Little Miss Olivia has thrown us for quite a loop this week.
Over the weekend, Sundance noticed 2 bumps on her low belly, basically between her groin and her hind legs, one on each side of her midline. I felt them, poked and prodded and she didn’t seem to be in pain. She’s been eating just fine, having no problems with going potty, and has been her usually active self.
But the evil “google” told us she could have hernias, and that is serious, could be fatal, etc. I called the vet on Tuesday, and got her in for an appointment for Wednesday morning.
I told the tech what was going on, what I thought it was (hernias), and our concerns. Then Dr. Park came in and started examining her. He remarked that her vulva was more swollen than it should be, and asked a few questions about her recent habits, i.e. licking or scratching the area, frequency of urination, neither of which were out of the ordinary. He got up and started to chart (for what felt like hours… before he turned back to me, and my panic just kept escalating) and I asked, “Well… what do you think it is?”
Well… it’s not cancer.
Dr. Park explained 3 possible options. 1 – mammory gland tumors, but explained how rare it would be to see in such a young dog, and more rare in a spayed dog, and even more rare to have side by side. 2 – swollen lymph nodes (or lymph node tumor), but again, rare in a young dog and in an abnormal area for lymph nodes, nor was she showing any signs of infection (which would be a reason for swollen lymph nodes). 3 – testes, as in, male testes, boy parts/hardware. There is a possibilty of hermaphroditism in dogs, though rare, it does happen.
He explained that Olivia, while in-utero, most likely, had developed both female and male parts, but the female hormones were more dominant, therefore she was born as a girl. However, once we had her spayed, the male hormones took over and caused the testes to develop. (I’m paraphrasing this… but you should get the idea…) As far as anatomy goes, Dr. Park explained that these “bumps” were in the right place, and that they ‘felt’ like testes.
(and in all honesty, when I first felt the bumps, that was my first thought. But of course, I pushed that thought right out of my head, because, HELLO! Olivia is a GIRL and could not possibly be growing testes!)
Dr. Park explained a few other cases of hermaphroditism that he’s seen in his career and that it is very rare. It occurs in less than 1% of dogs.
He explained that he could do a needle aspiration (biopsy) and examine the cells to confirm, but that he was very positive that this was a straight forward case of hermaphroditism. So, basically, Olivia needed to be neutered. I asked if we could just leave them because I didn’t want to put her through another surgery if it wasn’t necessary. Dr. Park explained that while we could leave the testes, she could possibly develop more male anatomy, like a penis, and it would cause problems with her vaginal canal, and that her personality could change, i.e. more male traits.
Are you guys still reading? Are you in shock? Jaw dropped to the floor? (yeah… us too.)
My initial reaction was basically relief. It wasn’t cancer. It wasn’t a tumor. She was just growing male sex organs. No big deal, right?! It’s almost comical, really. I mean, I was laughing. I just couldn’t believe it. We scheduled surgery for the next day (not that it was emergent, or even urgent, I just wanted to get it taken care of).
When we left the vet, I called Sundance and told him the news, and he seemed relieved as well. We were just so glad it wasn’t a cancer or tumor. He agreed with my decision to have the surgery. I called my Mom and told her (my parents were very worried, remember that their dog, Paisley, is Olivia’s littermate/sister) so if Olivia was developing a cancer or tumor, Paisley would be at risk too) and like Sundance, there was mostly relief, and a few laughs and “OMG, are you serious?!” It just seemed so bizarre and out of this world!
Throughout the day, I just kept thinking about it, and don’t bother googling ‘canine hermaphroditism’ because the stuff I found was NO help. Just a bunch of pet-owner forums with weird questions, and even weirder responses. I wondered about the psychological aspect of it, was she confused? hurting? etc. If this had been a person (especially a child) imagine the therapy they’d be going through, the medications, the doctors, etc. It may seem silly that I was (and still am) so concerned about Olivia’s mental well-being, but I am worried.
Thursday morning I did NOT want to take her to the vet. I just felt awful that she had to go through another surgery. When I got the vet I still had a few questions, Steve (one of the techs) offered to put us in an exam room so I could talk to Dr. Park. Steve had mentioned that Dr. Park wanted to take pictures during the surgery so he could write an article on Olivia’s case, hoping to get it published in a veterinarian journal. I told them it was totally okay with us (as long as we could get a copy) and I also asked if I could observe the surgery. (not because I was worried but because I just really wanted to watch and see what it looked like) Dr. Park was gracious enough to allow me to watch! He told me that they would start surgery in a couple hours, so I headed back home and finished up getting ready and did some laundry. I headed back to the vet around 9:30 and ended up going back to the surgical suite after she had already been put under anesthesia. I thought it might be hard to see her in that way, but it actually wasn’t too bad.
The surgery itself was pretty straightforward. It seemed pretty similar to other cyst removals that I’ve assisted with in my own office. As Dr. Park was removing the testes (or bumps) he mentioned that they weren’t popping out like they usually do. Size wise, they were larger than what a “normal” testicle looks like. He finally got them both out and closed up Olivia’s wounds. Dr. Park explained that he wanted to send the ‘specimens’ to the lab to run histopathology tests on it. He’s still pretty sure that they are testes, but still seem abnormal. I specifically asked him if he thought it was cancer, and he told me no.
So now… we wait for the histopathology to come back.
Dr. Park had the specimens overnighted to the lab in Salt Lake City and we could possibly know today, or Saturday, and at the latest, Monday. Everyone at Park Animal Hospital is super intrigued by Olivia’s case and can’t wait to get the results.
So yeah… that’s how Olivia has thrown us for a loop this week. Betcha didn’t expect that at all when you clicked on the link, did you?
Now… I must tell you that I had some reservations in sharing this post. I don’t want my puppy to be laughed at, or name called, or made fun of, she truly is like a child to me. After voicing my concerns about Olivia’s psychological well-being to Dr. Erickson, she said something kind of profound. “Dogs don’t care.” Basically, dogs don’t care who is female or male, or what ‘hardware’ they have. They don’t have gender roles. So… while you (the readers) can’t hurt Olivia’s feelings (she doesn’t care what you say about her, all she wants is love, food, and shelter), but MY feelings can be hurt. So please remember, if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
***edited to add***
THE PATH RESULTS ARE IN! Turns out, she’s just a normal female puppy, no boy parts after all. Read the post, “Update on Olivia” for more info!