It's important to recognise the signs and symptoms of cryptorchidism, including if your pet looks different to other animals, as these differences can potentially lead to serious, life-threatening conditions.
What is cryptorchidism?
Cryptorchidism, or 'hidden testicles’, is a condition where one or both of the dog or cat’s testicles has failed to move to its proper position in the scrotum. Whilst a male dog or cat is still a foetus (before it is born), the testicles are positioned near the kidneys inside the abdomen. Usually, they descend to their proper place during the two weeks or so after birth, but may take up to six months.
The condition of hidden testicles or cryptorchidism (from the Greek crypto, meaning 'hidden' and orchid meaning 'testicle') affects dogs and cats. Whilst the condition occurs in up to 1 in 10 dogs, it's much rarer in our feline friends.
When to contact your vet
If you have been unable to locate one, or both of, your pet’s testicles by the time they have reached six months, you should visit the vet to discuss treatment options. It is very rare for an animal not to have testicles entirely. If a testicle has not descended, it can become cancerous or twisted; therefore, your vet will suggest surgically removing the testicle(s).
Sometimes a full medical history is not always available – for example, in the case of rescue animals. There can be possible complications if the vet does not know whether the animal has been castrated or if they are indeed cryptorchidic. Luckily, a blood test can be performed in these cases, so your pet will not need to undergo unnecessary surgery.
Treatment for cryptorchidism can be expensive, so it’s important you take out dog insurance or cat insurance to ensure you are able to get your pet the best care if they do suffer from this dangerous condition.
Treatment for undescended testicles
If the testicles are located under the skin in the groin, your vet may be able to remove them through a small incision in the skin. If, however, they are still in the abdomen, your vet will need to operate on your pet to find and remove them. Both testicles will be removed at the same time, even if one is in its normal position, so your pet may have two wounds at the same time.
Breeds most often affected by retained testicles
The causes of cryptorchidism are thought to be genetic, with some breeds more affected than others. In dogs, the most commonly affected breeds are:
- English Bulldog
- Old English Sheepdog
- Siberian Husky
- Yorkshire Terrier
- Cairn Terrier
- Maltese Terrier
- Miniature Schnauzer
When it comes to cats, Persians are the breed seemingly most affected.
Prevention of undescended testicles
Even with recent advances in DNA testing, the genetics of cryptorchidism are still not fully understood. Nevertheless, affected animals should never be bred from and should always be castrated. More importantly, the genes responsible for cryptorchidism can be carried by both sexes, so both parents should avoid further breeding.
Problems caused by cryptorchidism
The risk of testicular cancer is nearly 14 times higher in dogs with cryptorchidism, making it extremely important to locate and remove the undescended testes. There is also a risk of testicular torsion (twisting that reduces or cuts off the blood supply), which can cause sudden and extreme pain.