The prostate is a small, walnut-shaped organ found only in male dogs. It sits between the bladder and the penis, and the urethra (the tube which the urine runs through) passes through the middle of it. The prostate produces a liquid that protects the sperm and promotes their development.
Various problems can occur with the prostate, the most serious being cancer. It can occur in both neutered and entire males (other abnormalities are more common in entire males) and is usually very aggressive. The most common type of cancer diagnosed is "Prostatic Adenocarcinoma". It is more often diagnosed in larger breeds and older dogs, but overall, it accounts for less than 1% of tumors diagnosed in dogs.
In the early stages of prostate cancer, there are very few symptoms, but as it progresses and the prostate enlarges, you may see signs including:
- difficulty urinating or the urine coming out in spurts rather than a steady stream;
- bloody or pink-tinged urine;
- blood dripping from the penis;
- flat or ribbon-like feces (due to the enlarged prostate pushing upwards on the rectum);
- struggling to defecate;
- weight loss;
- a poor appetite;
- a painful belly.
To make a diagnosis, your vet will likely first perform a full clinical examination and rectal examination if they are suspicious of a prostate problem. They will be feeling to see if the prostate is enlarged, irregular, or painful. However, in some larger dogs, it might not be possible for them to reach it manually. They will probably want to collect a urine sample and take blood to run tests looking for signs of inflammation, bleeding, or other organs showing damage.
They are also likely to advise an ultrasound scan of the prostate. This will allow them to examine it closely, view any irregularities, and potentially take biopsies. The vet may also advise X-rays of both the prostate and the rest of the body, particularly the chest. This is because prostate cancer is very aggressive and often has already spread by the time your pet starts showing symptoms.
Treatment of prostate cancer can be difficult as the tumor is usually very malignant and has spread (metastasized) by the time it is diagnosed. Surgery is often not carried out for this reason, and as the organ is so closely associated with the urethra, it can cause significant complications with urination.
However, it is possible to perform chemotherapy and radiotherapy; your vet will be able to discuss these options with you. They are very unlikely to be curative, but they can shrink the tumors and give your dog a better quality of life.
Sadly, most dogs with prostatic cancer will succumb to the disease, even with treatment. The survival time can be variable ranging from a month or less with no medications to potentially up to a year with chemo and radiotherapy.