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Tumors of the Penis and Prepuce

By: Dr. Douglas Brum

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Tumors that involve the prepuce of the dog are similar in type and biologic behavior to tumors found elsewhere on a dog's skin. Most of these tumors are not causing clinical problems for the dog at the time of their discovery. Occasionally they may ulcerate, bleed, itch or cause discomfort, and require more immediate attention, but usually they are found incidentally on routine examinations by veterinarians or by their owners.

Tumors of the penis usually cause more clinical signs, in general, and are more uncomfortable. Masses on the penis are irritating and cause excessive licking of the area. Some tumors (especially TVT) may be quite friable (small pieces may break off), and bleeding may be seen. Secondary infections may also be associated with penile tumors, often producing a foul smell. If the tumor is located near the urethral opening, the flow of urine may be inhibited, leading to straining to urinate. If the blockage is severe enough a urinary obstruction could occur, leading to an emergency situation and potential kidney damage. Fortunately this is a rare occurrence.

The most common penile tumor is TVT and is the tumor that is mostly preventable. TVT is transmitted as tumor cells break off from the main tumor and are transplanted into susceptible tissue. Dogs contract TVT this way through sexual contact with infected dogs or from licking and smelling the tumors. It is for this reason that dogs will often have transmissible venereal tumors on their nose or lips. Neutering animals and decreasing exposure to stray dogs will help decrease its incidence significantly.

Other diseases that may cause similar clinical signs as tumors of the penis and prepuce include:

  • Normal penile erection. A normal erection may be misinterpreted as a tumor if one is not familiar with the normal canine anatomy. The dog has a gland in the base of his penis (bulbus glandis) that swells, and becomes a hard spherical swelling. It is often confused with a penile tumor the first time it is seen.

  • Urethritis and cystitis are inflammatory conditions of the urethra, which is the tubular structure that carries urine from the bladder through the penis, and bladder. Both conditions may cause discomfort, straining to urinate, discharge from the penis and excessive licking.

  • Prostatic disease can also cause a penile discharge that can be bloody. A rectal exam should always be done to evaluate the size and shape of the prostate.

  • Balanoposthitis is inflammation of the penile and preputial surface. This is a fairly common but not serious condition present in intact male dogs. Dogs with the problem may have a large amount of discharge from the penis, and lick the area excessively.

  • Infected wounds or dermatitis on the prepuce may occasionally appear as ulcerated swellings on the surface of the prepuce, and might be confused with preputial tumors.

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