We see lots of lumps and bumps in the veterinary profession, some are supposed to be there and some are not. The first set of such “lumps” that I’ll touch upon this week are also commonly known as “testicles”. Now, male pet owners, please do not be offended by the following, I only have your pets health and well being in mind. I’ve heard many men (my own father included) say “I wouldn’t ever cut off mine, why would I do it to my dog/cat?”. You wouldn’t necessarily never brush your teeth, feed yourself raw gristle scraps or defecate in the middle of the backyard either, but you don’t stop your dog or cat from those activities. Obviously, I am making a little light of those feelings, but dogs and cats are not people and there are certain ways we can improve their lives and I believe it’s important to be educated on these options. Of all dogs that are hit by cars, 80% of those animals are intact males. They have an increased drive to wander and find themselves in the road more often. In addition, the testosterone produced by the testicles causes prostatic enlargement (a.k.a benign prostatic hyperplasia, BPH) that can ultimately cause severe discomfort when urinating and constipation. Intact males are also at a higher risk of prostate or testicular cancer (can’t get cancer on something you don’t have!). In fact, 16% (1 of every 6) of mature intact male dogs will develop testicular tumors. The bottom line is, if you want give your male dog a better chance at a long, healthy life, neuter him!
On the female side of things, it’s even more important to spay your female dogs. Intact female dogs go through a heat cycle approximately twice a year, starting at about 1-2 years of age (depending on breed). With each heat cycle, they run the risk of a uterine infection called a pyometra. A pyometra is a life threatening emergency whose only treatment is an emergency spay procedure. As you might imagine, these animals can be very ill and surgery is a great deal riskier than that of a young, healthy female; it is better to avoid a pyometra by preemptively spaying your female.
Just like in male dogs, those pesky hormones perpetually produced by the reproductive tract significantly increase the risk of mammary cancer. Statistically, by spaying before the first heat cycle, we can reduce a female dog or cat’s risk of mammary cancer by upwards of 85%. Once they have gone through three heat cycles, we’ve lost the window in which we can effectively reduce those risks. Its for this reason it’s important to make a decision early and follow through. In dogs, mammary cancer is benign about 50% of the time; in cats, its malignant 90% of the time.
As a final benefit to spaying, birth control! I could (and may) write an entire blog entry about homeless pets, but for the purposes of this discussion, suffice it to say; there are thousands of homeless dogs and cats. Perhaps we should consider finding those animals homes before we start breeding our pets and adding to those numbers.
As far as surgical removal of other masses, there can be a very large amount of variability in the information between different veterinarians. In general, if you see a new or changing lump on your pet’s skin, you should always make an appointment with your friendly veterinarian. At that appointment, you may have the option to do one of two things: 1. aspirate the mass (take a sample with a needle) and have that sample analyzed 2. schedule for surgical removal and histopathology (microscopic analysis) of the mass. Option two, of course, depends on the overall health of your pet and their suitability for anesthesia and your veterinarian will help you determine that. I have heard many times, “I asked my old veterinarian if we can take off this mass and was shrugged off and told not to worry about it.”. If you are concerned about a mass and due diligence is undergone regarding fitness for anesthesia, its OK to insist on removal. You just need to inquire about the risks associated with mass location and understand how to care for the surgical site postoperatively.
As always, please contact your friendly veterinarian on how to proceed with spay, neuter or any surgical procedures. We’re here to enrich the life of your pet and will do our best to assist you in that endeavor!