Have you been on Twitter lately? Great way to find valuable information nowadays, and know about the current trends! The most popular topic of the moment: « Winter tips to keep your pet safe ». It totally makes sense, we’re currently dealing here with polar temperatures way below 0! And coming originally from a tropical country, I must admit I learnt a lot while reading these posts: dogs’ paws irritation related to ice melters, antifreeze toxicity, the fact that cats can hide in the engines… One word however caught my attention: frostbite. Why? Well, I guess it has something to do with the fact that I’m a repro vet…
Earlier this year, during one of our talk on canine reproduction, I had indeed a related question. We were discussing about the effect warm temperatures can have on the canine reproductive function. Indeed, gametes and embryos do not really like « warmer temperature than usual »: this is a phenomenon called « heat stress », and it is well described in several mammalian species. In females, an increase in body temperature will impact the ovarian function and can be embryotoxic. In males, spermatogenesis cannot occur at body temperature (that’s why the testes are at a cooler temperature, in the scrotum, outside the abdominal cavity): to make it short, if temperature ups, spermatogenesis is down. Somebody therefore asked me: « Ok doc, we got it for summer. But what about winter? I mean, canadian winter? »
Frostbites: the answer lies in this single word I mentioned earlier. Females are at lower risk here, because of their internal genital organs. Well, don’t get me wrong: they can be as badly affected as males by cold weather (you can check one of these posts I mentioned, I shared several of them on my social network accounts). But providing they can maintain their body temperature, their ovaries/uterus will usually be safe.
Males however are more at risk. Frostbites usually occur on areas with thinner skin: the scrotum is one of them. And what will happen in case of a scrotal frostbite?
- 1st: this will lead to a secondary scrotal inflammation with swelling, inflammation and pain. Inflammation = increased temperature = impaired spermatogenesis. Moreover, scrotal inflammation are NOT easy to control with medical solutions. If it turns badly, there will be only one solution: surgical castration.
- 2nd: The testicular content is isolated from the blood flow and the immune system. Each time there is a scrotal inflammation, there is a risk that the barrier between the blood and the testis breaks, allowing immune cells to enter the testes. This can lead to an auto-immune orchitis (=formation of antibodies directed against the sperm cells). If this happens, there is today no way back. The animal will remain sterile for life.
So in winter time, don’t hesitate to check the scrotum of your breeding males for signs of swelling/pain/inflammation/etc. If you see something unusual, act as quickly as possible (again, see those tips to deal with frostbites I shared). Keep in mind that if it gets too inflamed, fertility might be lost forever. The best advice in my opinion? Prevention. Keep an eye on the weather forecast. And if it’s too cold out there keep your pets inside. Don’t risk being bothered.
Remember we are all part of the same PRO community! Don’t hesitate then: share with us your experiences, ask your questions and let us know what you think! Social networks enable us to keep the discussion going, so whether you are a Facebooker or a Twitter-addict, you can – and should!- be part of it!