The Swollen Scrotum

D. E. Larsen, DVM

It looked like another hot day with no rain in sight. August in Sweet Home was usually hot and dry. 

With the heat, our days were often slow. Especially the large animal side of things. Dr. Craig had warned me that the cattle practice would be feast or famine. 

“Busy in the fall and the spring,  the winter would be okay, but, except for a few pinkeye cases, you will do almost nothing in the summer,” Dr. Craig had said.

So I was a little surprised to see Pete rush through the clinic door. Pete was an old guy with a hobby farm out in Liberty and hated using the telephone.

“Doc, I have a young bull with a scrotum that is all swollen up,” Pete said. “Do you think you can come out to look at him? I have him caught, and my two sons are at home to help, but only for a couple of hours.”

Pete was pretty shrewd. He had the bull caught, and he had help, but only if I could come right away.

“Okay, Pete, I can change things around a bit and run out there now,” I said. 

“Doc, don’t come to the house,” Pete said. “We have him down at the neighbors. Their place is the one with the Indian Council Tree in the front yard. You know where that is, right?”

“Yes, I know the place,” I said. “It will take me a few minutes to get things together, but I will be right along. Do you have any idea what happened to this guy?”

“I reckon I don’t really know what is going on, Doc,” Pete said. “But he is pretty uncomfortable.”

 When I pulled into the driveway, Pete, his two sons, and a bunch of onlookers were gathered around this reddish yearling bull. 

Looking at the bull’s scrotum, the problem was obvious. This scrotum was swollen to three times its normal size, and the skin at the top of the scrotum had been severed, I would guess, by an elastrator band. 

You didn’t need to get close to smell the infection.

I stuck a thermometer into the young bull’s rectum. I looked at Pete and his entourage while I waited on the thermometer.

“Pete, I thought you said you didn’t know what happened to this guy?” I asked.

“Well, I was a little embarrassed in your office,” Pete said.

“You know, you’re not supposed to lie to your doctor,” I said. “The same thing goes for your veterinarian.”

“I know, Doc,” Pete said. “But I figured you would figure it out fast enough.”

I pulled the thermometer out and wiped it clean. It read a hundred and four.

“He has a pretty good infection, Pete,” I said. “The good thing about this is when we cut all of this off, things should clear up pretty well. You’re probably lucky that he doesn’t have tetanus.”

“I have never heard of tetanus in a cow,” Pete said.

“Well, it happens, not often, but it happens,” I said. “And, most of the time, it is from just this sort of thing.”

I tied the bull to the only fence post I could find that didn’t wobble when it was pushed. Then I pulled him against the wooden fence rails with a sideline.

“You two guys can lean against this guy to hold him a little better,” I said to Pete’s boys. 

“I’m going to do an epidural anesthetic on this guy,” I said. “That is not something we do for a standard castration, but this will require a little digging. 

After doing the epidural, I pulled the bull’s tail up and handed it to one of the boys.

“Just hold it out of the way,” I said.

I scrubbed the scrotum and the wound that circled the top of the scrotum. I stuck a finger into the wound, and there, nearly an inch deep, was the elastrator band. With a scalpel, I carefully severed the rubber elastrator band, and it popped out of the wound.

I picked up the remains of the band and tossed it to Pete.

“These things work on baby calves,” I said. “They don’t work on an animal this size.”

I opened the scrotum with an incision down each side. Then, I dug through the swollen tissues with my fingers until I could expose each testicle. After stretching the cords out, I removed each testicle with an emasculator. Now all I had to do was remove this swollen mass of tissue that used to be a scrotum.

After manipulating the original wound, I just removed the entire scrotum with the emasculator. Making sure I held a firm crush on the tissues for a full minute.

“So what did I do wrong, Doc?” Pete asked.

“These little bands are made to work on lambs and baby calves,” I said. “At this size of a scrotum, there is just not enough strength to cut off the blood flow. The band cuts through the skin and some of the tissue. It probably cuts off the blood leaving the scrotum, but it doesn’t have enough tension to shut off the blood flow into the scrotum and the testicle. So they just swell up, making sure the band can’t do the job. Then it all gets infected, and if you hadn’t called me, this bull would have died.”

“I just can’t afford to have you come and castrate all my calves,” Pete said. “What is a guy supposed to do?”

“Castrate the calves when they are a few days old,” I said. “You can handle them easier when they are that size. These bands work at that age. You just have to make sure you get both testicles. The other way is to use a knife. I can show you how to do that if you bring a baby calf into the clinic next spring.”

“What will we have to do with this guy now?” Pete asked.

“I am going to load him up on antibiotics and spray him real well for flies,” I said. “I will leave you another injection to give him in two days and a can of fly spray to use daily. You will need to keep him up for a few days. Other than that, he should heal up just fine.”


I was able to stop by Pete’s place the following week. Pete wasn’t home, but I watched the new steer from over the fence, and he was doing well. Grazing like nothing had ever happened. 

Animals like this little bull are so miserable that they feel great when their problem is finally taken care of.

Photo by Schneeknirschen on Pixabay

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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