Disbudding Leads to Complications

 A third-year veterinary student was completing an externship experience with Dr. C during the summer prior to entering year three of the curriculum. Dr. C and the student were presented with a five-month-old goat kid for dehorning due to horn remnants (scurs) being present after the owner had attempted previous disbudding using a commercially available dehorning paste.

Dr. C. and the student conducted a thorough physical exam, during which Dr. C noted a concavity to the dorsum of the head near the horn scurs. The kid was sedated by Dr. C with xylazine to induce heavy sedation, and a ring block was performed by the student extern around both horn scurs with 2% lidocaine solution to provide local analgesia. The area was scrubbed and prepped with betadine scrub, followed by isopropyl alcohol. The student proceeded with the application of an electric disbudding iron to the area circumferentially around the horn scurs bilaterally. The kid recovered from anesthesia without event and was sent home with its owner.

The following day, the owner called Dr. C to report that the kid had died overnight. Dr. C recommended a necropsy at the state diagnostic lab. The necropsy identified evidence on both gross and microscopic samples of thermal brain injury.

Dr. C and the veterinary student both filed claims with their professional liability carrier. The owner requested fair market value for the deceased kid and following a review, the student’s professional liability carrier consented to settle. The owner received fair market value for the deceased kid, and Dr. C agreed to refund the charges associated with the disbudding.

A Note on Disbudding

Disbudding is a common procedure performed on horned goat breeds. It is often done to prevent injuries from horn trauma to herd mates. The procedure is commonly performed in goat kids less than two weeks of age to minimize pain and complications. Several disbudding methods are used, including chemical disbudding, thermal disbudding, or surgical disbudding. Each method presents risks of complication:

  • The most common complication of chemical disbudding is incomplete horn tissue removal, leading to the development of horn scurs.
  • Thermal disbudding complications include incomplete disbudding as well as thermal injury.
  • Surgical disbudding complications include incomplete disbudding, as well as incisional dehiscence and infection risk. 
When performing disbudding, it is important to evaluate each patient individually to identify the most appropriate method. Pain mitigation should be performed regardless of the method used. Risks should be communicated with the client as well as potential benefits to ensure informed consent.


Differences between goat kids and calves in relation to cautery disbudding, Hempstead, M. N., Waas, J. R., Stewart, M., & Sutherland, M. A. (2019). American Association of Bovine Practitioners Proceedings of the Annual Conference, (52nd), 201-205. https://doi.org/10.21423/aabppro20197138

Mary C. Smith, David M. Sherman, Dehorning and Descenting, Goat Medicine, 10.1002/9781119382775.ch18, (817-827), (2022).

Benjamin Dustan, Performing surgery in goats. Part 2: surgical techniques, In Practice, 10.1002/inpr.294, 45, 2, (101-106), (2023).