I first realized my dog's medical issue had reached critical mass when I'd taken to getting him his own stash of K-Y Jelly.
The second sign was when my then 3-year-old pointed to the sign outside our veterinarian's office and — when asked if he knew what a vet was — said, "Yes, that's where they fix the dog penises."
Taz, my then 14-year-old min-pin, had a condition called paraphimosis — that is, when his penis was exposed from its sheath, it was unable to retract back into its foreskin. As a quick anatomy primer, the sheath, or the foreskin, covers the actual penis, or what some call the "lipstick."
If you're thinking, "ouch," you're right.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney, founder of LA-based California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness, said that the condition, while uncommon, is more likely to occur in dogs prone to humping behavior.
But, ah, you may be thinking, my dog's neutered! Unfortunately, it doesn't matter.
"Even though he was neutered, he would still be producing testosterone," says Mahaney. In short, put your neutered dog in the same room as a female in heat and "he was going to try to get with her anyway."
So that's how I ended up with a drawer in our hall closet that was essentially Taz's healthy penis kit — latex gloves, the aforementioned lubricant, hydrocortisone cream and sugar. Yup, you heard me right, sugar. Hang on to that a sec.
Besides the obvious aesthetic issues, paraphimosis is usually considered a true medical emergency. The sheath, just like any other animal's foreskin, protects the sensitive penis. Left uncovered for too long, it can get dry, irritated and even swollen. In my dog's case, since we knew it was a known condition of his and I had my vet's OK, I would dab on a bit of lube and hydrocortisone and carefully push his penis back into its sheath. If it was too swollen to easily go back in, I would pack it in a bit of sugar, which actually keeps the swelling down. But if you notice your own dog's penis has been out for a while, it won't go in on its own or your dog is incessantly licking at it, take him to the vet right away. "The more he licks or claws down there, the more likely he is to induce trauma. I wouldn't wait until it's hanging like a lychee fruit," Mahaney says.
That last line sums up what happened with Taz. We'd left for a two-week vacation, and when we picked him up from the dogsitter, it was terribly swollen. He had to go through a major surgery that took weeks of recovery time. Again, ouch. If the swelling had been treated right away, he would have been spared lots of pain — and ourselves hundreds of dollars.
Obviously, prevention is easier than treatment, says Mahaney, and one of the easiest ways to prevent paraphimosis is by keeping your pooch manscaped just a bit. My horrifying story aside, Mahaney stressed that the condition really is uncommon. But if you are at all concerned, give your vet a call. "Don't just try to manage it on your own. There could be precious time you're wasting," he said.
As for me, as much as I trust Dr. Mahaney (who wouldn't trust a guy with a dog as cute as his!), my five-year-experience with paraphimosis has taught me one thing: Next time I get a dog, it will be a girl.
A version of this article was originally published in November 2014.