Every now and then we get to meet a “one in a million” patient and Fleur is surely one of them. (Be warned there are some pictures of doggy genitalia below!).
A young and energetic border collie bitch, Fleur was referred to Oak Barn Vets for a routine keyhole spay. Her owners felt that due to her energetic nature she would benefit from the speedier and more comfortable recovery seen with this minimally invasive procedure.
Fleur’s owners had not seen her have a season and at 6 months of age this is perfectly normal, however when first examined it was clear that Fleur’s external genitalia was a little more developed than expected for her age.
Once anaesthetised and when examined more closely it became obvious that Fleur’s development of her reproductive tract was not normal. Hidden within her vulva was a small penis and a quick x-ray confirmed that it contained a small internal bone (os penis) similar to that found in male dogs.
Using the laparoscope (key-hole camera) we examined her development internally and found that she had essentially developed as a bitch with a normal looking uterus but her ovaries had the appearance of testicles. No other internal abnormalities were found so the abnormal reproductive tract was removed using a keyhole procedure and the tissues were sent to a laboratory for examination.
As in all mammals the stage at which a dog is determined as male or female happens right the way back at the beginning when a female egg is fertilised. The combination of the sex chromasomes X and Y then dictates the development of the embryo and foetus into a male or female. However the stage at which gonads develop happens much later in development. Occasionally abnormalities in these sex chromosomes or a process which interferes with the formation of sex hormones such as oestrogen and testosterone can then alter this development.
In the case of Fleur she had developed male and female characteristics in her sex organs both internally and externally. The laboratory confirmed that the tissues submitted were a combination of both testicular (male) and ovarian (female) origin. This means that Fleur is a true hermaphrodite.
Canine hermaphrodites are rarely seen and as a condition it does not have a known underlying cause. Fleur would likely have been unable to reproduce but if left in-situ her reproductive tract would have a higher likelihood of developing cancer. Fleur is otherwise a very healthy and normal dog. Thankfully her condition is unlikely to affect her health in the long term.