Huh? Should My Male Dog Have Nipples?
If you've ever pondered the deep mysteries of the universe—or perhaps simply run your fingers across an unexpected series of bumps while rubbing your good boy's belly—at some point, you've probably wondered: Do male dogs have nipples? And if the answer is yes, do they have a purpose?
These aren't silly questions, so there's no need to blush. In fact, your curiosity could end up helping your dog one day. The more you know about your pet's anatomy, the better equipped you'll be to differentiate between what's normal and what isn't.
So pat yourself on the back for being a caring pup parent, and read on to have your questions answered and to learn how to spot potential problems.
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Do Male Dogs Have Nipples?
Male dogs, like most other male mammals (humans included), have rudimentary nipples and mammary glands. Male dog nipples look very similar to the nipples of non-lactating, non-pregnant female dogs. They appear as small, rounded bumps that can be flesh colored or pigmented.
All dogs, regardless of sex, tend to have about 10 nipples arranged in symmetrical pairs spanning from the chest to the groin. However, the exact number of nipples can vary, and some nipples are not quite symmetrical. It's not uncommon to find dogs with only eight nipples and even dogs with more than 10.
Why Do Male Dogs Have Nipples?
Though nipples on a male dog may seem out of place, they've actually been a part of your pet since he was a wee embryo. Here's why: Mammary glands and nipples begin developing in all canine embryos before sex differentiation occurs.
This is because every canine embryo starts out with the same genetic material. So early on, both males and females begin developing the same structures, including mammary glands and nipples. It isn't until later in development that sex-specific hormones determine whether these structures go on to become a fully functioning system (as we see in females) or the rudimentary, nonfunctioning mammary glands and nipples we find in males.
And as far as natural selection is concerned, while nipples on male dogs may not have a purpose, they don't appear to hinder survival. Thus, they remain a perplexing part of our pets' anatomy.
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Nipple Problems in Male Dogs
It's rare for male dogs to experience nipple problems, says Matthew Asciutto, DVM, an emergency veterinarian with Bindle Vet. Issues like inflammation, infection, and mammary tumors are all exceedingly uncommon.
Interestingly, the most common culprits in male dog nipple problems are concerned pet parents. "The vast majority of the time we see problems with male nipples, it's because someone thought it was a tick and tried to remove it," Asciutto explains. "So by the time we see it, that nipple is red and swollen from the well-intentioned but misguided struggle."
Asciutto says the best thing you can do to avoid this easy mistake is to give your dog a belly rub right now. It may sound like a paid message from your furry best friend, but Asciutto's goal is for pet parents to learn what normal male nipples look and feel like. "Having a baseline will help you determine whether there may be a concerning change afoot," he explains.
Symmetry, notes Asciutto, is key to evaluating your male dog's nipples (or your female dog's nipples, for that matter). "When you're looking at the belly, use that little crease down the middle of your pet as if it were a mirror," he continues. "The nipple on one side of that crease should look about the same as the nipple on the other side of that crease." In other words, the nipple pairs should be symmetrical. Some dogs have slightly asymmetrical nipples or an odd number of nipples. This is not always a problem, but it's a good idea to have your vet take a look.
Keep in mind that the nipples tend to increase in size as they move down the body, so the nipples near the groin are usually larger than the nipples near the chest. Thus, if you notice that a nipple near the groin is bigger and appears to be more swollen than a nipple near the chest, Asciutto says that's not proof of a problem. Compare the two nipples of a pair, not one nipple to every other nipple. If they look about the same, there's likely no cause for concern. While it's possible that both nipples in a pair could be equally affected by a disease, the odds are low.
In addition to asymmetry, Asciutto advises that discharge, discoloration, and pain are all good reasons to call your veterinarian. And if your pet's nipples seem abnormally large, this could also be important, he says.
"Other possible nipple-like things you may find in the area include ticks (real ones!), skin tags, and other typically benign tumors," Asciutto adds. "And you will occasionally see bug bites, small punctures, or even cuts in the area. But again, all of these will violate the symmetry rule. It's pretty unlikely that two ticks will coordinate in formation and land on your pet's belly like a pair of Blue Angels."
Asciutto sums up the importance of symmetry with an easy-to-remember rhyme:
If it's part of a pair, don't despair.
If it's all alone, pick up the phone (and call your local veterinarian).
We'll add one more line: But if you still have doubt, give your vet a shout!