My Dog is Pregnant

Is my dog pregnant?

In the days before high walls and fences in South Africa, it was quite common for dogs to roam around freely in cities and towns; and it was not uncommon to discover out of the blue, that your female dog at home may be pregnant without you knowing how she fell pregnant.

Having said that, in those days most people who had an un-spayed (unsterilized) bitch at home, would have known very well that she was “in season” or “on heat”, which is the time the female dog is ready to ovulate and mate, because the whole neighbourhoods’ male dogs would have been howling at the door for “a piece of the action”.

Male dogs can smell bitches in heat up to 3 kilometres away and not spaying a female dog you do not want to breed with, can leave intact male dogs in agony because of nature’s drive to mate when there is a female in season. Some of this is still happening in informal settlements in South Africa in this day and age and therefore there is strong drive from welfare and community-driven organisations like the Community Veterinary Clinics of the South African Veterinary Association, to sterilise as many pets as possible and prevent unwanted litters.

These days, most people who do not sterilise their pets, because they are planning to breed with them, will know exactly when their bitches are on heat and will have full knowledge of when the mating takes place and when the puppies can be expected.

Bitches are usually on heat for 10 to 14 days. In the first week, they are very attractive to male dogs but, will not allow mating and even turn around and try to bite male dogs who try to mate with them. The second week of being on heat they are as attractive to male dogs as the first and will readily allow a male dog to mate with them and even seek out a male to mate with during this time period.

It is quite possible for a bitch to mate several times in the second week of their heat season. It is also possible for a litter of puppies to have different fathers. The male dog’s sperm can stay active inside the female dog’s genital tract for up to 7 days after mating.  

How long is pregnancy in dogs?

Dogs have a gestation period or said in another way, dogs are on average pregnant for 63 days.  

How do I know my dog is pregnant or how far my dog is pregnant?

If one is not sure whether your female dog was covered (or mated) with a male dog when she was on heat, there are other ways to confirm the pregnancy. To diagnose the pregnancy, an ultrasound can be performed from the 25th day after breeding. Alternatively, blood progesterone levels can be measured from the 34th day onwards. The average duration of pregnancy is 63-64 days from the date of breeding but can range from 56 to 72 days.

At around the Day 45, the vet may recommend that you bring your bitch for a check-up and X-rays, to determine how many puppies she is carrying. An ultrasound is not a reliable way to determine how many puppies your bitch is carrying and the fail-safe method to determine the number of puppies in a pregnancy, is through  X-ray.

What happens before my dog gives birth?

As the pregnancy progresses, you will notice that your bitch will gradually start eating more than usual and will start eating a lot more once the puppies are born and nursing from her. Do make provision for the requirement of more food for her but, try to feed her smaller meals more often rather, than one or two large meals per day. A small or medium breed (not large breed) puppy food from a reputable brand will provide her with all the nutrients she needs during this time. Do not give her any supplements without discussing it with a vet first. Supplementing with, for example, calcium or vitamin D can actually increase the risk of complications and is usually not recommended.

Two weeks before her estimated due date, purchase a thermometer from any pharmacy and start taking her rectal temperature at the same time every day; ideally twice a day. The tip of the thermometer can be lubricated with K-Y jelly or similar inert lubricant before being inserted into the rear end. A temperature of between 37.5°C and 39.5°C is normal for a dog. Yes, dogs are on average 1.5 °C  warmer than humans. Typically the bitch’s temperature will suddenly drop by 1 to 3°C, 12 to 24 hours before she goes into labour.

Whelping – what is normal?

Most dogs are able to give birth naturally without any assistance or complications but it is useful to know what to expect and when intervention is needed.

When the whelping process begins, the bitch will first enter stage 1 of labour, where her cervix begins to dilate to allow the puppies to pass through the birth canal. She will appear restless and uncomfortable – pacing, shivering, panting and whining. She will probably not eat and may even vomit. She may also search for a quiet, secluded spot and create a nest to whelp in. This stage can last anything from 3 to 24 hours.

Thereafter the bitch will enter stage 2 of labour, where the placental sacs tear and release straw-coloured fluid (her “water breaks”) and uterine contractions begin. Each puppy has its own set of foetal membranes. The puppies are delivered, on average, every 30 to 60 minutes. The bitch may also “rest” between puppies for to 4 to 6 hours, during which no contractions occur. Once a puppy is delivered, its mother will bite off its umbilical cord and lick it clean – it is important that she is allowed to do this as it stimulates the puppy’s breathing and helps the mother to bond with the puppy and produce milk.

If the mother doesn’t perform these crucial steps within 3 minutes you may have to intervene and do it yourself. Use some clean thread to tie a tight knot around the umbilical cord approximately 2.5cm away from the puppy. Use a clean pair of scissors to cut the umbilical cord about 1cm away from the knot towards the bitch’s end. Clear all the membranes and fluid away from the puppy’s face, nose and mouth and rub its body vigorously with a soft, dry towel to stimulate breathing. Check that the puppy is alive by feeling for a heartbeat. Place your index finger (not your thumb) behind the puppy’s elbow for a few moments – if it is alive you will feel the heartbeat against your finger. If the puppy has a heartbeat but isn’t breathing, be patient, it may take up to 10 minutes to start breathing. If you need to help more than one puppy in this way, use a separate clean, dry, soft towel for each puppy. The puppies are very slippery when born and using a wet towel will make them even more slippery – you don’t want a puppy slipping out of your hands and falling.

The mother usually eats the afterbirth and this behaviour is normal, so do not interfere with this process or try and deter her from eating it.

Stage 3 starts once the puppy is delivered and ends when its foetal membranes are expelled. The bitch will alternate between stage 2 and 3 when there is more than one puppy.

How involved do I need to be in the whelping process?

It is important to understand that a bitch can interrupt the whelping process if she is frightened, nervous or disturbed. You will thus need to provide her with a quiet, secluded spot in which to whelp and keep disturbances to a minimum.

Check on her every few minutes and only disturb her when absolutely necessary. If either you or the bitch are generally nervous or anxious and you are worried that it will interfere with the whelping process, contact the vet and discuss it with us. In some instances it might be better for everyone to have the bitch hospitalised and the process monitored by professionals.

The puppies should be left with their mother at all times and handled as little as possible. Newborn puppies are very cute and the temptation to cuddle them is often very high, but handling them too much will affect the bonding process with their mother negatively.

When should you call the vet?

Phone your vet as soon as possible when you notice any of the following:

  • 20 to 30 minutes of active contractions but no puppy is delivered
  • More than 4 hours pass since the birth of the last puppy and you suspect or know that there are more
  • No puppies have been delivered 24 to 36 hours after the rectal temperature has dropped
  • The bitch cries and licks or bites at her rear end during whelping
  • The bitch fails to enter stage 2 of labour after 8 to 12 hours of being in stage 1
  • The pregnancy progresses beyond the due date – beyond 70-72 days from the first breeding.
  • No puppies are born 2 hours after lochia or water-like discharges were first seen (see below)

Discharges of different colours– what is normal and when should you worry?

Greenish, with or without small amounts of blood: As the bitch enters stage 2, the uterus (womb) and the placenta surrounding the foetus separate from each other to allow the foetus to be born and the placenta to be expelled. This causes the greenish discharge, called lochia, and is normal.

Watery or egg white-like: Indicates that the bitch is starting to give birth. You may even see a water-filled bubble or balloon protruding from the vulva. These are the fluids that surrounded the foetus during its development and are normal.

Red: It is normal for the lochia to contain small amounts of blood. If you think that there is a lot of blood or are worried about anything, rather phone the vet and discuss it with us. Once whelping is completed, the bitch may have a bloody discharge for up to 6 weeks. This is due to the uterus involuting i.e. reconstructing and shrinking back to its pre-pregnancy size and state.

The bitch should have a normal temperature and not be showing any signs of illness during the time – if this is not the case she needs to be examined by a vet as soon as possible.

Stinky, yellowish-white or brown: The discharge contains pus, which indicates there is an infection in either the uterus or vagina. This is not normal and the bitch should be brought in to the vet for examination as soon as possible.

The birth of new puppies is a wonderful experience to go through and with the correct information at hand, you will be able to know when to assist your bitch or when to just leave her and let nature take its course.

© 2019 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

My dog seems sore in its front leg

What is elbow dysplasia?

Elbow dysplasia is the collective term that describes a number of conditions that affect the growth and development of a dog’s elbow. It is most commonly seen in large and giant breed dogs. Labradors, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and Rottweilers are the most common breeds but it can occur in any breed. There are a number of different theories as to why elbow dysplasia occurs but it is often a combination of factors, which leads to the abnormal development of the joint. Defects in cartilage growth, trauma to the joint, genetics, exercise and diet may all play a role in the development and progression of elbow dysplasia.

The elbow is made up of three bones. The humerus is the top bone. It forms the connection between the shoulder and the elbow. The ulna and radius from the bottom part of the joint and connect the elbow to the metacarpals or wrist.  When there is an abnormal development between these three bones, they do not sit together as they should and there are abnormal pressures within the joint. This mismatch of growth and abnormal pressure can lead to a number of different conditions. The different conditions can occur alone or in combination and may include the following:

  • Fragmented medial coronoid process (FMCP)
  • Ununited anconeal process (UAP)
  • Osteochondritis dessicans (OCD)
  • Elbow incongruity

Some conditions are more common in certain breeds but any condition may occur in any breed.

Figure1: Normal flexed (bent) elbow of a dog

The above X-ray shows a normal elbow of a dog to illustrate the different bones and parts of the bone that make up the elbow. If the radius grows more slowly than the elbow it becomes shorter and this puts increased pressure on the medial coronoid process of the ulna. “Process” in this context means a pointy piece of bone protruding from the main bone. Directly translated the medial coronoid process is the “inside crown pointy bone”. With the ulna being longer than the radius this can cause cartilage damage in the joint and sometimes the tip of the coronoid process may fracture or break. This is referred to as the fragmented medial coronoid process. Labradors, Rottweilers and Boerboels are the most commonly affected breeds but it can occur in any breed.

If the ulna grows too slowly then the radius pushes the humerus (upper arm bone) against the anconeal process of the ulna. The anconeal process looks almost like the beak of a bird. If the radius grows too long, it puts pressure on this section of bone or “beak”, which prevents it from growing and maturing properly and may lead to the anconeal process being unable to unite or attach properly to the rest of the upper part of the ulna bone (called the olecranon). This ends up being like a “bird with a loose beak”, and needless to say is very uncomfortable and painful for the dog. The ununited anconeal process occurs commonly in German Shepherds and Boerboels.

If the radius and ulna do not grow at the same rate of speed, a condition called elbow incongruity can occur. This causes wear and tear on the cartilage, as the humerus does not meet the appropriate surfaces on the radius and ulna. Thus, some points of contact are overloaded and this can lead to fragmentation of the medial coronoid process and other abnormalities.

Cartilage is the protective layer that is formed over the bone within joints. Cartilage helps lubricate the joint and reduces friction within the joint. Osteochondrosis is a condition where there is an abnormality of the cartilage and the bone underneath it. Osteochondrosis most commonly occurs in the inside part of the upper arm bone or the medial condyle of the humerus of the elbow joint. Osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD) describes the condition where a flap of cartilage forms. This flap may stay attached or break off and float around in the joint. It is usually very painful. It is commonly seen in Labrador Retrievers suffering from elbow dysplasia.

What are the signs of elbow dysplasia?

Elbow dysplasia can affect one or both elbows. No matter which condition is present, the clinical signs are generally the same. Most commonly, dogs show lameness on one or both elbows, particularly after resting and lying down. They may be reluctant to exercise and may struggle walking up and down stairs. Elbow dysplasia can present as early as five months, but signs are commonly seen in large and giant breed dogs between six to ten months. In some cases, elbow dysplasia may only be diagnosed when the dog is much older and the joint has become arthritic. The lameness is often worse after exercise and often will not resolve completely.

An orthopaedic examination in most cases reveals pain and occasionally swelling of the elbow with a restricted range of movement of the joint. Movement is reduced due to arthritis developing in the abnormal joint.

How is elbow dysplasia diagnosed?

Elbow dysplasia is diagnosed by a combination of a thorough clinical exam and diagnostic imaging. X-rays are generally the first diagnostic step in diagnosing elbow dysplasia. Certain conditions such as an ununited anconeal process are generally quite easy to visualise but other conditions may need further diagnostics such as a CT (X-ray computed tomography or CAT scan) or arthroscopy. Arthroscopy is keyhole surgery where a small camera is placed within the joint to visualise it. It is minimally invasive and, in some conditions, the joint is operated on at the same time.

What are the different treatment options?

The treatment undertaken depends on a number of factors. Age, clinical signs and degree of arthritis in the joint are all deciding factors. It is not possible to reverse the damage that has already been done to the joint, but the progression of the disease can be slowed. All dogs with elbow dysplasia will develop a certain degree of arthritis, even if they undergo surgery and so this should be taken into consideration beforehand. 

Surgery by a specialist surgeon vet may be recommended to help correct a step in the joint (elbow incongruity), remove any fragments of bone or cartilage, or to surgically alter the joint (arthrotomy).

Many dogs may be managed medically or conservatively, particularly if the changes within the joint are minimal.

Conservative management would include:

  • Strict weight control, which helps reduce the stress on not only the elbows but all the joints.
  • Controlling exercise is also an important factor, ensuring that exercise with lots of concussive forces, such as jumping for a frisbee are kept to a minimum. Controlled leash walks and swimming are examples of low impact exercise. Hydrotherapy (controlled swimming exercises) works the muscles without putting extra strain on the joints and is also beneficial in controlling the weight.  
    A veterinary prescription diet for the management of the joint disease or joint supplements has also been found to be beneficial. Omega-3s, chondroitin and glucosamine which are substances which feed the cartilage all help nourish the joint and can slow the progression of arthritis.
  • Medications such as anti-inflammatories and other pain medications may be required daily to control pain and inflammation, but other cases only require them occasionally.

Take home message

Elbow dysplasia is most common in large and giant breed dogs but can occur in any breed of dog. There does appear to be a genetic component to elbow dysplasia and breeds such as Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers and German Shepherds have been overrepresented. It is possible to have elbows graded and scored and it is advisable that dogs showing signs of elbow dysplasia are not bred with. This is done by X-ray under general anaesthesia after which the X-rays are sent to a specialist radiologist vet who does the analysis and scoring. Elbow dysplasia can be managed both medically and surgically, but it depends on the symptoms and syndrome present. A lot of dogs will be able to function very well however the long-term prognosis is guarded as most if not all of them will succumb to degenerative joint disease and arthritis in the affected joints.

© 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty.) Ltd.


I love the mean look a dog with cropped ears have

Ear cropping in dogs was a procedure done by vets in the previous century whenever dog owners requested it. Cropping is the removal of part, or all, of the outer ear, or the pinnae (externally visible flap) of the ear of an animal. Cropping the ears also involved taping the ears up after the surgery, to make the ears pointy.

Why was ear cropping done in the past?

Ear cropping was historically done on working dogs to reduce the risk of medical conditions like infections or haematoma. An othaematoma is when a small blood vessel in the ear bursts when dogs shake their heads (with ears flapping from side to side against the top and bottom of the dog’s head) and which causes the ear to “balloon” out with a blood-filled pocket in the ear. Although these initial reasons for doing cropping were sound, it turned into a cosmetic procedure over time and became more about “the looks” of the animal, rather than anything else. The surgical procedure of ear cropping was no longer done for functional reasons and was purely done for aesthetic reasons – “to give a dog that mean look”.

In a world where dogs are still kept as a security measure, one can sympathise with those who believe that the scarier the deterrent, the more likely it is to be effective. However, also living in a world where perceptions change continuously, the question has to be asked whether it is fair to an animal and more particularly to dogs, to remove a part of their physical bodies, which has no apparent benefit to the animal itself under normal circumstances.

Although an owner may desire their dog to look fierce and scary, this really does not help the already tainted reputation of some breeds. Breeds such as Pitbulls and Staffordshire Terriers (Staffies) are already seen as aggressive and scary, which is largely untrue. It is the people that use animals for fighting that cause them to have a bad reputation for being aggressive and unsafe animals. Ear cropping does these breeds no favours in the eyes of the public.

Another reason for ear cropping was, and still is, to reduce injury during dogfights. The “less ear” there is for an opponent to grab onto, the better the fighting performance of the dog. A few centuries ago, dog fighting was considered a sport and a normal part of society (as was public executions of humans), but, in our day and age, this practice is strongly condemned by veterinarians.

The debate on whether to allow ear cropping is a debate which has valid arguments on both sides. On a balance of arguments, the decision in South Africa has fallen to the benefit of the animal. The South African Veterinary Council, the regulatory and legislative body for the veterinary profession, decided after much consultation and debate over many years, to determine that ear cropping in dogs is unethical and is a procedure which should not be performed by veterinarians or lay people. If a part of the ear must be removed for medical reasons, then it is acceptable to do so. However, doing ear cropping as an elective surgical procedure for aesthetic reasons only, is now illegal, both for vets as well as non-vets.

The ears of all dogs are extremely sensitive and have an extensive blood supply and take a long time to heal if cut. Further to this the muscles and nerves of the ears in dogs, are in general more prominent than in humans because dogs can move and manipulate their ears in so many directions and, depending on which direction noise comes from, have to be able to perk up their ears or turn it into the direction of where the sound is coming from. Some of these nerves and muscles are severed during the ear cropping procedure and may actually be more exposed and sensitive after the procedure than before.

Some proponents of ear cropping will argue that doing a procedure where dogs whose ears naturally hang down next to the side of their heads like Boxers, Great Danes or Dobermans, will give the dog a better ability to hear if ears are lifted to be upright, as in the case of the German Shepherd. This is however not true. Firstly, a big part of the ear pinna or flap is removed during the surgery, leaving a much smaller part of the ear which is taped to stand up straight. This means that there is much less surface for sound to bounce against and be reflected into the dog’s ear for the dog to hear better. Secondly with dogs whose ears hang next to their heads, when they hear a noise and the ears perk up and they turn their heads and ears towards the noise, the ear makes sort of a cup, almost like a satellite dish, which allows sound waves to be reflected much more effectively compared to a small part of an ear which stands up straight and cannot “collect soundwaves”.

Ears are used for hearing but also form part of the communication and expression repertoire of all animals. We have all seen a friendly dog, that pulls back its ears when called or stroked. In the same way, when dogs communicate with each other, they read each other’s body language by looking at every aspect of the other animal’s body, including the ears. By having the ears fixed in an upright position, the ability of the animal to communicate effectively is stifled because of limitations in the movement of their ears. The apparent aggressive appearance of these dogs may be interpreted by a more dominant dog as a challenge for dominance and lead to an unnecessary fight.

As with tail docking in dogs, ear cropping in dogs is illegal in South Africa and no vet or layperson may perform this procedure any more unless it is for a valid medical reason.

© 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

My Boerboel with its long tail really looks strange. I much prefer a Boerboel with a short tail.

To start off with let’s define what we are talking about when we are talking about tail docking in dogs.

Tail docking from a veterinary perspective refers to a surgical procedure done to puppies between the ages of 3 to 5 days old, where a portion or partial length of the tail is amputated or cut off with a scalpel or surgical scissors, bleeding is stopped by cauterisation or tying off of bleeding blood vessels with absorbable suture material, and placing a suture or sutures in the skin to close off the wound.

This is quite an invasive procedure and involves cutting through the skin, muscles, ligaments, blood vessels, nerves, bone and cartilage. The idea of doing it to puppies of such a young age was that it would be less painful. Yet, we now know that puppies, even at that very tender age, has a fully developed nervous system and research has shown that the level of pain experience may be even higher than in young or adult animals.

Sadly, in the past, in an effort to save costs, some people opted to do this procedure themselves by cutting the tail off with a knife and then burning the tail to stop it from bleeding. Alternatively, some people used constrictor rubber bands which caused the bottom part of the tail to die, rot and fall off. This is actually a very painful and cruel way to remove a puppy’s tails and certainly was not a method advised or supported by vets in the past.

Almost all dog breeds are born with tails and most dog breeds will have long tails, although there are some breeds which are naturally born with short tails.

Dogs have tails for a reason. Two of the most prominent functional uses of the tail in the dog is for communication and for balance, The tail of a dog will in many instances, even from a distance, convey its body language. If you have a dog, think of when the dog is glad to see you when you return home in the evening after being away at work all day. Some dogs wag their tails with so much enthusiasm that their whole body moves along with it. From a dog owner’s perspective, this makes for one of the best moments of your day. Equally, if your dog is afraid, it may clutch its tail firmly between its hind legs showing its fear. If you have ever observed dogs who meet other dogs in the park you will most likely observe an upright and very active tail, communicating along with the rest of the body and face how it perceives the meeting. The longer the tail, the easier it is to read a dog’s body language. Removing the tail, in fact, to some degree, stifles the ability of dogs to communicate.

If you ever have the opportunity to look at a slow-motion movie of a dog running at high speed, you will notice that its tail is being used as counterbalance when it takes a sharp corner or makes quick turns. From a posture point of view, dogs use their tails in many ways to help balance the rest of their bodies. Removing the tail may in actual fact contribute to injury because the balance of the body is changed somewhat.

So if dogs’ tails are such an important part of their lives, the question arises, why was tail docking done in the past? The question following up on that is, why do vets not do it routinely anymore?

In the past tail docking was an intentional procedure, requested by pet owners and mostly performed by vets and the main reason for it was because of breed standards. What do we mean when we say “breed standards”?. Over many decades, as certain dog breeds evolved, the people who bred those dogs developed a view as to what the length of this breed’s tail should be. Breeders of husky dogs preferred long bushy tails which curl around, and breeders of Boerboel dogs preferred a very short stump of a tail. The main reason given for a Boerboel to have a short tail was that a long muscular tail like that of a Boerboel whose tail has not been docked, is much more prone to damage and injury, even just when the dog wags its tail when it sees the owner or gets excited. This sounds like a sound and plausible reason, but on deeper investigation, one may find the incidence of tail trauma, is actually quite low and does not warrant this invasive procedure. One study done in the United Kingdom showed that the risk for tail injuries in dogs with intact tails is only 0,23%. This is a very low risk compared to the benefit of removing the tail completely. The main thing is that we just got so used to seeing that a Boerboel or Boxer dog has a short tail, that it became the breeds standard or norm, and a Boerboel with a long tail started looking strange to people before the beginning of the new millennium.

So apart from this very practical argument offered as a reason to dock a dog’s tail, one wonders why else would people have started to cut dogs’ tails to a shorter length. Some investigation into the background of tail docking shows that some of the reasons offered why tail docking was done historically are that it helped prevent Rabies, strengthen dogs’ backs, increase their speed, and absurdly enough even reduced paying tax. Seems like there was a time when owners of dogs with long tails were taxed and therefore people started docking their dogs’ tails. Whether this is true or not, there seems to be a myriad of reasons why people started docking their dogs’ tails which, with the benefit of hindsight, holds absolutely no truth and has no value.

Some of the more plausible reasons offered for tail docking are that it prevents injuries to dogs’ tails when used for hunting or fighting. Now if one looks at how the relationship between humans and dogs have evolved over time one can understand that at the time there may have been a case for tail docking. In previous centuries dogs were used for hunting from a subsistence perspective. People actually used their dogs to help them procure food. Jack Russel Terriers used for hunting only had half of their tails docked, unlike Boxers, where almost the whole tail was docked. The reason for leaving a longer piece of tails in Jack Russel Terriers is because when they were used for hunting rabbits and hares, their owners could pull them from a Rabbit’s hole by their tail if they managed to catch the rabbit and battled to turn around and come out of the rabbit hole with the rabbit in their mouth. In the case where the rabbit managed to get away and the Jack Russel being the hunters that they are, refused to back down and leave the one that got away and come back out of the rabbit hole, their owner could pull them out of the hole by their tail and pursue the next one. Today, very few Jack Russel Terriers are still used for hunting for food, but because we have become so accustomed to what they looked like with half a tail, this became the breed standard and the norm. This meant that as a routine, all Jack Russel Terriers had half their tail amputated, for really no reason at all.

One of the other reasons offered for docking dogs’ tails is that it gave the dog an edge during dogfights. A bite to a tail is a very painful thing and during a dogfight, if the opponent manages to get hold of the tail, it can be very painful and throw a fighting dog off balance making them more vulnerable to more lethal bites. So, therefore, it was “off with the tail” to make them better fighters. Even in the previous century dog fighting was a sport attended by many and on which people bet money with fervour. Today, in most civilised countries, dog fighting is illegal and although sadly it still continues in secret, it is certainly not considered a sport anymore but rather a criminal offence.

As the norms and needs of society changed, so the ways in which we treat animals have also changed.

In time, people started asking the question whether it is fair to dogs to put them through this very aggressive surgical procedure for no apparent reason other than looks. Sanity prevailed and in time the various breed societies started agreeing that it was not in animal’s best interest to persist with this practice. This did not go down without major resistance from many breeders who now felt that the animals looked silly, because they no longer conformed to the breed standards that everyone became so used to.

In the middle and latter part of the previous century the docking of tails by vets was advocated with the view that vets are professionals and will work in a sterile environment with the correct surgical technique and equipment, and the ability to deal with complications, should they arise. Although this is true, the uneasiness about the ethics of the procedure remained.

In South Africa the docking of tail, as an ethical procedure to be done by vets, were discussed in the veterinary profession over a long period of time (decades). Eventually through much discussion, research and deliberation, the decision was taken by the profession that unless there is a justifiable medical or therapeutic reason for docking a dog’s tail, it should not be done. This means that docking a dog’s tail for aesthetic reasons should no longer be performed.

The South African Veterinary Council, the governing body of the veterinary profession in South Africa, made a formal decision that as from the 1st of June 2008, it will no longer condone the routine tail docking of puppies by vets. This decision in turns means that should a vet dock puppies’ tails in the absence of a medical or therapeutic necessity, they can be prosecuted in terms of the Animal Protection Act no 71 of 1962 and may be found guilty of unprofessional conduct in terms of the Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Act, 1982 as Amended.

The interesting thing is that perceptions change, as norms change. Our children born in this century (the 2000’s) are growing up with dogs with tails. If you were to show a 10 year old child (in 2017), a picture of a Boerboel without a tail and they have grown up with a Boerboel with a tail, to them it will most likely look strange and they will wonder: “Why does the Boerboel without a tail look so strange, I much prefer a Boerboel with a long tail.”

Times have changed, and vets no longer do tail docking in dogs as a routine.

© 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

Can spaying your dog save her life?

Pyometra is a condition of unsterilised females, usually older than 6 years of age. “Pyo” refers to pus, and “metra” to the uterus. Literally translated, it would mean “bad of pus”. It is a very serious condition and if left untreated for too long, can have deadly consequences. It can be treated very effectively if caught early and taking your animal to the vet when signs first appear can save its life.

Causes of pyometra

The predisposing cause of pyometra is the fact that the female is not sterilised. If the animal comes into heat, but is not mated, it means that the egg cannot be fertilised. Every time she comes into heat, hormonal changes occur, increasing the risk of this disease due to changes in the wall of the uterus. Two types of hormones are secreted by the female ovaries. They are oestrogen and progesterone. As some female dogs get older, their uterus becomes more sensitive to the effects of progesterone. This hormone is responsible for readying the uterus for the coming pregnancy and is also responsible for maintaining an ideal uterine environment for the foetuses to grow in. With each passing heat cycle, progesterone stimulates glands in the wall of the uterus to produce secretions necessary for pregnancy. It also causes the uterine wall to thicken, closes the cervix and increases the blood flow to the uterus. In older females more sensitised to the effects of progesterone, these glands produce excessive amounts of these fluid secretions and eventually these glands become cystic as they do not regress with the end of the cycle. When the next heat starts oestrogen is the major hormone present during the initial period of heat and this stimulates relaxation and opening of the cervix. The open cervix then exposes the uterus to the outside environment where bacteria may migrate into and infect the fluid filled, warm uterus which is essentially the ideal environment for them to grow in. As she then moves into the next period of her cycle, progesterone takes over and stimulates the process all over again and closes the cervix allowing the bacteria to grow uncontrolled in this ideal setting. In response, the body will attempt to fight off the infection by sending large numbers of white blood cells into the uterus. This soup of bacteria and uterine secretions then forms pus which slowly but surely builds up. As the pus increases in quantity the uterine body and horns will slowly start to dilate and expand. The normal uterus has a diameter of approximately 1 cm however this infected uterus can reach a size of 10 cm and larger.

The cervix may close completely or may remain partially open, allowing some of this pussy material to leak out of the uterus. If the cervix remains open, the upside is that some of the pus is allowed to drain, if it is closed however, there is nowhere for the pus to go and it will continue to accumulate, distending the uterus, making this situation a lot more dangerous for your pet.

Toxins produced by bacteria in the uterus may be absorbed into the bloodstream and can have devastating consequences. These toxins may cause a number of secondary problems which include kidney failure and toxic shock to name but two. As fluid keeps building up and the uterus gets bigger, the wall of the uterus gets compromised. The uterus may rupture and pus can leak into the abdomen. This may cause a severe infection of the abdominal cavity which can lead to death of your dog within 4 to 48 hours.

Signs to look out for

This condition usually occurs within two to four weeks after the female dog was on heat. If any of these signs are noted after heat, it is important to take your pet to the vet as quickly as possible.

  • Lethargy (weakness and laziness)
  • Anorexia (not eating)
  • Excessive drinking and urination
  • Vomiting
  • Constant licking of the vulva
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Collapse

With these clinical signs and a good history from the owner, the vet will have a high suspition of a pyometra, but will have to do more diagnostic tests to make a definitive diagnosis. On a blood smear, the white blood cell count will usually be extremely high. Further tests will include radiographs and in most cases an abdominal ultrasound to visualise the pus filled uterus. Further blood tests might be necessary to evaluate organ function, depending on the severity of the case.


The patient may be placed on a drip with intravenous fluids and started on antibiotics to control the local and systemic infection. The preferred way to treat a pyometra is through surgical removal of the whole uterus and ovaries (ovariohysterectomy), familiarly referred to as spaying your dog. Since the cause of the infection is then removed, prognosis is generally good. In severely debilitated animals, the prognosis will be guarded and these patients will stay on a drip with antibiotics for a couple of days until they have fully recovered. In extreme cases with breeding bitches, other methods can be tried with injection of certain hormones and treatment with antibiotics, but this is definitely not the treatment of choice, as it reduces the survival rate drastically. In very early and milder cases this can be attempted but it is essential to understand that the uterus will have been damaged during the infection and this can markedly reduce fertility. It is important to understand that the preferred method of treatment will always be surgery because this condition is life threatening and any other method attempted can lead to death. Surgery in itself carries a high risk because often time by the time you as the owner notice something is wrong (especially in cases of a closed cervix pyometra) the animal is already in septic shock by the time they are presented to the vet.


Pyometra is a fairly common condition in unsterilised females, and we therefore recommend doing an ovariohysterectomy (spaying) on female dogs at the age of 6 months. Spaying not only prevents a pyometra and unwanted puppies, but it also reduces the risk of mammary cancer if done before the first heat cycle. If a female is used for breeding, it is advisable to spay her after she is past her ideal breeding age to prevent pyometra.

© 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd.


My pet is not responding to me

Pets are known to have an acute sense of hearing. What would cause them to lose this ability? How will they cope with deafness? To answer these questions we first have to look at the normal anatomy of the ear.

Dog and cats ears, much like humans, can be divided into three areas: the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear.

  • The outer ear consists of the external earflap called the pinna, and the ear canal which is a narrow tube through which sound vibrations enter the ear.
  • The middle ear contains the eardrum, a membrane that vibrates correspondingly to the incoming sound waves, and the small little bones on the inside of the eardrum called the auditory ossicles. These small bones transmit the eardrum vibrations to the inner ear.
  • The inner ear, located deeper within the skull, contains the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure containing nerve endings that receive the vibrations and pass nervous system signals along to the brain, thereby enabling hearing.

Deafness can be partial or complete, in one ear or both and is more common in older animals. It can also be hereditary or congenital, meaning it is passed onto the new born animal from its parents. It is advisable not to breed with deaf animals as the deafness can be passed onto offspring and can be progressively worse in subsequent generations. Inherited deafness or being born deaf tend to be more common in animals that carry a piebald or merle gene and is often associated with a white coat colour and blue eyes. Symptoms may be detected as early as 3 weeks of age. There are also certain breeds that are more susceptible to being born with this impairment. Dalmations, Boston Terriers, Australian Shepherds, West Highland White Terriers, Maltese and Cocker Spaniels are just a few of the dog breeds affected. Persians, Scottish Folds, Ragdolls and many of the white coated cats are a few of the felines affected by congenital deafness.

Hearing loss can be acquired. This may be due to many causes:

  • Interruption of the pathway necessary for conduction of the sound waves means the waves do not reach the nerves of the ear and so cannot be processed by the brain as sound. Any inflammation of the outer or middle ear or any condition that may cause narrowing of the ear canal will lead to interruption of the path of sound waves. 
  • Conditions affecting the nerves of the ear – Degenerative changes in old animals; tumours of the nerve itself or of the ear that may press onto the nerve and other ear structures; inflammation of the inner ear; some infectious diseases such as Distemper can cause altered hearing but not necessarily complete loss; trauma to the ear or noise trauma.
  • Toxins or drugs: Some antibiotics such as gentamycin, neomycin, streptomycin; chemotherapy; exposure to heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and mercury. Deafness may become permanent in cases where animals have been exposed to these compounds.

By far the most common cause is an ageing animal (similar to humans) or chronic ear infections (otitis externa / media / interna).

How do I know if my animal is deaf?

Dogs and cats that are born deaf are very difficult to identify. Puppies and kittens will often compensate by feeling vibrations around them or reacting according to their littermates. They also sense changes in airflow and light and will respond to those stimuli giving you the impression they can hear. These animals are often ‘deep sleepers’. Early onset of hearing loss indicates congenital causes, genetics or a developmental defect. This type of deafness is often irreversible.  The affected pup is often more aggressive than its littermates because during play it cannot hear their cries of pain. Deaf puppies can also be more vocal, especially when littermates are out of sight.

Presbycusis is the progressive loss of hearing with advancing age commonly known as old age deafness. You may notice your pet becoming unresponsive to everyday sounds, its name, or its favourite squeaky toy. They will not be woken by loud noises and tend to bark or meow very loudly. Using noisy appliances in the home may also go unnoticed where previously it may have startled them. These animals are also sensitive to air movement and vibrations so be careful not to confuse their reactions. It is easier to note these changes in animals that are deaf in both ears. Where only one ear is affected it can be more difficult to tell as they tend to turn their head towards the noise or always sleep with the good ear open.

A diagnosis of deafness is reached by the vet taking a complete history of your animal. This includes when the symptoms were first noticed, any possible incident that could have lead to hearing loss, disease history and recent medication. If the cause is due to inflammation or a conduction defect, medical or surgical intervention may reverse the hearing loss depending on the extent and duration of the disease.

The only way to confirm deafness is using the BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) test. This is a specialised test which is not routinely performed in general veterinary practice and you may have to be referred to a specialist veterinary facility to have this test done. Each ear is tested individually using a foam ear piece. A clicking sound is produced by a computer which then records the electrical activity of the brain in response to the sound stimulation. It is not a painful procedure and does not require any sedation if the animal can tolerate the wires around their heads. The test lasts about 10 to 15 minutes and can be done on animals from 6 weeks old.  There are also other specialised tests like impedance audiometry/tympanometry which can be done but once again these are not readily available in general veterinary practice.

How to cope with a deaf pet?

Most deaf animals do not have any special health considerations apart from physical safety. Treatment is mostly directed towards animal whose hearing was previously perfect but may have been affected due to accidents or disease  whereas animals that are born deaf can usually not be treated successfully to restore hearing. .

Dogs should be kept on a lead when walking as they cannot hear the oncoming traffic. Your pet may be easily startled if he cannot hear you coming. Make sure he knows your presence in the room before touching him as they can ‘startle bite’. This can be done by switching on a light when entering a room or using a torch to gain their attention. Blowing on his fur or stamping on the ground to cause vibrations can also be used to alert your pet of your presence. During training, swap the verbal cues for visual commands. Hand gestures for the desired actions can be useful. Positive reinforcement is the best means for training, only rewarding the desired behaviour. Pets can be desensitised not to be startled when touched on the back. Walk up behind them, gently touch them on the back and give them a treat when they turn around. Body language becomes a very important tool.

Deaf cats have a few more considerations compared to dogs. Females should be spayed as they tend to call loudly for males when they are on heat. Cats should be kept indoors as they cannot hear the threatening calls of other cats. A bell on a collar can help in locating your cat. Cats can be stimulated by using outdoor enclosure or ensuring sufficient enrichment of the indoor environment. They can be trained to walk on a harness or leash by starting indoors and slowly progressing to walking them outdoors.

Deafness in animals is by no means a death sentence. Animals adapt very well to their surroundings and with the help of their loving owners can live long and happy lives.   

© 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

False Pregnancy

False pregnancy, also known as Phantom pregnancy or Pseudo-pregnancy, is a condition of both dogs and cats, whereby the unsterilised female animal (regardless of whether she was mated or not) shows some or all of the typical signs of pregnancy but is not really pregnant. In other words, she shows mammary gland development (with or without milk production) but does not produce any offspring.

Symptoms appear usually about 1 to 2 months after oestrus (heat) has finished. Animals that have experienced a false pregnancy after a heat cycle may or may not experience the condition again after any future cycles.

Pseud-pregnancy is a fairly common condition and can be quite confusing and frustrating for the owner or breeder that wishes to breed with their animal. Although the astute pet owner or breeder may be able to correctly diagnose their animal as pregnant, non-pregnant or pseudo-pregnant, one should always consult a veterinarian if pregnancy is suspected.

A veterinary visit will help to ensure that the mother animal is healthy enough to support a pregnancy and that any potential complications are dealt with early. It will also ensure that you are adequately informed and correctly advised on how to care for both mum and babies during pregnancy and once they are born.

What are the typical signs of pregnancy in animals?

  • Pregnant animals typically start showing a more pendulous belly as gestation progresses and weight gain may be the presenting complaint in animals that are found to be pregnant or pseudo-pregnant.
  • Some animals will pour all their energy and body fat reserves into the unborn offspring and appear to be emaciated with muscle wastage in favour of a large developing belly. (This should not to be mistaken for parasitic causes of pot-belly).
  • Some animals show signs of “morning sickness” such as vomiting/nausea/inappetance although appetite may increase in order to supply enough nutrients for the increasing energy demands of the growing offspring.
  • Nesting behavior may become apparent, whereby the pregnant female is more affectionate (motherly), scratches at bedding to make it more comfortable, or seeks a warmer environment in which to rest.
  • Decreased activity levels or being less inclined to play/run may be noticed in pregnant animals which may be mistaken for depression.
  • The female may become more agitated and restless and in some cases even aggressive.
  • Mammary glands become enlarged and watery white or slightly brown-tinged fluid may be able to be expressed.
  • Teats (or nipples) will become enlarged, usually during the first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy.

What is the length of the gestation period for dogs and cats?

Cats are pregnant for an average of 66 days, with a range of 62 to 67 days. Cats can have litter sizes of anywhere from 1 kitten in younger queens, to 4 or 5 kittens in older more mature queens.

Dogs are pregnant for an average of 65 days with a range of 58 to 65 days. Dogs can have litter sizes of anywhere from 1 puppy in smaller breeds e.g. Chihuahua, up to 15 puppies in some larger breeds e.g. Labrador.

What causes a False Pregnancy?

The un-sterilised female animal is continually under the influence of a number of hormones, including Oestrogen (feminising hormone), Progesterone (pregnancy maintenance hormone) and Prolactin (milk production stimulating hormone), which all play an important role in the recognition and maintenance of pregnancy.

The exact cause of pseudo-pregnancy is not currently known, but hormonal imbalances (mainly involving elevated levels of Progesterone and Prolactin) play a significant role.

After being “on heat” (oestrus) the female ovaries naturally produce more of these hormones in order to prepare the uterus and body for pregnancy in case she has been mated, and if pregnancy is recognised by the uterus (if embryos are present) the hormones will continue to be produced in order to maintain the pregnancy. If no embryos are present (the female is not pregnant), the Progesterone and Prolactin levels of a normal female animal will slowly decline in favour of a rise in Oestrogen in preparation for the next “heat” cycle.

Hormonal disturbances, whether due to inherent pathological conditions e.g. underlying infection or tumours that affect hormone production, or human intervention such as sterilisation (whereby the ovaries and uterus are surgically removed) have been known to occasionally result in false pregnancy-like symptoms.

I think my pet might be Pseudo-pregnant – what now?

A specific diagnosis of pregnant / pseudo-pregnant will need to be made by your veterinarian.

Once your veterinarian has collected a full, detailed history of your pet’s health, a number of diagnostic procedures will be performed which will usually involve a full clinical examination (temperature, pulse rate, respiration rate, capillary refill time of the gums, gum colour, general overall body condition score) and may also involve additional routine diagnostics such as a blood smear, blood testing, a faecal float, a vaginal smear and a urine analysis. This is in order to rule out any other potential illnesses which may be the cause of your dog’s apparent false pregnancy.

If your animal is suspected to be pregnant, your vet may need to take survey radiographs (abdominal X-rays) to assess the size, number and position of the foetuses. Foetal skeletal maturation occurs after the 49 days of pregnancy, so very young foetuses may not be visualised until after this point in gestation. In the case of early pregnancy, an abdominal ultrasound is more rewarding.

Where abdominal ultrasound is performed, pregnancy can be detected from 4 weeks after mating, and your vet will be able to assess the heart rate of the foetuses (which will indicate if the offspring are in fact alive and/or if they are stressed), as well as taking a closer look at the abdominal organs of the mother including the uterus and ovaries.

False pregnancy will quickly be diagnosed if there are no foetuses present. In this case, your vet may elect to run further diagnostic tests (such as routine blood testing involving a full blood count and biochemistry profile) to find out why your animal is showing signs of phantom pregnancy.

If the female animal suspected to be having a false pregnancy is suspected to be between 21 to 15 days pregnant, it may be possible to test your animal’s blood for a hormone called Relaxin which, if present in high enough quantity, may be used to confirm pregnancy.

Are there any dangers or adverse effects from Phantom Pregnancy?

If no underlying pathological condition can be found by your vet as the cause of the symptoms being displayed by your pet then no drastic intervention is usually required. Simple remedies such as the use of an Elizabethan Collar to prevent licking of teats, or hot/cold packs on the mammary tissue and even a reduction in food intake will help to reduce milk production.

However, if a disease process is found to be at the root of the problem (for example infection or cancer), intervention to remedy the condition (such as removal of the ovaries and uterus, called sterilisation or “spaying”) may be necessary.

If your pet is sick or physically ill, and if any behavioural changes are severe enough to cause concern, then medical treatment such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, anti-anxiety medication, and/or diuretics may be indicated. Hormonal therapy is rarely necessary.

Most dogs will improve or revert to normal within two to three weeks of the onset of symptoms without any intervention. If your pet is to be spayed, it is best to have the procedure performed after all pseudo-pregnancy symptoms have been resolved otherwise their resolution may be delayed.

Is there anything I can do to prevent False Pregnancy in my pet?

Although False Pregnancy is not a life-threatening condition (as long as it does not involve a disease process), early sterilisation or “spaying” of female animals will not only ensure that pets do not develop the condition again after the initial episode, but will also reduce the risk of other potentially life threatening conditions of the reproductive tract, such as pyometra (uterine infection), in future.

In addition, early sterilisation of females is proven to reduce the risk of mammary cancer and reproductive disorders, and all unwanted pregnancies or mis-matings will also be avoided if all non-breeding stock females are sterilised.

© 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

New puppies and kittens – Part 2 of 3

Gestation (Pregnancy)

Dogs are on average pregnant for 63 days after fertilisation has taken place. It may be difficult to determine exactly when a bitch fell pregnant if multiple matings took place over a number of days and therefore pregnancy may seem to be longer than 63 days, sometimes up to 72 days. Sperm can also stay alive in the female genital tract for a few days and therefore fertilisation may happen a day or two or even up to a few days after mating.

Pregnancy can be diagnosed from around 3 weeks after mating by feeling the foetuses in the abdomen. Five weeks after mating feeling individual foetuses become more difficult for the veterinarian as they grow and become too big to feel individually, and form a sausage-like structure in the uterus (womb).

Foetuses can be seen with an ultrasound scan at around 18 to 21 days after mating. The foetal heartbeat can be seen when the foetuses are 21 days old. Radiographs can be used 3 weeks before partus (birth) to determine the litter size because the bones of the foetus start calcifying at this point in time. The vet may be able to hear the foetal heartbeats with a stethoscope placed on the bitch’s abdomen 5 days before giving birth.

Bitches can produce milk as early as 2 weeks before giving birth, but it may also only be present a few hours before. Your bitch’s food requirement increases by 30 to 50 % in the last 3 weeks of her pregnancy. It is advisable to feed her puppy pellets for the last 3 weeks of pregnancy, as well as when she is nursing the puppies.

Dogs may sometimes have a false or pseudopregnancy. It looks like, and the bitch behaves exactly like during a normal pregnancy, without the physical foetuses being present in the uterus. The bitch’s womb will swell up and she may produce milk. Some studies have even shown that the bitch can have contractions at the time of “giving birth”. This condition also occurs in cats but is not as prevalent as in dogs.

Pregnancy in cats is virtually the same as in dogs, but they carry the foetuses on average for 66 days.

Parturition (Giving Birth)

It is very difficult to predict exactly when a bitch is going to whelp. The best indicator is a drop in her temperature of 1°C, 12 to 24 hours before she is due to give birth. Her rectal temperature can be measured 3 times a day starting a week before you suspect that she is due to give birth. Bitches should have a nest in a quiet area where they can whelp. They should be left alone as much as possible while giving birth. The puppies “decide” the day of birth and the mother “decides” the hour.

The bitch will start to get contractions after which a puppy will be born. Puppies can be born inside or outside their foetal membranes. If a puppy is born inside the membranes, the mother normally bites these open and starts licking the puppy. This licking stimulates the puppy to start breathing. If your bitch is either too weak to do this shortly after the puppy has been born (1 to 3 minutes) or does not seem adept at what to do, you may step in to help. You should rupture the foetal membranes with your fingers, remove the puppy from the sack and start rubbing the puppy with a towel. The umbilical cord can be cut 3 cm from the puppy, but do not be too hasty to do this. The placenta (afterbirth) will be expelled after the birth of each puppy. Your bitch will eat it which is considered quite normal.

Situations in which you need professional help and need to call the vet

  • When you see a green, yellow or black discharge before the first puppy or kitten is born
  • When your bitch or queen have active strong contractions for 30 minutes and no puppy or kitten is born
  • When a bitch or queen has intermittent contractions for 2 to 3 hours without the birth of a puppy or kitten
  • Four hours have elapsed after the last puppy was born  and you think there may still be more to come (with queens the time between births are longer)
  • When there is a black or pussy discharge or excessive bleeding during whelping

Queens give birth exactly the same way as dogs. Cases of queens delivering kittens 24 hours apart have been reported, so keep an eye on her for a while after the first birth.

Caring for the new mom and puppies or kittens

A bitch or queen must get as much food and water as she wants while she is feeding her new babies. The new mother might refuse food just after she gave birth, but try to tempt her with something nice like cooked chicken. Remember to feed her puppy or kitten food while she is lactating (producing milk). The puppies or kittens must suckle on their mother within the first 6 hours after birth for the passive immunity to be transferred from the mother to the baby via colostrums (the first mother’s milk.) This thick sticky milk contains large numbers of antibodies which offer the puppy or kitten prevention against a number of diseases in the first stages of life. A puppy or kitten which has not suckled within 24 hours, has a much lower chance of survival than puppies or kittens that suckle early.

The mother will stimulate the babies to urinate and defecate by licking their bottoms and tummies. Without this stimulus, elimination does not take place. The puppies’ or kittens’ eyes will open at around 10 days at which time they will try to stand and will begin crawling. They will start walking at 21 days and usually start consuming solid foods at this time as well. The mother will start to wean them from 4 to 6 weeks of age and this is also the time when they are due for their first vaccination and deworming. After the first vaccination at 6 weeks of age, the second and third vaccinations should be done 4 weeks apart. Puppies and kittens which have had their vaccinations and first deworming are then ready to go to their new homes at 8 weeks of age.

© 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty.) Ltd.

New puppies and kittens – Part 1 of 3

Kitten and PuppyFew things in life are cuter than a puppy or kitten! If you would like to let your dog or cat have a litter of puppies or kittens there are a number of things you need to know in preparation for the process.

The Heat Period

“Coming into season” or “going on heat”, is the time in a female dog (bitch) or cat’s (queen’s) life when they are receptive to a male animal and can mate to reproduce. Dogs and cats normally come on heat for the first time somewhere between the ages of 5 to 9 months. Smaller dog breeds mature earlier than larger or giant breeds, and will usually come on heat between 5 and 6 months of age. Large and giant dog breeds will usually come on heat after 6 months, sometimes only around 9 months of age. Cats on the other hand may in actually fact come into season as young as 4 months of age and therefore proper “family planning” is very important.  


The “on heat” period in dogs range from 10 to 21 days. It is initially characterised by a swelling of the vulva and bleeding from the vulva (typically drops of blood from the vulva). Even though the bitch will be extremely attractive to male dogs in this period because of the high levels of oestrogen, they will not allow male dogs to mate with them and will usually turn around and snap at a male dog trying to mount them, or alternatively, will sit down. A bitch in the first part of heat may also lose her appetite and may not be very playful during this time. The initial phase of the heat cycle usually lasts 5 to 9 days.

After the initial phase of heat, the bleeding will diminish and the discharge usually turns from a pure red drop of blood to a more watery diluted, blood tinged discharge. The swelling in the vulva is also likely to go down a bit. This is the time when the bitch is really fertile and when she ovulates and she will become very receptive to male dogs mating with her, even to the point where she will seek out male dogs to mate with her. She may invite a male dog by pulling her tail to one side when the male dog approaches her. She will allow the advances of a male dog and stand still for him to mate with her. This may happen several times a day over a few days. Once the second phase of heat, which usually lasts between 6 and 12 days, is over, the swelling in the vulva will go down completely and the discharge will stop.

Bitches go on heat every 4 to 8 months. Exceptions to this rule are Basenjis, Tibetan Mastiffs and wolves, which only go on heat once a year. It is advisable not to breed dogs or cats at their first heat, since they will not have finished growing themselves, and could still for all intents in purposes be considered a puppy or kitten. Pregnancy at such a young age may stunt the growth of the mother, and will place undue demands on a still-developing body.


Queens differ from bitches in that they do not bleed as overtly as dogs, when on heat. The first time your kitten goes on heat, you may think she is sick because of her peculiar behaviour. Cats on heat can become very vocal, hence the expression “they come calling” used for cats in season. They usually become very affectionate and become very active at night. You will most likely also hear the eerie noise of tomcats vocalising outside your home at night during the time your queen is on heat.

The physical changes are not as pronounced in cats as in dogs. Cats also differ from dogs in that they can go on heat every 3 to 4 weeks until they have been successfully mated and become pregnant. Cats are known as induced ovulators, meaning, they will only ovulate (release egg cells) and come out of the heat cycle, once they have been successfully mated.


A bitch will allow mating when she is ready. A male dog will mount her from behind. When mating is correctly performed, the male and female may become stuck and face in different directions. This lock (the coital tie), can last between 5 and 30 minutes. This is necessary for successful fertilisation.  Vet’s often get a panic call from an owner stating that their dogs are stuck after mating, with a request of whether the dogs should be pulled apart. This should never be attempted. The female dog actually “locks in” the male dog, and trying to separate them by pulling them apart forcefully may cause severe damage. This process of “getting stuck” during mating is absolutely normal and nature should be left to run its course as the dogs will eventually come apart naturally.

Queens will allow mating repeatedly, resting around 20 minutes in between mating. The mating period in cats is very short as the tom has barbs on his penis which may cause discomfort for the female. The queen may also swipe at the tom during a mating. It is not unusual for a tomcat to bite into the scruff of the queen’s neck during the mating process.

As the receptive period of both the bitch and queen stretches over a few days and more than one egg is released to be fertilised, it is quite possible for different males to mate with them during this time, and therefore for the puppies or kittens to have different fathers.

It is important to note that dogs and cats should preferably only be mated once they are one year old.

In the next article, we will look at Pregnancy, Birth and potential complications of the process and the early days of kittens and puppies’ lives.

© 2018 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty.) Ltd.

Spaying / Neutering your pet

People will often refer to sterilising an animal or alternatively called spaying or neutering of a pet as a “snip-snip”. This makes it sound like it is a quick, outpatient procedure, which only takes a few minutes and only cost a few rand. Nothing could be further away from the truth. Spaying or neutering pets is a full-blown surgical operation which requires a general anaesthetic.

Prior to surgery, all patients receive a pre-anaesthetic physical examination. Potential anaesthetic risks are assessed and potential problems may be discussed with the pet owner at the time of admission or will result in a phone call to the pet owner where it will be discussed. In most cases the animal is required to be admitted early in the morning to have the surgery performed later in the day. In many cases the vet may not be seen at the time of admission to the veterinary practice but should the vet pick up any potential anaesthetics risks during the consultation and full examination, which is performed before the operation, the owner will be contacted.

The procedures are performed under “general anaesthesia”. The pet sleeps painlessly through the entire surgical procedure. Anaesthesia choices used in our hospital are the same as those used in humans undergoing major surgery. Newer inhalant anaesthetic choices like isofluorane are reported to be ten times safer in older pets than other choices like intravenous anaesthesia only which were previously used in veterinary clinics and practices.

Surgery is performed in an operating theatre equipped with oxygen and ventilation equipment. All surgery is done using sterile gloves and surgical instruments. In female animals, the abdominal cavity is entered during the procedure so sterility of the environment and the surgeons and their assistants are vitally important. During the operation the vet has to tie off several blood vessels and structures, which obviously carries the risk of an animal bleeding after the surgery should something go wrong. We are committed to quality and therefore maintain high standards for sterility, anaesthesia and surgical procedures. After surgery, veterinary support staff carefully monitors each patient until fully awake and stable.

So what happens at the time of surgery in female animals? In female animals the proper term and procedure for this operation is an ovariohysterectomy. During this operation both the ovaries and the uterus are removed. This operation required the surgeon to make an incision through the abdominal wall and go right into it to access the ovaries, which sit very close to the kidneys and the uterus which also connects up with the bladder at its lower point. The ovaries are the organs where “eggs” or ova are produced which, during mating, meets up with the male’s sperm to cause an animal to “fall pregnant” and for a new baby to be formed. The uterus is the “home” of the baby animal during pregnancy. If the uterus was removed on its own so the animal can’t carry any more babies, the ovaries would have been left behind which would still cause the body to produce “eggs”. This process causes major hormonal changes in the dog’s or cat’s body which lead to the signs of “being on heat”. A female dog or cat which is on heat, attracts male animals of the same species, sometimes even from miles away. Cats, and more so dogs, have a very acute sense of smell and can smell the female animal on heat, even from kilometers away. This may lead to “unwanted visitors” to your property and in cats especially, will cause male cats to fight – which could potentially lead to infections, abscesses and even feline AIDS. If you sterilise your pet, you will save them and yourself a lot of anxiety and aggravation. Further to this, the incidences of mammary cancer or potentially lethal uterus infections are dramatically reduced by spaying a queen or bitch at a young age (the younger the better but preferably before two and a half years of age). By far the biggest advantage of having your female animal spayed is the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and having unwanted puppies or kittens brought into this world.

In male animals the proper term and procedure to sterilise a male animal is castration, which is the surgical removal of both testicles. The testicles are removed because they are the major source of male hormones, which cause aggression, sexual interest and urine marking of territory. Neutering your male pet provides significant advantage because most of the dominant male behaviour “goes” when the castration has been done. A major advantage of having a dog castrated at a young age is that the incidence of prostate cancer and other prostate problems later on in life is significantly reduced.

No pet is dismissed from the hospital until the vet is satisfied that it has fully recovered from the surgery and anaesthesia. Fortunately animals usually recover very well after this operation and very little care is required at home after hospital discharge. Pets usually go home the same day on which the surgery is performed. Sometimes your pet may shiver or be a bit groggy and disorientated after the operation so make sure they are in a safe warm environment when they get home.

The sutures which are used to tie off blood vessels and internal organ structures dissolve by themselves. Usually the sutures which are placed in the abdominal wall and skin do not dissolve and the skin sutures require removal within 10 – 14 days after the operation. This procedure is included in the initial fee.

So next time, you think of getting a pet and having it sterilised with a quick “snip-snip”, think again. It is not as simple as that. Because it is a once in a lifetime operation for your pet, with all the potential associated risk of general anaeasthesia and surgery, make sure you get it done right and get it done properly.

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