By Christie Long
In male dogs and cats, the testicles are in the abdomen at the time of birth. During the first weeks of life they descend through a space known as the inguinal canal, which is a small opening in the groin region of the abdomen, and into the scrotum. Cryptorchidism occurs when one or both testicles fail to do so.
There are lots of reasons for getting new puppies and kittens to the veterinarian as soon as you get them. One of the most important things I do at the first, second and third visit is to check to see if both testicles are present in the scrotum. If I can’t palpate them at the first visit, I tell owners they might still show up in a few weeks time, but at this first visit I start talking to them about the possibility that their dog or cat may be cryptorchid, and educating them as to what this means.
You may recall the story of our dear Gizmo, the spunky, mohawk-sporting little Chihuahua mix that came to my family after being abandoned by his owners and hit by a car.
While cryptorchidism wasn’t his biggest problem when I met him (two pelvic fractures filled that bill), it was certainly something that had to be dealt with. Gizmo had the distinction of being a bilateral cryptorchid, meaning neither testicle had descended.
Luckily for Gizmo, both were held up just short of the scrotum under the skin of the abdomen, making neutering him only slightly more complicated than the typical dog with normal testicles.
Other dogs aren’t so lucky. In some, the testicle descends only as far as the inguinal canal. Sometimes the surgeon can manually reposition the testicle so that it is accessible from the outside of the body, and neuter the dog fairly simply. In other cases, the testicle or testicles never even make it out of the abdomen, and this means that in order to neuter the patient, we have to do abdominal surgery.
Abdominal surgery is a much bigger deal than what is commonly involved in neutering a normal dog or cat. Since we can typically access the testicles easily, the procedure takes very little time — one to two minutes in a cat and ten minutes or so in a dog — and patients recover quickly. But when one or both testicles are retained in the abdomen, we have to look inside to find them; and since they are usually abnormal and very small, this can be a challenging affair.
However, despite the increased complexity of the procedure, these patients have to be neutered, because leaving the testicles in the abdomen puts them at an extremely high risk bracket for developing testicular cancer and testicular torsion, a very painful condition where the testicle becomes twisted.
Cryptorchidism is an inherited trait, meaning these animals must never be used for breeding, because there is a very good chance that they will pass this trait on to their male offspring.
Christie Long is a veterinarian at the VCA Animal Hospital in Fort Collins, CO. Long left her job in software sales in 2000 to travel for 13 months. Along the way, she was touched by the plight of the animals she saw and somewhere in the Nepalese Himalayas she vowed to return to school to become a veterinarian. While she often finds end-of-life situations heart-wrenching, she considers herself blessed to be called upon as a trusted adviser to families during difficult times. Dr. Long’s family includes her husband and travel partner, Wiley, their son, Wiley IV, their dogs Pancake and Gizmo and cats Sneaky and Sidh.