I’m sure we’re all aware of the problems men get as they get older – in particular, those nocturnal trips to the loo which get more and more frequent! So it is not surprising that male dogs get similar troubles as well. They tend to occur as a result of testosterone causing secondary changes over many years – particularly on the prostate and other glands. So what problems do we see?
All entire (uncastrated) male dogs will get enlargement of the prostate gland as they get older. The change is due to the formation of many small cysts in the prostate gland which gradually fill with fluid. Signs can be variable – typically constipation and straining to pass motions, blood in the urine, or a bloody discharge at the end of the penis.
An enlarged cystic prostate is very prone to becoming infected – normally via bacteria travelling up from the penis and prepuce. Dogs with an infection are often quite poorly – vomiting, a high temperature and a painful abdomen can be present. Some infections can develop into large abcesses and these may rupture into the dog’s abdomen, making the dog very sick indeed. Intensive care and major surgery is required to give the dog a chance of recovery
Occasionally the small cysts in an enlarged prostate can coalesce and form one large cyst which can take up most of the dog’s abdomen. These will also need major surgery to resolve the problem.
Fortunately these are quite rare. However they are always malignant, and surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, are of no help in treating the problem. It is the only disease in this article which happens equally in castrated and entire male dogs. Affected dogs have trouble going to the toilet and are often in a lot of pain. Euthanasia is normally the only humane option.
Although not strictly a disease of the prostate, these hernias are caused by dogs straining to defaecate around an enlarged prostate. Over several months or years, the muscles that surround the rectum are weakened by the pressure and eventually break down. The rectum then bulges into the gap producing a large swelling to one side of the anus and difficulty passing motions. Major surgery is required to correct the hernia.
Apart from tumours, all prostatic disease will require some form of anti-testosterone therapy to treat it. There are two options – one is Tardak, an injection of a progesterone. This can work in some cases although it needs to be repeated every 2 – 12 weeks. Possible side-effects include increased thirst, increased appetite and hair loss at the injection site. As the injection needs to be repeated so frequently, it can work out quite expensive, so unless the dog is very old or suffers from a condition that surgery would not be a good idea, it is generally best to use the second option – castration. This is a simple procedure, requiring only a short anaesthetic, and the effect on the prostate after the operation is rapid with the gland shrinking to a normal size within 2 – 3 weeks. The only side effect of castration is that the dog’s metabolic rate will slow down after the operation, so he will need slightly less calories to maintain his weight. As long as you are aware of this, and change the diet to a lower calorie food, or reduce the amount by 10 – 15%, it needn’t be a problem. Otherwise your dog will be exactly the same as before – just a lot more comfortable and happy with a normal prostate gland!
2/3rds of these are malignant, the rest are benign. Fortunately the nasty ones tend to be slow to spread around the body so castration is curative if carried out promptly. They are easily diagnosed as enlargement of one of the testicles, whilst the normal one will often shrink in size. Some tumours produce female hormones which lead to a ‘feminization’ of the dog – they can get mammary development and become attractive to other male dogs. It should be mentioned that tumours occur far more frequently in ‘cryptorchid’ testicles – those that have not descended down from the abdomen at birth. If your dog only appears to have one or even no testicles, do not be fooled into thinking that the missing testicle does not exist – it is somewhere! Any dogs with none or only one testicle must have the missing one removed before they are 3 years old, or there is a more than 50% chance of the retained testicle(s) becoming cancerous and spreading through the body.
There are two other problems that we can see in testicles although they are not seen more frequently with old age. The first is infection in the testicles – orchitis. It normally happens due to some sort of penetrating injury although occasionally it can enter from the blood stream. Antibiotics are necessary and sometimes surgery will be required. The second problem is torsion of a testicle where it turns around on its stalk, blocking the blood supply. The testicle becomes very swollen and painful, normally removal of the testicle is necessary.
Peri-anal adenomas are benign tumours that grow from the perianal glands. These glands are found mainly around the anus but also on the prepuce and the tail base of the dog. They enlarge in size in response to testosterone over the dog’s lifetime and eventually can turn into tumours. These can be single or multiple in number and often ulcerate, sometimes with a lot of bleeding.
As with prostatic problems, castration is the best treatment, combined
with simultaneous surgical removal of the tumour. A small percentage of
these tumours can be malignant, so it is best to get the tumour examined
at a pathology lab after the operation, to confirm that it is benign.
Some tumours can shrink with the use of hormone injections, although the effectiveness is variable and the injections will have to be repeated every few months.
Vets will advise castration of older dogs – why? Strangely enough, we are not all blood thirsty cut-throat surgeons that have a thing against testicles! There are good reasons. As you have read, castration is the main treatment for most prostate conditions, all testicular tumours and perianal tumours. The even better news is that castrating your dog before he reaches 5 – 6 years old will stop him getting any of these problems in the first place.
The operation is simple, lasting only 15 – 20 minutes, and animals recover very quickly from the procedure. Your dog will have to be kept quiet for 7 – 10 days after the operation, and you may have to reduce his diet by 10 – 20% to keep his weight constant, as his metabolic rate will fall slightly afterwards.
Castrating young dogs of less than 2 – 3 years old does sometimes affect their behaviour. Generally it will make them calmer, less dominant, easier to train and obviously stop unpleasant male dog things like cocking a leg inside, becoming over-amorous with cushions and legs, and wandering off to chase bitches in season – not a bad thing for most dogs.
The older a dog gets the less effect it will have on their behaviour – after 2 – 3 years old you will notice no change apart from the particular male dog things mentioned above. However, there will be no change in their personality. You do need to watch their weight – if you let them get very fat then obviously they will become less active and more lazy.
I tend to look at the problem from a dog’s point of view: I think
that if I was a male dog with normal sexual urges that I wasn’t
allowed to follow, driving me to mount cushions and peoples’ legs
instead, I would much rather have those urges taken away:- it would make
me a much happier and content pet with the added benefit that I would
n’t suffer from a lot of painful and unpleasant conditions which
may shorten my life. As dogs have a 70-80% chance of developing such problems,
I would prefer to be castrated when I was young and middle aged, rather
than wait until I’m older and sick, and at risk from the anaesthetic
and surgery. And a final note – as a dog, my thought processes are
not sophisticated enough to let me blame or hate my owner for paying for
such a potentially life saving surgery – so please consider castration
for your dog now, and let him live a happier, longer life.