If you have a male dog, you’ve likely seen your dog’s “lipstick,” also referred to as a “red rocket” or “third eye” (the last one is a common phrase among dog photographers). These are the polite code terms we’ve adopted to refer to that canine oddity that is the dog penis protruding from the prepuce, which is the protective sheath that usually keeps that slimy red thing under wraps. You might see your dog’s lipstick when he rolls over on his back for a belly rub or if he gets excited while playing. And that third eye usually appears at the most inopportune moments, when company is over or when you’re trying to take a family photo with your pup. But if your dog’s penis is spending too much time outside of the prepuce, he might be experiencing dog paraphimosis.
If you’re a new dog owner (or if you recently adopted a male dog for the first time), this phenomenon might be foreign to you. Although brief peep shows of your dog’s lipstick are normal and nothing to worry about, sometimes the penis does not go back inside the prepuce in a timely manner, something called paraphimosis, and this can be a real medical emergency.
“Paraphimosis is a condition where the penis extends beyond its protective covering for extended periods of time,” says Tracey Jensen, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, medical director at Wellington Veterinary Hospital in Wellington, Colorado. “In the dog and the cat, the penis does not have a protective skin coating like the rest of the skin on the body does. It needs to be within the protection of the prepuce, otherwise it’s at risk of becoming dry and infected, and because it doesn’t have that skin coating it’s more easily traumatized if it’s not within the prepuce.”
Paraphimosis can happen for a variety of different reasons. Some of these are congenital causes (present at birth). For instance, the prepuce itself might be misshapen — either the opening is too small, causing the penis to stay stuck outside the body, or the prepuce itself is too short so it doesn’t cover the penis completely.
Other causes are acquired, meaning they happen later in life. Common causes of acquired paraphimosis include cancer and neurologic disease. “In the dog, there’s actually a bone structure within the penis called ospenis,” Dr. Jensen explains. “This can become broken and that can cause paraphimosis to occur.”
It’s important to remember that seeing your dog’s lipstick occasionally, for brief periods of time, is normal and nothing to worry about. But if you notice that your dog’s penis has been protruding for a while, it could signal a problem. Many dogs will lick the penis when it becomes stuck outside the prepuce, so if you notice your dog licking excessively, take a closer look.
“Generally speaking, the penis should be able to be moved back into the prepuce without difficulty,” Dr. Jensen explains. “More than a few minutes outside would cause me to [pay] attention. If it was exposed more than 5 or 10 minutes, I would make a quick call to the veterinarian and the veterinary care team to help determine if it’s a perfectly normal exposure for a short period of time or if it sounds like it’s something that the animal needs to be taken to the veterinarian right away.”
Your vet will examine your dog to find out what is causing the paraphimosis. Treatment depends on what he or she finds, whether a congenital problem with the anatomy of the penis and prepuce, trauma to the penis or prepuce, or perhaps a tumor or other issue restricting the movement of the penis back into the prepuce. In some cases, surgery to correct the problem might be necessary.
“Many times, there are surgical options to help either recreate or reconstruct the prepuce,” Dr. Jensen says. “Some correction is incredibly effective at 100 percent and some correction will help alleviate some of the symptoms.”
If you think your dog’s penis is stuck outside the prepuce, do not wait to seek treatment. The longer the penis remains outside the body, the higher the chances of it becoming seriously damaged. Definitely err on the side of caution with this health issue.
Thumbnail: Photography ©Ksenia Raykova/Thinkstock.
Read more about dog health on Dogster.com: