The medical benefits of desexing your pet
Without a doubt de-sexing your pet prevents the unfortunate circumstances of unwanted kittens and puppies. It also carries many significant health benefits for your dog or cat. By de-sexing your pet you significantly decrease the risk of health problems.
Health benefits of de-sexing female pets
Mammary gland tumours (Mammary cancer)
- Mammary tumours can be very aggressive and potentially life threatening if not removed. They can appear as a single lump or multiple smaller lumps and are detected by palpating the tissue.
These lumps can grow quickly and double in size in a matter of months. In some cases these lumps can bleed and become ulcerated and your pet may have a habit of licking them. Mammary tumours can grow and spread into the surrounding lymph nodes allowing for a rapid spread of the cancer cells to other parts of the body. This is why it’s necessary to have the lumps removed as soon as they have been detected.
- It is rare to find mammary tumours in male pets however when detected they are often quite dangerous and spread rapidly.
Pyometra is an infection of the uterus
- When female dogs go on heat (oestrus) their progesterone levels rise, inhibiting the uterus to contract allowing for the cervix (entrance to the uterus) to open. This enables bacteria in the vagina to easily make its way into the uterus. Progesterone levels remain high for at least 8-10 weeks after oestrus and if pregnancy does not occur the lining of the uterus begins to thicken and form cysts. These cysts create an ideal environment for bacteria to grow and eventually the uterus fills with a horrid infection making your dog very sick. It is very common in middle-aged female dogs that have not been de-sexed.
- Veterinarians often associate the development of ovarian cysts with hormonal changes or an excess of hormones. Ovarian cysts are different from cysts in the uterus as they occur at the site of the ovary. Female dogs that have not been de-sexed are more likely to develop these cysts.
- By de-sexing your female pet, this removes the source of circulating hormones reducing the formation of ovarian cysts.
Benefits of de-sexing male pets
- The prostate gland is extremely important in the male reproductive system and is located near the neck of the bladder. Due to several prostatic diseases, the prostate gland can become enlarged, compressing the urethra resulting in extreme discomfort whilst urinating. Over time as the prostate gland becomes significantly enlarged the colon can also become compressed, making it difficult to pass stools.
- Circulating hormones like testosterone that are produced by the testicles are associated with prostate enlargement. If the testicles have been removed through de-sexing there is very little prostatic tissue present, reducing the risk of a male developing prostate disease and cancer.
Prostate infection: If the ducts that drain from the prostate gland become obstructed due to enlargement of the prostate, bacteria can accumulate, resulting in an infection or abscess.
- A perineal hernia is a common condition associated with entire male dogs and is defined as a weakness in the pelvic floor muscles that causes a tear in the muscles resulting in pelvic contents like the prostate, small intestine or bladder to protrude into the perineal space.
- The most common cause of a perineal hernia is associated with the male hormones interfering with the pelvic floor muscles, prostate enlargement and testicular tumours. De-sexing reduces the risk of a male pet developing a perineal hernia.
- If a male pet is de-sexed (testicles removed) there is less circulating testosterone therefore testicular tumours are eliminated.
What is it?
A cryptorchid animal is a male whose testicles fail to descend (drop) into the scrotum and either one or both testicles are retained. It is generally accepted that by the age of 2 months both testicles should have descended into the scrotum, although this age varies depending on different breeds.
In most cryptorchid cases the testicles are retained either in the abdomen or inguinal canal. In other cases they can be found in the groin region under the skin. The image below shows the areas where a testicle can be retained.
Cause and symptoms
Cryptorchidism is thought to be influenced by genetics but the exact cause is not fully understood. If left untreated, it increases the risk of testicular cancers, behavioural issues (mounting and urinating inappropriately) and testicular infection.
If your veterinarian has seen your puppy or kitten since 8 weeks of age they should have a good history of your pet. By their 2nd or 3rd visit the testicles should have descended, if not it would be easy for your veterinarian to suspect they have a retained testicle. During a physical examination your veterinarian will palpate your pet’s scrotum and abdomen to locate the testicle. An ultrasound scan may occasionally be used if the veterinarian is unsure of the testicle’s exact location.
A cryptorchid testicle needs to be surgically removed. Depending on where the cryptorchid testicle is located will influence how difficult the surgery can be. If only one testicle is retained the veterinarian will still remove the other testicle to complete the de-sexing procedure.
The veterinarian will decide whether you pet will need to stay the night before going home. Generally a pet recovering from a crytorchid surgery can go home the same day with strict instructions to minimise irritation or infection to the surgical site.
We highly recommend that your pet leave wearing an Elizabethan collar to prevent any licking and scratching of the wound or sutures. A recheck appointment is required 10 days later to ensure the wound has healed well and remove any stitches. Pets that have had this procedure go on to live a normal and healthy life.
What is pyometra and how does it occur?
Pyometra is an infection of the uterus. When female dogs go on heat (known as ‘oestrus’) their progesterone levels rise, inhibiting the uterus to contract allowing for the cervix (entrance to the uterus) to open. This enables bacteria in the vagina to easily make its way into the uterus. Progesterone levels remain high for at least 8-10 weeks after oestrus and if pregnancy does not occur the lining of the uterus begins to thicken and form cysts. These cysts create an ideal environment for bacteria to grow and eventually the uterus fills with a horrid infection making your dog very sick. It is very common in middle-aged female dogs that have not been desexed.
Depending on how open the cervix is when a pyometra occurs will affect the symptoms that occur. If the cervix is closed the uterus fills with infection and causes an enlarged distended stomach. If the cervix is slightly open there will be pus leaking from the vagina. You may notice wet patches where they have been lying down.
Other symptoms include:
- Pale gums
- Bloody vaginal discharge
- Increased drinking
- Increased urination
When an undesexed female dog presents with vaginal discharge and a distended abdomen the veterinarian is likely to suspect a pyometra. To confirm the diagnosis a blood test is performed and it will show increased white blood cells.
If there is no vaginal discharge but the stomach is distended the veterinarian may also perform an ultrasound or x-ray to identify an enlarged uterus.
This is a life threatening condition and the surgical removal of the uterus ‘ovariohysterectomy’ is required immediately. This is the same procedure female dogs have when they are desexed. Depending on the stage of the infection will determine the complexity of the surgery.
Before the procedure pre-operative stabilisation is required and this is achieved with intravenous fluid therapy, antibiotics and pain relief. Generally, once the uterus and infection has been removed dogs make a rapid recovery and the risk of other complications like ovarian cancer is prevented.
How can I stop this happening to my dog?
Having your pet desexed at 6 months of age is the best way to prevent your dog developing pyometra. If you have an older dog, have them desexed as soon as possible. If your dog is not going to have puppies there is no reason for them not to be desexed. Desexing prevents the risk of pyometra, mammary tumours, ovarian cancers and ovarian cysts.
Pregnancy in dogs
Duration of pregnancy
The gestation period (the period they are pregnant) in female dogs ranges between 58 to 65 days, however every pregnancy varies and some may exceed 65 days.
Unwanted pregnancies are common and not something all dog owners are prepared for, however this is the risk to be aware of when you chose against having them spayed.
This procedure to have them spayed is called an ovariohysterectomy and does eliminate an unwanted pregnancy in the future. Your veterinarian will be able to discuss with you the best option for you and your dog.
How to know if your dog is pregnant
If your bitch is pregnant you may notice a change in the size of their abdomen and an increase in weight, however these changes vary depending on the breed and size of your dog. Your veterinarian will be able to give you a more definite diagnosis through abdomen palpation and ultrasound imaging after 4 weeks.
What to feed your pregnant dog
A high quality commercial dog food is recommended throughout the entire pregnancy to provide your dog with enough protein, carbohydrates and fat needed to stay healthy and strong throughout the pregnancy. A home cooked meal is not a balanced diet and will not provide a pregnant dog with the necessary nutrients they need during their 9 weeks of pregnancy.
We do not recommend supplementing their diet with extra vitamins, a good quality dog food will ensure they receive the adequate vitamins and minerals they need. During the third trimester of the pregnancy we do recommend switching to a puppy food, this will provide her with extra nutrients to cope with labour and lactation.
Vaccinations and parasite protection
It is important that your pregnant dog is vaccinated prior to mating (10-12 months) to ensure she passes on sufficient immunity to her puppies. For those unexpected pregnancies we recommend a vaccination no later than 6 weeks into the pregnancy. This is incredibly important for the protection against parvovirus, which is a well known to cause death in puppies. Naturally the mother will pass on strong parvovirus antibodies to her puppies enabling her puppies to have good immunity to the virus.
Worming is essential to ensure immature parasites are not transferred to the pups. Worming is recommended prior to and at 4 and 6 weeks of the pregnancy. Then again every 3 weeks after giving birth. We can help you if you are unsure of which products to use for your bitch.
Whelping and the signs of labour
Whelping is the term used for giving birth and is complete once the placenta has been expelled and the mother is able to nurse her puppies comfortably.
Phase 1: Preparation for labour
This stage begins when the bitch starts nesting and preparing for a comfortable place to give birth. This may include tearing up newspaper, digging her bedding, getting up frequently and moving around. She may start showing signs of anxiousness, panting, shivering and vomiting. This stage can last anywhere from 12-36 hours before the first pup is born.
Phase 2: Birth of puppies
During this stage the uterus begins to contract resulting in visible signs of straining. The contractions will increase in intensity and frequency until the first pup is born. The duration of labour varies and can potentially last up to 4-5 hours.
As each pup is born you will notice a shiny wet sac (amniotic sac), this contains the newborn pup and amniotic fluid fluid. The mother should instantly begin licking the newborn to release it from its sac and stimulate breathing. As she then chews the umbilical cord free from the pup she may also eat the sac, rest assured this is completely normal.
Resting between each pup being born is normal and can vary from minutes to a few hours before contractions and active straining begin again. If active staining lasts longer than 15-30 minutes this may indicate your bitch is having difficulties you should seek veterinary advice.
Phase 3: End of the pregnancy
At the end of the birthing phase the placenta and foetal membranes are excreted. Again it is normal for the mother to eat the placenta and any other excretions. This excretion of fluids can occur for up to a few weeks post birth and can appear blood stained. We recommend that at least 24 hours after the birth of the puppies that you take the mother and her puppies for a check up with your veterinarian.
Health issues that may occur
Mastitis: The mother’s mammary glands become sore, inflamed and infected and it becomes more difficult to excrete milk. It’s important to monitor the mother’s glands and to not allow the puppies to feed of any that may be infected.
Uterine infection: In some cases the mother can develop an infection of the uterus resulting in a pus-coloured discharge from the uvula. She may develop lethargy, depression, diarrhoea and a loss of appetite.
Hypocalcaemia: Low blood calcium levels can occur from either the effects of genetics or a poor dietary intake. The mother will exhibit signs of tremors, panting, salivating, collapse, vomiting, fever and even death.
Caring for the newborn puppies
Neonatal period 0-2 weeks:
- The umbilical cord drops off
- Weight should have doubled
Transitional period 2-4 weeks:
- Eyes and ears open
- Begin to walk
- Begin to pass urine and feaces on their own
- Teeth start coming through
- Start barking
Socialisation period 4-12 weeks:
- Recognise surroundings and enjoy playtime
- House training begins
- Interaction with people
- Weaning off mother’s milk
- Begin eating puppy food
When should you seek veterinary advice?
- The gestation period is longer than 65 days
- If the mother is experiencing contractions for more than 30 minutes and no puppy has been born. This includes before and after the first pup.
- A puppy is stuck and with gentle assistance the pup still does not move.
- Any abnormal behaviour from the mother or puppies.
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