire to follow the contour of the skull. If the contour is not followed, horn tissue may be left and scurs will develop. Of course, bleeding will occur. The vet should have a source of heat available to cauterize the bleeders once the horn is removed. The iron is used for cautery only. The horn germination tissue should be gone now with removal of the horn itself, providing the entire base was removed. The iron serves no purpose in this type of dehorning like it does in disbudding.
With the horns off and the bleeding stopped, the new wounds should be bandaged. Antibiotic ointment applied to gauze sponges are applied to the head. Self-adhesive wraps are used to secure the pads in place. Make sure when wrapping the head that the eyes are not wrapped shut or that the wrap is not too tight around the throat. These wraps should be changed daily or every other day for a period of about 2 to 4 weeks, depending on the goat and the vet. No hay chaff or other debris can enter the wounds leading into the nasal cavity - this will cause infection and delayed healing.
Daily monitoring is essential to catch infection before it starts. The goat should have a current CD/T vaccine prior to the procedure. If not, tetanus antitoxin vaccine should be administered along with the CD/T vaccine.
If all goes well, when the wraps are finally removed, healing should be complete in about 6 to 8 weeks. Hair regrowth takes about four months, although some goats take longer. Don't panic - it will return. The bald head is worth it to save someone's eye.
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