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November is a time of year to raise awareness for men’s health, and we must not forget our furry friends! Our dogs can also suffer from specific health issues associated with being male, one of these being prostate disorders.
What is the canine prostate?
The prostate is a small gland found at the neck of the bladder in male dogs. It is an essential part of the male reproductive system and is responsible for producing some of the fluids found in semen needed to protect sperm. Unfortunately, male dogs can suffer from a range of prostate disorders, some of which are incredibly common - especially in entire (non-castrated) dogs.
Below are some of the basics to identifying and understanding prostatic disease in dogs.
What are the signs of prostatic disorders in dogs?
There are a range of disorders which can affect the prostate - some are ‘acute’ and so will have a rapid onset of clinical signs, while others are more chronic, and one may only see a slow progression of signs appearing over months to years. All of these conditions however produce a similar range of clinical signs, which you can look out for at home:
What diseases are associated with the canine prostate?
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH)
As the name suggests this is a non-cancerous (benign) enlargement of the prostate. It is very commonly seen in entire male dogs as it is associated with the hormones released from the testicles. It can be treated very effectively with castration, and signs should begin to improve within a few weeks. If the dog is required for breeding or is too unwell to undergo surgery there are medical alternatives which can be used, but the treatment of choice by most veterinarians will be castration. Another similar benign enlargement of the prostate also under hormonal influence is called squamous cell metaplasia - it is most commonly caused by an oestrogen producing tumour in the testicles and is also treated by castration.
Prostatic and Para-Prostatic Cysts
These fluid-filled pockets in and around the prostate can develop as a result of embryological remnants in the prostate - structures remaining from when the animal was developing as a foetus. Castration may be of some benefit in preventing the return of small cysts after drainage, but some cysts can become very large and so treatment is usually a surgical draining and removal of the cyst.
These are aggressive malignant tumours affecting the prostate and can be seen in castrated as well as entire dogs - they cannot be treated through castration. Prostatic cancers are very aggressive and sadly most will have metastasised or spread locally by the time they are identified. Some palliative treatment to extend the life of a pet may be possible in the form of radiotherapy or chemotherapy, but very often dogs are euthanised as their symptoms progress and their quality of life starts to become compromised.
Prostatic Infections and Abscesses in Dogs
Prostatic bacterial infections can be associated with urinary tract infections and normally occur secondary to conditions such as BPH affecting the prostate. They can usually be treated with antibiotics; however long courses of antibiotics are required in order to penetrate and fully clear bacteria from the prostate. Abscesses may need to be drained surgically as it can be impossible for the antibiotics to penetrate the ‘walled-off’ abscess.
What to do if your dog shows signs of prostatic disease
Go to see your local vet.
If you see any of the signs above, then a visit to your local vet is important. They will then most likely perform a rectal exam which will allow them to feel the overall size and shape of the prostate. If they are concerned, they may decide to run further tests including collecting a urine sample - so it may be a good idea to bring one of these with you if you can when you go to the vets (just avoid old jam jars which if not fully cleaned can give incorrect glucose results). Imaging (such as ultrasound or x-rays) is sometimes also performed to help fully assess the size, shape, position and internal structure of the prostate. There are other more invasive techniques which can be used to take samples from the prostate, but these are not usually required.
Prevention of prostatic disease in dogs through castration
Although not all of these diseases can be treated by castration, the likelihood of your dog suffering from them will be greatly reduced by having him castrated. The development of most of these diseases is under hormonal influence so by reducing circulating sex hormones produced by the testicles we will greatly reduce the risk of your dog succumbing to these diseases - as well as testicular cancer and anal sac adenocarcinoma (a cancer of the anal sacs). We generally recommend dogs to be castrated any time after 6 months of age, when most have reached skeletal maturity (for some giant breeds dogs this may be later), however castration at any age will helped reduce the risks associated with developing BPH.
MRCVS BVSc MSc