I get lots of mail every time a controversial column of mine hits The Miami Herald’s weekend edition. Seeing as I write weekly, this typically means I get lots of mail one out of every three or so weeks. So it was with this column on cryptorchidism:

Q: I bought a dachshund puppy from an expensive breeder in Texas and had him flown all the way down only to learn that he’s missing a testicle. Please tell me what it is I’m supposed to do with a puppy that’s defective like this.

A: The answer is simple: Now that he’s yours, it’s your job to love him and care for him, no matter how "defective" he may be. But let me first explain the problem before you jump to conclusions about his degree of imperfection.

This very common, heritable condition of male dogs (and less commonly, cats) manifests as a congenital abnormality in the position of one or both testicles. The testicle, in fact, is still present. It’s just "misplaced," either inside the abdomen or under the skin near its expected spot.

The estimated 13 percent of dogs affected with this problem are otherwise completely normal. Here’s how it happens:

In the embryo, the testicles originate near the kidney and are destined to migrate so that they’ll end up in the scrotal sac. When one or both testicles don’t manage to reach their intended destination the resulting condition is called cryptorchidism. The deformity itself, however, is commonly referred to as a "retained" or "undescended" testicle.

While it would seem that cryptorchidism is a fairly benign condition, a trio of problems is related to its occurrence:

  • Affected animals are sterile in the undescended testicle(s), as the affected gonad will fail to develop normally outside of its normal position
  • Animals with only one undescended testicle (a reported 75 percent of cases) are potentially able to pass on the hereditary trait associated with cryptorchidism
  • In their abnormal position, the undescended testicle(s) are more susceptible to cancers and other troubles

Luckily, cryptorchidism is 100 percent curable using a simple procedure we call castration. Indeed, it is strongly recommended that every dog affected by this condition be sterilized so as to limit its inheritance. And no, there is no way to wrestle the wayward testicle back into its proper place (I get asked that question a lot).

But don’t worry … your puppy will be just as perfect as the rest once he’s had his obligatory 'snip-snip.' While he may never reach show dog status and should never be bred, I seriously doubt he’s any less adorable than the rest of his breed. In the future, if a perfect dog is what you require, I suggest you skip the mail-order option.

Note: Here’s where those of you who were unhappy about my post on veterinarians and our reproduction education might infer another example of "purebreed bias." If so, try not to comment on it just yet. I’ve got a post coming up that should help dispel your stress on this issue as I delineate (and clarify) my stance.

OK, so back to the cryptorchidism thing and the vituperative mail that came my way from people who were insulted at my having:

1. Suggested that their cryptorchid dogs might be defective (the questioner’s opinion, not mine)

2. Recommended their cryptorchid dogs to be neutered (OK, so perhaps I should have been more forthcoming on the possibility of retained testicle removal along with a vasectomy [my preference], but that’s a lot to get into in only 400 words), and …

3. Come down so strongly against "mail order" pets (as in: "Are you saying my Boo-Boo is a bad, defective dog since he flew in from Nebraska?!" or "How else are we to find a great breeder?!")

Indeed, I think I have never received so much nasty mail over just one column. And for so many reasons.

The final straw? A missive that arrived via snail mail only yesterday, months after the column ran. You should have seen the caps and exclamation points on that thing. Talk about flame. Ouch! But hey, that’s the way it goes in this biz. (And btw, thanks to the kind reader who called my office yesterday from a 607 area code to ensure I wasn’t taking any of the recent negative comments to heart).

OK, so now it’s your turn to vent. And no, I don’t stress out too much over disagreements on these issues. After all, I know we all have our animals’ best interest at heart.

Dr. Patty Khuly


Pic of the day: "shadowpaws" by rabbit57i