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"Your dog has an enlarged prostate." Hearing that from your veterinarian seems odd, right? After all, isn't this a problem that only affects older human men?
While you may have never given this hidden gland a second's thought, an enlarged prostate can take a toll on your dog's health just as it does with human men. Benign prostatic hyperplasia in dogs, often referred to as BPH in dogs, is the most commonly occurring condition to affect a dog's prostate.
Though you may not notice any signs of it, an enlarged prostate occurs in nearly all intact (unneutered) male dogs by the time they turn 6, according to a study published by the Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice.
Cause of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia
The normal dog prostate has two lobes, one on each side of the urethra, with a small indentation between the lobes. The function of the prostate, making fluid that's secreted into the urethra during the ejaculation of semen, is the same for dogs and humans. This action provides nourishment to the sperm and enhances sperm motility so that it's optimized for fertilization.
A commonly encountered problem is the abnormal growth of the prostate, which can cause unpleasant urinary side effects. The risk for BPH in dogs increases with age and is most common in intact male dogs.
The culprit of this gland's unregulated growth is the major male sex hormone often linked with aggression and dominance: testosterone. Testosterone causes certain types of cells in the prostate to grow in number (a condition referred to as hyperplasia) and to enlarge in size (hypertrophy). Over time, this effect causes the prostate to become enlarged.
Signs of BPH in Dogs
Some dogs with BPH don't show any clinical signs. Others may strain to defecate if their prostate is severely enlarged and presses on their colon. The prostatic enlargement may obstruct the dog's urethra, which can lead to straining during urination.
Flat ribbon-like stools are a suggestive sign of benign prostatic hyperplasia in dogs. Bloody ejaculate or bloody penile discharge after mating are also indicative of the condition, says the American Kennel Club.
Diagnosing Enlarged Prostates in Dogs
Though it does require more diagnostics to confirm the cause, an enlarged prostate in dogs is most commonly found during a rectal exam. An X-ray can also be used to diagnose an enlarged prostate.
An abdominal ultrasound may be recommended, as it can confirm that the internal architecture of the prostate is preserved, even when the gland is enlarged. Urinalysis and urine culture may be performed to rule out a urinary tract infection.
Rarely, a biopsy is needed to distinguish benign prostatic hyperplasia in dogs from other causes of prostatic disease, such as an infection or cancer.
How Is BPH in Dogs Treated?
If your dog develops an enlarged prostate and isn't neutered, proceeding with neutering is the treatment of choice for BPH. Approximately one month after the castration procedure, your vet will be able to determine during a rectal exam if your dog's prostate has shrunk. This treatment route avoids extensive diagnostics and can discover if the underlying cause of the prostate growth was, in fact, BPH.
When mild benign prostatic hyperplasia in dogs exists with no signs and the dog is being used for mating, monitoring alone may be chosen. If you have plans to breed your dog, benign prostatic hyperplasia responds very well to medical therapy with finasteride. This medication blocks testosterone's effect on the prostate, and in approximately two to three months, it can trigger a marked reduction in the gland's size.
Keep in mind that if your dog stops taking finasteride, BPH will return. Additionally, you shouldn't handle this drug if you're pregnant or are looking to become pregnant.
Other Causes for an Enlarged Prostate in Dogs
Prostatitis — or inflammation of the prostate — is the second most common cause of an enlarged prostate following BPH, and almost always occurs as a result of an infection.
Prostate cancer is another possible cause of an enlarged prostate. Though neutering eliminates the occurrence of many prostatic diseases, prostate cancer can still occur in neutered dogs. Note: neutering does not increase a dog's risk for malignant prostate disease.
How to Prevent BPH in Dogs
Neutering is the only way to effectively prevent BPH in dogs. There have been anecdotal reports that the supplement saw palmetto can prevent or reverse the effects of an enlarged prostate, but these reports were proven false.
While BPH in dogs can fluctuate, particularly if females in heat are nearby, it's a progressive condition that never resolves on its own. Additionally, antibiotics are ineffective for BPH treatment.
Supporting your dog's immune system with a nutritious food may help prevent prostatic infections that can occur as a result of prostate disease. Antioxidants may assist the prostate in stopping infections along with increasing the health of mucous membranes. Vitamin C is a natural anti-inflammatory and may assist in shrinking the prostate back to its original size.
BPH in dogs can lead to infertility, poor semen quality and infection if untreated. While this condition isn't always easy to spot, pet parents should keep an eye out for any warning signs and consult their vet for treatment options should anything seem amiss.
Dr. Laci Schaible
Dr. Laci Schaible, is a small-animal veterinarian and veterinary writer. She has won numerous awards for her commitment to pet owner education and is considered a leading veterinary telehealth expert.