Some dogs experience cryptorchidism, a common defect that prevents the testicles from dropping. Dogs with retained testicles are at risk of complications such as testicular cancer, so neutering is recommended to prevent future problems. The good news is that most dogs with cryptorchidism can go on to live normal lives after both testicles have been removed. Here's what you should know if you have a dog with cryptorchidism.
What Is Cryptorchidism?
Cryptorchidism is a condition in which one or both of a male dog's testicles have not completely descended into the scrotum during growth and development.
The canine fetus contains a ligament called the gubernaculum that connects the testicle to the scrotum. When male puppies are born, their testicles are located in the abdomen or inguinal canal (groin area) and gradually start to descend to the scrotum by about 2 weeks of age. In some cases, the gubernaculum does not develop properly and the testicle will not descend to the scrotum.
If one or both testicles have not descended by 8 weeks of age, they are considered retained, or cryptorchid. Some dogs' retained testicles will eventually descend weeks or months later, but this is still considered an abnormal course of development.
Symptoms of Cryptorchidism in Dogs
Dogs with cryptorchidism don't always experience specific symptoms, but they usually exhibit several signs that point to the condition.
Cryptorchidism can occur on one side (unilateral) or both sides (bilateral). Unilateral cryptorchidism usually involves the right testicle. Bilaterally cryptorchid dogs are typically sterile because the higher body temperature inside the abdomen is enough to prevent sperm production. Unilateral cryptorchidism is more common, and these dogs may or may not be fertile. Dogs will still exhibit male behaviors, including attempting to mate with females in heat.
Sometimes, dogs experience an acute onset of abdominal pain due to torsion (twisting) of the spermatic cord. A condition known as feminizing paraneoplastic syndrome is another symptom that can arise. In these dogs, estrogen-secreting Sertoli cell tumors in retained testes produce feminizing signs including excessive development of breasts. Other symptoms include hyperpigmentation of inguinal skin and hair loss along the trunk and flank.
What Causes Cryptorchidism in Dogs
Cryptorchidism is a common occurrence in dogs. The condition does have some genetic predisposition, but the exact cause is unknown. Toy breeds and miniature dogs are more likely to be affected, but the condition is still seen in a number of large dog breeds. Dogs with brachycephalic syndrome appear to have a higher risk.
Since cryptorchidism has been reported in almost all breeds, any puppy can be at risk. However, dog breeds most likely affected include:
- German shepherd
- Miniature schnauzer
- Shetland sheepdog
- Siberian husky
- Staffordshire terriers
- Yorkshire terrier
How Do Vets Diagnose Cryptorchidism in Dogs?
Cryptorchidism is fairly simple to detect on a routine examination. Your vet will palpate your puppy's scrotum during each exam to determine if the testicles have descended. If one or both testicles are absent from the scrotum after 8 weeks of age, your vet may recommend further testing. Your vet may order a testosterone test to make sure the dog truly has retained testicles and has not been previously neutered. Your vet may also want to perform an abdominal ultrasound to locate the retained testicle(s).
How to Treat Cryptorchidism
Surgery is the only treatment for cryptorchidism and involves the removal of retained and normal testes. Both testicles should be removed, even if the dog is a unilateral cryptorchid. Dogs with cryptorchism should not be used for breeding as they may pass the defect to offspring.
Surgical removal is more complicated than a typical neuter because it can be hard to find the retained testicle. However, once it's found, the process is similar to a normal neuter.
The Neuter Process
Before your dog is neutered, a veterinarian will perform a head-to-paw exam, and may also suggest bloodwork to make sure all of the vital organs are in order. Neuters are performed under general anesthesia, so if he is deemed healthy, a sedative and pain medication will be given.
Once drowsy, he will receive an injection that will put him into a deeper sleep. During this time, he won't be aware of what is happening and will feel no pain. Your dog will be intubated during the procedure, meaning a tube will be placed in his trachea and connected to a machine to help him breathe. Some veterinarians may also place a catheter in the vein to administer fluids. Your dog will be connected to machines that monitor his heart rate, respiratory rate, oxygen levels, and temperature. He will be placed on his back with a warming pad to help maintain his body temperature.
The surgical area will be clipped and cleaned, then an incision will be made based on where the testicle is located. Once the testicles are retrieved, they are removed through the incision and the stalks are tied off. When the vet confirms there is no bleeding, the incision will be closed. Typically, sutures are placed underneath the skin and skin glue is put on top. Some cryptorchid neuters may require sutures to be placed on the outer skin layer. When the procedure is finished, the tube helping him breathe will be removed. He will be closely monitored by the veterinary team until released.
Prognosis for Dogs with Cryptorchidism
Fortunately, the prognosis is good for dogs after cryptorchid surgery. Some dogs are able to go home on the day of surgery, but some have to stay in the hospital overnight. Limited activity is recommended, especially when it involves the opening of the abdomen. The surgical site requires time to heal before the dog returns to normal activity. Pain medication will most likely be sent home, sometimes along with medicine to help keep your dog calm.
Elizabethan collars are typically recommended to prevent licking or chewing at the incision. Owners should check the incision regularly for redness and swelling, which could indicate a post-operative infection or self-trauma. If your dog requires non-dissolvable skin sutures they will need to be removed by your veterinarian about two weeks after surgery.
How to Prevent Cryptorchidism in Dogs
It's not always possible to prevent cryptorchidism in dogs. However, dog breeders can reduce the risk by not breeding dogs with cryptorchidism (or their littermates). You can prevent the complications of cryptorchidism through early detection and treatment. Bring your new puppy to the vet right after you get them home, and keep up with recommended puppy check-ups. Follow your vet's recommendations for treatment, including neuter surgery.
Gardiner J. Cryptorchidism. Animal Health Topics / School of Veterinary Medicine.
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B. Lundgren. Cryptorchidism in Dogs and Cats. Veterinary partner. VIN.com.