Transgender pets: he-she confusion in vet medicine
It’s always interesting (and often an endless source of amusement) when the pet an owner had imagined was a he turns out to be…a she. Most clients take the news in stride, changing a kitten’s name from Lucifer to Lucinda or Fidel to Fidelina in one notable case (as you might imagine, this Cuban-American vet wasn’t crazy about the masculine version).
But it’s even more amusing when even the vet can’t tell whether a pet is male or female. Imagine our surprise when a vaginal exam turns up an enlarged clitoris and/or the inevitable spay reveals a strange configuration of reproductive organs. More obvious is when that tri-colored cat bears a testicle or two (their chromosomes uniformly bear double X’s, not XY’s—unless something else is amiss).
Yet these rare abnormalities aren’t considered trivial by many in some human-related research communities. The dog’s chromosomal changes and gene expressions may well turn out to be relevant to Sry-negative XX sex reversal in humans or in other cases where XY or XX individuals express traits of the opposite sex. Again, here’s another instance where our household pets may well pave the way for human progress.
To us vets, though, uncovering these cases seems nothing more than a larky finding. After all, these pets are often sterile and, in fact, seldom get a chance to prove it—they’re typically spayed or neutered in short order. And owners are none too psyched to be shown how BIG their Viszla’s clitoris might be. It’s fun for us, for sure, but not so much for an owner who may or may not consider such genetic expressions to be of interest when discovered in their own pet.
Interestingly, cats and dogs elicit different psychological reactions in owners informed of transgender findings. Cats? No big deal—they tend to be viewed as more asexual anyway. Dogs? No way. People personalize sexuality in dogs to an extent I wouldn’t have thought possible were it not for my experience in vet practice. The upshot is that transgender pups are more likely to be returned to their breeders upon discovery—even when breeding was never in the cards anyway.
It’s sad, really, that even our pets are exposed to our human peccadilloes in this way. But I tend to see it this way: Having a pet can be an intensely personal experience. If an owner doesn’t feel the connection to a pet because he-she is special in this regard, then they should make an early decision and divest themselves of the relationship. There are plenty of us out there ready and willing to take on unique specimens. In the end, they’ll love us just the same.