Your pet’s once a year health check-up

Many people wonder why vets recommend having a once a year check-up for pets. There are many reasons but probably the most important is that the average dog or cat ages by approximately seven “dog/cat years” for every human year. It may differ slightly from breed to breed and usually cats and small breed dogs age slower than large breed dogs. The average life expectancy of a large breed dog is about twelve years whereas cats and smaller breed dogs can quite comfortably live to eighteen years. Just like in humans where the average life expectancy has increased dramatically over the last twenty years because of better healthcare, proper nutrition and a general improvement in living conditions, so has the life expectancy of our pets. Animals which are kept as domestic pets live a much more sheltered lifestyle than their wild counterparts, where there is little protection from natural predators and harsh environmental conditions. Nutrition for pets has also become a much more advanced science than in years gone by and these days it is quite common to find specialised diets for life stages, breed types and conditions. The average quality of life and life expectancy in large breed dogs who suffer from arthritis has been substantially increased because of specialised diets catering for their particular needs.

One of the major reasons why the life expectancy of our pets has increased is because of proper parasite control. External parasites like fleas or ticks, which can carry life threatening protozoal diseases like Billiary Fever, are effectively controlled by the use of products specifically designed to kill and control the populations of these parasites. Products used and recommended by vets are highly specialised in their design and millions of rands are spent on making sure these products are safe for our pets and are lethal only to the parasites they are intended to control.

Infectious diseases, which at one point in time were considered to be a normal progression of life and which killed many domestic pets, can now be very effectively controlled by vaccination protocols which are recommended and used by vets. There are regional differences in the occurrence of certain diseases and your local vet is the best person to advise you as to which diseases are more prominent in an area and should be more vigilantly protected against by vaccination or other precautionary measures. There are also breed predilections and interactions between breeds where the intelligent application of the correct pro-active care can ensure a long and healthy life for your pet.

The role of the vet in the once a year visit for a health check-up is very much the same as that of your GP. The vet will do a full clinical examination of your pet from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail. Vets are properly trained to look at the finer nuances of conditioning which may indicate imminent disease. This may include things like:

  1. the condition of the skin and coat of your pet, and checking for the presence or signs of presence of external parasites;
     
  2. the condition of your pets’ teeth and checking with your on their eating and toilet habits;
     
  3. the appearance of the mucous membranes like the gums and conjunctive of the eyes (the inner part of the eyelid);
     
  4. the habitus of your pet, meaning its general state of alertness; 
     
  5. the posture and movement of your pet; 
     
  6. your pet’s heart and breathing rate and the sound of the heart i.e. is it a clear lub-dub or are there muffled heart sounds indicating a murmur or heart valve disease; 
     
  7. the condition of the eyes and the functioning of the pupils and tear producing systems of the eyes; 
     
  8. the condition and appearance of the ears; 
     
  9. the condition of the lymph nodes around the body (lymph nodes are like remote army bases around the body and is usually the first port of call for defence when a localised infection develop), for example if there is an infection in the toes or pads of one of the back feet, the popliteal lymph node, which sits in the back part of the leg behind the knee, will become swollen and enlarged;
     
  10. the condition of the intestines and abdominal organs. Usually the vet will do an abdominal palpation (feeling with the hands) by placing the hands on either side of the body behind the chest and then sliding the hands backwards whilst pushing inwardly with the fingers. Because vets do this every day they have a very good reference for feeling when there are potential problems like obstructions, tumours (cancers), enlargement of organs, discomfort or any other abnormalities; 
     
  11. checking the temperature to make sure that there are no imminent signs of underlying infections or conditions.

The list is by no means a comprehensive list of the things the vet may do during the annual health check but touches on some of the important systems which the vet may want to examine during the annual check-up. In most cases the vet will recommend and do vaccinations for diseases which are endemic to the area in which you live and will also do internal parasite control like deworming your animal.

You can imagine that if you see your doctor once in every seven years then it will usually be considered a long time between health checks. Therefore it is imperative that your pet visits the vet once a year for his or her health exam so that the vet can detect potential problems early and advise you on the correct nutrition and care for your pet.

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

Why is my dog limping with his hind leg?

Patellar luxation is a condition where the knee cap does not run in its groove but slips off to the side. Luxation is a learned word for “slipping”. It is a condition which is regularly encountered in dogs and more commonly in toy breeds. The condition can be developmental or traumatic in origin.

To understand the condition better, it helps to know what the anatomy of the knee looks like. The patella is commonly known as the knee cap and sits at the bottom of the big muscle group of the upper front part of the hind leg called the quadriceps. The patella makes up the front part of the knee and glides in the middle groove of the big bone of the upper part of the hind leg, the femur. This groove is known as the trochlear groove. The groove looks like a valley with two mountain ridges on either side. The ridges on either side of the groove are known as the trochlear ridges. The ridge on the inner part of the leg is known as the medial trochlear ridge and the one on the outer part is known as the lateral trochlear ridge. The knee cap or patella fits nicely in between these two ridges and glides up and down the groove as the knee bends. The patella is stabilised by the big muscle group to the top of it, the strong ligament to the bottom of it and the ligaments and connective tissue to the sides of it. The patella ligament which sits below the patella, implants onto the front of the top part of the bone underneath the femur, the tibia, also known as the shin bone.  

Patellar luxation occurs when the patella slips out of the trochlear groove, usually when the leg is flexed or bent.

Medial Patellar Luxation

This is where the patella slides off towards the inside of the leg. It is more commonly seen in small breed dogs like Boston terriers, Yorkshire terriers, Chihuahuas, Pomeranians Miniature Poodles and Pekingese. The condition is also often seen bi-laterally, which means it affects both hind limbs. 

Patellar luxation results in discomfort and reduced functional usage of the affected limb.  

There are numerous reasons why this conditions occurs which are mostly related to anatomical problems like the groove in which the patella runs being too shallow, or the ridges on either side of the groove not going up high enough to prevent the patella from slipping over them, to the front top part of the shin bone not aligning well with the bottom part of the femur and instead of running in a nice straight line, the patella is continuously pulled off to one side as the leg moves backwards and forwards. 

Because the anatomy is passed on from one generation to the next, it is not a good idea to breed with an animal affected by this condition. 

Dogs who suffer from this condition have different symptoms. Some will show no symptoms whatsoever and a routine examination will show that the patellae are slipping off to the side whereas other dogs will be limping lame and will hardly be able to take any weight on the affected leg. Owners of affected dogs often complain that the patient carries the hind limb in the air for a few steps, and then shakes or straightens the leg, after which they can take weight on it again. Stretching of the leg aids in returning the patella into its normal position inside the trochlear groove, and once this is done the patient will be more comfortable and carry weight on the leg again.

A diagnosis is often made by the vet feeling up and down the knee and using the fingers to move the patella from side to side and attempt to slip the patella in and out of its groove. The relative anatomical positions of the big muscle group (the quadriceps), the trochlear groove, the patellar ligament and upper front part of the shin bone (the tibeal tuberosity) should also be assessed. Light sedation may be required to assess the integrity of the ligaments of the knee joint. X rays of the hips, knees and lower limbs will aid in diagnosing any other conformational abnormalities or bony changes. At least two X ray views are required to see the bones and joints from different angles.

Four grades of patellar luxation can be distinguished:

Grade 1: The patella can by hand be manipulated out of the trochlear groove but spontaneously returns. This grade shows minimal clinical signs.

Grade 2: There is spontaneous movement of the patella out of the trochlear groove but it can easily be replaced back into the groove by manipulation or by itself. This grade often goes hand in hand with symptoms described as a ‘skipping’ type lameness. The patella, when slipping out the groove, causes the dog to keep the leg in the air and when it slips back into the groove, the dog takes weight on the leg again. Over time, the cartilage surface underneath the patella and on top of the trochlea is damaged which allows progression to Grade three.

Grade 3: The patella is out of the trochlear groove permanently but can be manipulated back into position but usually slips back out of position as soon as the leg is bent or straightened. Bony deformities are usually present and there is inward rotation of the tibia. Usually a trained hand can feel that the trochlear groove is shallow.

Grade 4: The patella sits outside the trochlear groove permanently and cannot be manipulated back into the groove. Early surgical correction is critical to limit bony and ligamentous deformities which make surgery more challenging.

Damage to the cartilage may take place as the patella continues to slip in and out of the trochlear groove, exposing the bone and resulting in arthritis and pain. With the patella luxating, the cranial cruciate ligament, which is a ligament within the knee joint, is also placed under more strain due to the fact that the patella, if it sits in its normal position in front of the knee, provides stability for the joint. When the patella slips to the side it puts a lot more strain on the ligaments inside the knee and this can cause the ligament inside the knee to tear.

Grade one and two are recurrent luxations. With grade three and four, the patella is usually permanently luxated from the trochlear groove. Surgical correction is considered for grade two luxations when there are significant enough clinical signs to warrant it. In cases of grade three and four luxations surgery is recommended early on to limit damage to the bones and ligaments and progressive skeletal deformity and osteoarthritis. Surgical correction is often more challenging when cranial cruciate ligament disease or hip dysplasia is present.

There are several different strategies that are used singularly or in combination, to correct the luxating patella, and the technique used will depend on severity of the condition as well as the conformational abnormalities present. The surgeon will take all of this into consideration when choosing a particular technique. 

  • Soft tissues around the patella are reconstructed, so that the side to which the patella is slipping is loosened and the opposite side tightened 
  • Deepening the trochlear groove to enhance better positioning of the patella
  • Moving the front, upper part of the shin bone so that the patella ligament runs in a straight line from the top rather than being pulled to the side. 

Lateral Patellar Luxation

Lateral patellar luxation is more commonly seen in young large and giant breed dogs (Great Danes, St Bernards and Irish Wolfhounds). This is where the patella slips towards the outside of the leg.

The main cause of this condition is poor conformation most notably knock knees. Because it is related to the confirmation of the dog, both knees are usually affected at the same time. Intermittent luxation and reduction of the patella in the young and adult animal will result in progressive wearing of the outer trochlear ridge, a shallower trochlear groove and increased instability of the patella. 

Clinical signs can be present from as early as 5 to 6 months of age. Physical examination of the knee joint is often diagnostic and the patella can be felt slipping to the outside of the leg (luxating laterally), but it is often reducible. Just as with a medially luxating patella the cranial cruciate ligament and ligaments to the side of the knee joint should also be assessed. Oftentimes there will be a laxity of the inner side ligament of the knee due to the chronic outer rotation of the limb at the knee joint. X rays are also required to assess potential damage, and/or deformities of the hips, the femurs and the shin bones, which are often more severe than with medial patellar luxation. Three dimensional Computed tomography (CT) may aid in planning where the shape of the femur or tibea needs to be surgically corrected. 

The Grading system (1 to 4) for medial patellar luxations also applies for lateral patellar luxations.

Feeding ultra-premium diets with the correct calcium and phosphorus ratio, will aid in maintaining a slow growth rate, which has been proven to have a favourable effect in minimising hip dysplasia and other bone growth abnormalities, which could complicate and contribute to patellar luxation.

Surgery is the treatment of choice for lateral patellar luxation. 

Post operatively 

Over 90% of owners are satisfied with the progress of their dog after surgery.

For medial and lateral patellar luxations, soft padded bandages are used to aid in reducing the swelling post operatively. Removal of bandages after 3 to 5 days to allow full joint motion is encouraged. Pain medication is used as a matter of course. 

Weight bearing post operatively is desired as soon as possible, as some toy breeds develop the habit of carrying the operated limb in the air. Swimming and hydrotherapy is a good way to encourage movement without having to take weight on the leg shortly after the operation. Restricted movement and leash walks are encouraged for the first 4 to 6 weeks (to promote adequate bone healing). No running and jumping is allowed. Depending on the size of the dog and the severity of the surgery required to correct the problem, dogs operated on one side should usually start taking weight on the affected leg within 10 to 14 days after surgery. 

The prognosis for Grade one and two luxations is usually good. For grade three and four luxations the prognosis is fair to good, especially if the luxations were treated early in the patient’s life. Should the condition have been there for a long time with significant bony changes, the prognosis is more guarded. Secondary arthritic changes and cranial cruciate trauma could complicate long term function.

Osteoarthritis in the affected knee still progresses even after surgery regardless of the grade of luxation at presentation and therefore, depending on the degree, there may always be some degree of discomfort in the joint after surgery.  

The prognosis for luxations in large breed dogs is less favourable especially when combined with angular deformities of long bones, or hip dysplasia. 

Regular check-ups with the vet will ensure early detection and treatment to ensure your dog has the best chance of receiving the correct treatment and the best possible chance of recovery, should it suffer from patellar luxation. 

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

 

 

Socialisation – The Critical Period

Vets recognise the importance of looking at animals not only from a health point of view, but from a holistic point of view where the animal’s health is but one part of the overall wellbeing of the animal. Aspects like nutrition, shelter, behaviour and training form as an important part of an animal’s overall wellbeing as the physical and medical condition of the animal. Our domestic pets are kept as companions and the success of a pet in a household is not only measured by its longevity and health, but also how it fits into the home and interacts with the rest of the members of the household. More importantly, most pets do not stay confined to their home all the time, but often go out with the owner and interact with other animals and human beings. Just as there are rules for humans for good and acceptable public behaviour, so there are rules for good animal behaviour.

In light of this, socialisation classes can be seen as a “vaccination against bad behaviour” in the future. It cannot prevent all bad or unaceptable behaviour, just as vaccinations cannot always prevent all disease; but with the correct input at the right time, as well as constant boosting, this type of “vaccination” can be highly effective in producing a well-adapted, stable and confident animal.

Many studies illustrate that certain time frames within the development phase have a high level of influence over the rest of the animal’s life. Researchers have determined three to sixteen weeks as the most influential period in terms of socialisation for the dog; and two to seven weeks as the corresponding period for cats. There has been some controversy over the exact dates of this critical period, but certainly there is unanimous agreement that early experiences prior to adolescence are of fundamental importance in shaping your pet’s personality.

Between 10 days and three weeks of age the puppy’s eyes and ears begin to open, and so the bombardment of the senses begins. At this stage the experience of life really begins, and can have a massive and lasting effect. If puppies are over-stimulated during this period they can become restless individuals, with a tendency for hyperactivity. Conversely, if they are under-stimulated they can become over-reactive to stimuli and show fearful responses later on in life.

From about three weeks of age the puppy begins to learn about social interaction with other dogs, other species and people. Social play becomes evident, and the pup begins to acquire skills which enable him to read the body language of other animals and to respond appropriately. Bear in mind that some breeds of dogs, such as Border Collies, like to engage in chasing games; while others, like Rottweilers, prefer to wrestle. Being exposed to different types of play will help your puppy to relate to and understand other dogs better in his life as an adult. Your puppy will be able to read the signals for play without feeling threatened. This is a very important process to help avoid unnecessary aggression or fear later in life.

Socialisation is also very important from a health point of view because it helps the veterinarian not only to treat your animal more easily, but also aids in diagnosis. For example, an animal that is extremely nervous in the consultation room can show dramatic increases in heart rate, breathing rate and may even cry out when touched. This makes diagnosing specific problems or areas of pain more difficult than in the relaxed animal. Very aggressive animals often need to be muzzled or sedated, making the diagnostic process more complicated.

Puppies in the socialisation phase must be exposed to as many different people as possible. Some trainers advise arranging that the puppy meet a hundred people before three months of age. As most puppies only go to their new homes at two months of age, this number probably sounds rather daunting. It is however an admirable goal and one that can be achieved more easily than one would think with the help of puppy school or a few well timed braais at home! Even taking a puppy to a nearby open air restaurant where dogs are allowed will help to expose it to a lot of people because most people just cannot resist puppies. Care must be taken with puppies until they have had at least two vaccinations. Trips to the park or markets or even puppy school must be avoided until these have been given or the risk of disease is increased. Visitors at home are encouraged, as are outings to safe places with a small population of vaccinated dogs.

It is important that the puppy sees and hears a vast range of different things, but only in a controlled and safe environment. For example, if the puppy plays with a dog that is too rough, and the owner is not on hand to monitor the play, then the experience can do more harm than good. Similarly, if a puppy is exposed to the sound of a radio but the volume is not controlled and gradually increased, there is a risk that the puppy would become afraid and have a negative association with this sound. It is necessary to be aware of stimuli which may be frightening for an animal. For example, a puppy exposed to people cheering on their favourite  sports team on television, or shouting abuse at the opposition or referee , may very well cause the puppy to hide in a corner with this behaviour being repeated every time  the television is switched on.

Some dogs are more predisposed to aggression than others, and socialisation is more vital in certain breeds. In general, extra effort is required in large breed dogs, as they tend to be more difficult to manage when they become adults. Breeds with a reputation for aggressive or dominant behavior include Rottweilers, Boerboels, Pitbulls, Anatolian Shepherds and German Shepherd dogs. Boerboels, for example, were bred to protect the ox wagons during the Great Trek so the protective instinct is deeply instilled in them. There is still a place for this trait in the modern day, but with a change in lifestyle trends towards smaller properties and more confined spaces, it becomes the owner’s responsibility to manage this tendency for aggression and also ensure that the dog gets sufficient physical exercise.

Anxiety-prone and highly active dogs will also benefit hugely from a higher degree of socialisation. These include Weimeraners and Huskies. Temperament has approximately sixty five percent heritability, so any pup from parents that have had social adaptation problems will require extra effort due to the genetic tendency.

A puppy’s behavior may change significantly as he matures, and temperament is only considered to really be established after three years of age. For this reason, no matter how cute and cuddly your puppy may be at six weeks, it is worthwhile to invest in his personality by socializing him at the time when it will have the biggest effect on his future – between three to sixteen weeks of age. Your efforts during this time will be paid off by allowing your puppy to become what he is meant to be – man’s best friend.

© 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.

Behaviour difficulties

“Man’s best friend.” The reason why dogs have been described like this over centuries is because of their unwavering loyalty and their good nature towards humans. However now and again, behavioural problems crop up in pet dogs which cause many people to dispute whether dogs are really man’s best friend. Behavioural problems can range from aggression, to destructive behaviour like chewing and digging, to house soiling. Some of these problems can be blamed on uninformed and uninvolved owners who do not spend the time to properly socialise and do basic training when they first acquire their dogs as puppies.

Some behavioural problems are age related and usually associated with young animals. If that is the case, these problems are likely to disappear once the animal gets older – however the old adage of “bend the tree when it is still young” is very relevant. If bad behaviour is not addressed in the correct manner at a young age, such behaviour can actually become embedded and very difficult to alter as the animal ages. Some behavioural problems are genetic and in these instances it would be very difficult to alter unwanted behaviour. We talk about unwanted behaviour because such behaviour is usually considered to be unacceptable in the context of the circumstances in which the dogs is kept. In many cases this behaviour was actually the basis for selection of certain character traits of a specific breed of dog. An example would be a Jack Russel Terrrier which was bred to hunt hares and go down holes in the ground to hunt after them. Therefore, if a Jack Russel has “attention deficit” when it comes to obedience when there are critters around them in the garden and they cannot resist the temptation to dig and the owner is irritated and upset with this “unwanted” behaviour then one has to remember that this was what these dogs were bred to do in the first place. Expecting of a Jack Russel to behave like a lap dog whilst they are in actual fact little hunters is not only unfair but sets the tone for a disastrous relationship of misunderstanding. Alas the behavioural problem may in actual fact be brought about by not researching the breeds properly in advance and knowing what to expect from the relationship. Another example of “unwanted” behavioural traits is aggression towards other dogs. There is a strong breed predilection in this regard with many larger terrier types and the one with the worst reputation is the Pit Bull Terrier. Most Pit Bull owners will tell you that this breed has the gentlest nature towards the owner and humans. However when it comes to other dogs, aggression towards other dogs was one of the characteristics chosen with the development of this breed. Hence aggression to other dogs has been bred into the fiber of their DNA and trying to make a “lover out of a fighter” just goes against the grain of this breed to start out with. It is not impossible to train such a dog differently but its natural inclination would be to be very aggressive towards other dogs.

Aggression towards humans is a very different and serious problem which needs urgent intervention. Should your dog show aggression towards you, act swiftly and decisively by a stern reprimand. Should this not have the desired effect then consult with your vet for assistance.

It should be clear that defining what you want from the relationship with your dog is very important before you acquire a dog. Then once you have decided what it is you want, do thorough research to make sure that the breed you have in mind has a natural inclination towards the character traits you are looking for.

Even though dogs and humans have lived together for thousands of years misunderstandings can still occur between them from time to time, which leads to unhappiness for all concerned. Understanding the nature and social make up of dogs is a good starting point to create meaningful and joyful relationships. Dogs are pack animals who function well when the natural structure of a pack is maintained. Dogs thrive when they function in the constraints of a properly structured pack.

Dogs are social and like to interact with people and other dogs. Your dog will do what you want it to do if it earns him praise or petting and he considers you to be the leader of his pack. All dog packs have a leader dog that makes decisions for the rest of the group. Other dogs are subordinate to the leader. Your dog should never think he is the leader in your house. You are the one who should decide when to eat, when to go out, when to play and when to be quiet. Most human psychologists tell us that children function well when they are given boundaries. Dogs are no different. When they know where the boundaries are they experience security. When there are no boundaries, dogs are likely to wreak havoc. Setting boundaries does not mean your dog will never push them. Therefore being strict with a dog that steps over the boundaries is likely to produce a well behaved companion and pet. Many behavioural problems are a direct result of a lack of leadership on the part of the owner.

Dogs behave better when they have a leader who takes charge. Taking charge in a firm but loving way has the ultimate benefit of a much happier pooch. Your dog will feel loved when the social hierarchy is clear and where he knows where he stands within it. He is likely to feel safe when he knows his place in the pack and when he knows you are the leader. Sometimes it may be hard to take charge as the route of least resistance is often not to step up to the plate and take charge. Just letting things go may seem like a good idea to create a relaxed atmosphere in your home, however it may have dire consequences. To truly make your dog your best friend, you sometimes have to be willing to be cruel to be kind. An easy way of establishing your dominance in the pack hierarchy is to make sure you position yourself physically higher than the dog. Dogs interpret an increase in height as an increase in status. Dogs that sleep up on the bed are especially impressed with themselves. Keep dominant dogs on the floor, not up on the chairs, couches, or bed. If you want to cuddle, get down on the floor, ask for obedience, and then pet when your dog complies.

Another way of establishing your leadership is by “taking the lead”. The pack leader has priority, meaning they get to push out the door first to get something they want. This is why a lot of dogfights occur at doorways over who gets to go out first. Control the space in front of the dog and you control the dog. Use body blocks or head toward a door or doorway and then suddenly turn and go the other way if your dog tries to get ahead of you. This puts you back in the lead. Praise and pet your dog when it starts to turn around after you and keep moving until it reaches you. Practice this as you move around the house until your dog is content to stay behind you and follow your lead.

When you take your dog outside your home teach your dog the classic position of heel. Teach your dog to stay at your side while you initiate pace and direction. In order to teach a dog this position it is often wise to take your dog to puppy classes from 8 weeks of age. Puppy socialisation classes are like the “kindergarten” of dog training schools. Here your puppy can play and romp around with other puppies and socialise in a non-threatening and controlled environment. This sets the stage for very basic training like “sit”, “stay”, “down” and “heel” which once again sets the scene for more advanced obedience training should this be something you would like to pursue. Basic puppy training is a must for anyone wanting a meaningful and pleasant relationship with their dog. Advanced obedience training is for people who want to take dog training to the next level and is not a pre-requisite for having a relaxed harmonious relationship with their dog. Many adverse behavioural problems can also be prevented and curbed at a very young age, before they blow up into major problems by starting off with puppy socialisation and basic puppy training classes.

Dogs are very sensitive to body language and visual cues. Actions that you don’t think much about, may communicate a message to your dog which you never intended to do!  For instance, two people talking face to face are confrontational in a dog’s body language. Standing side by side is not. You can learn to take advantage of nonverbal clues to your dog.

It’s not good to cater to your dog. Your dog’s behaviour should drive your decisions on how to treat him. If your dog has always been a perfect gentleman, you may not need to change a thing you are doing. Using food as a reward for learning new commands is a good idea, but don’t give a food reward every time.  Giving food intermittently means your dog will perform commands for you even when you don’t have food, and also prevents weight gain. Keep all training positive and consistent.

Playful biting is a natural behaviour for dogs when interacting in a friendly and social environment. However if your dog bites you in any other way than a very gentle and playful way you should discourage this behaviour by totally ignoring him for two days to notify him there’s been a change in the household and the “rules of the game”. Don’t speak to him or look at him, even when feeding or letting him out. Applying “social distance” when your pet is misbehaving and rewarding him with praise and attention only when he is good, is the key to good behaviour. Reward the behaviour you want to see continued!

When your dog does what he is supposed to do, reward him by praising him and by petting him. Keep it brief and pet only for obedience. When your dog behaves well and responds to your commands, reward this good behaviour by focused attention. Attention should be on your terms. If your dog demands petting which is not on your terms, ignore this behaviour by looking away and avoiding any physical contact. Should you want to interact with your dog you can give a command and only respond with further attention as soon as he has complied. Once he has, you can immediately pet or stroke him and praise him with a friendly voice like “good boy” or “good dog”.

Should you want to pet your dog, always initiate the interaction from your side. Your dog has a natural inclination to come to you and “ask” for affection. Responding to the dog every time it comes to you is like being trained by your dog and not vice versa. Be careful not to be tempted to respond with attention and affection every time your dog approaches you. If you did not initiate the interaction then ignore the dog when he comes to you. Only pet your dog when you call it to you. Do not go to the dog when you want to pet it as this sets the behavioural pattern in the dog’s mind of “training the owner to come and pet me whenever I feel like interaction”. Don’t let your dog demand play, food, or petting. If your dog gets pushy, simply cross your arms, turn your head upward and to the side away from the dog. If your dog counters by moving to your other side, turn your head the other way. This is good practice to do any time your dog approaches you if he is very dominant and pushy. It is especially important if your dog has shown any aggression towards you.

A good solid “down” and “stay” is one of the best learning tools. It teaches your dog to be patient and to wait for your command. Start with one-second stays for the first few days, and work up to longer and longer ones. After three weeks, most dogs can handle a half-hour down stay during a quiet time of the day. Correct breaks with a body block or a downward leash correction — not by simply repeating “down” & “stay” over and over again. If your dog gets up 15 times, then correct it 15 times with the same actions and tone of voice. Do not include anger in your correction but be firm.

Following basic obedience training should make treating any other behavioural problems easier. A dog that looks to you for direction can be taught almost anything. It will be happy to work for what it wants and it helps keep its mind occupied constructively. Integrate this training into your day by asking your pet to perform some action whenever it wants to go outside, be fed, play ball, etc. Letting you be in charge will soon become second nature to the dog.

Most problem dog behaviours are NORMAL dog behaviours that are simply unacceptable to the humans they live with. Redirecting and retraining can make our canine companions better and happier pets.

Before you acquire a dog, do proper research by searching the internet or getting hold of some of the many good books on dog breeds and training. Make sure you select the correct breed that would match your personality, environment and relational requirements. Be cautious when approaching training as there are many philosophies of how to train a dog. Outdated or cruel methods are still widely available in print. Much progress has been made in the past few years in understanding how dogs think and learn. We are able to deal with problem behaviours much more effectively once we understand how a dog’s mind works. Read more than one book and pick the methods that make the most sense to you. Consult with your vet if you are having problems. In severe cases, you may be referred to a pet behavioural specialist.

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

My young cat seems ill

Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is a serious and most often fatal disease affecting cats. It is most commonly seen in young cats between the ages of six months and two years. It has been found to affect male cats more commonly than females and purebred cats particularly the Asian breeds are more susceptible. It is characterised by fluid build-up in body cavities such as the chest and abdomen and neurological signs. It can affect all major organs and inevitably results in death. It may be referred to as Feline coronavirus polyserositis (wet or effusive form) or granulomatous feline infectious peritonitis (dry or non effusive form).

How is FIP transmitted?

FIP is caused by the Feline Corona Virus (FCoV). The Feline Corona Virus is commonly found in the environment and many cats may be carriers or infected with the Feline Corona Virus although only a small percentage may develop FIP. The Feline Corona Virus is more commonly found in multi cat households and catteries than in homes with less than five cats.

The Feline Corona Virus occurs in the cat’s intestinal cells. In some cases, it spontaneously mutates from a benign, and minimally pathogenic (meaning that it is hardly harmful) virus to a lethal killer. No two cats are infected with exactly the same virus as there are many different mutations and the mutation depends on the cat’s immune response. Feline Corona Virus is mainly passed on by contact with an infected cat’s stool. It may also be passed on from a queen to her kittens during pregnancy. Humans can also play a role in transmission as the virus can be carried on clothes, shoes and food bowls for a short period of time.

Stress in cats may increase the risk of contracting Feline Corona Virus.  Vaccinations, elective surgery, a new home and inadequate nutrition may all play a role. The Feline enteric Corona Virus causes self-limiting diarrhoea in cats. This means the disease usually clears by itself, without requiring treatment. FIP is the virulent mutation and is fatal.

What are the symptoms of FIP?

Feline Corona Virus has a spectrum of symptoms. It ranges from cats becoming non-carriers and completely clearing the virus to cats developing life-threatening FIP. There are two main forms of FIP that have been described. The first is the wet or effusive form, which is characterised by the build up of fluid in different body cavities. The second is a dry or non-effusive form, where cats develop granulomas or masses in organs such as the kidneys, lymph nodes, brain and eyes.

Many cats present with non-specific signs such as lethargy or weakness, poor appetite and weight loss as well as a cyclical fever (where the animal’s temperature goes up and down). There may be a history of stunted growth or the cat repeatedly being on antibiotics. Cats with the wet form of FIP may have difficulty breathing or have a swollen tummy due to the accumulation of a thick yellow fluid in the chest or abdomen. Cats with the dry form of FIP develop signs associated with the occurrence of masses in particular organs. These signs may include cloudy eyes, seisures and other neurological signs such as changes in behaviour. Watery stools are seen only occasionally and some cats may become jaundiced with a yellow discolouration of the gums, the eyes and the skin which can be seen most clearly on the inside of the ears.

How is FIP diagnosed?

FIP is a disease where the confirmation of the diagnosis is difficult and many times the disease can only be confirmed 100% if the animal has died. One of the reasons is because the initial stages of the disease looks very similar to and needs to be differentiated from the more common and usually harmless Feline Corona Virus. The diagnosis is based on a combination of non-specific and specific clinical signs as well as a compatible history, age and breed of the cat, indications of possible exposure different diagnostic tests. Seeing as there is no definitive test as for some other viral diseases, it can be quite a challenge to rule out other possibly diseases. In the wet form of the disease, the fluid can be tested which makes the diagnostic process easier.

Sometimes the only way to make a definitive diagnosis on a living animal is to surgically sample organs such as the intestines under general anaesthetic.  Blood tests, X-rays, an eye and neurological exam will help narrow down the diagnosis but unfortunately cannot confirm the diagnosis one hundred percent.

What is the prognosis once a diagnosis is made?

Sadly, FIP is a disease which cannot be cured and more often than not results in death. If a cat has been diagnosed with the wet form, one can expect a two-month survival. The dry form may have a more chronic course, but in most cases is still fatal.

Is FIP treatable?

FIP cannot be cured. Once a cat has been diagnosed, it is managed symptomatically and supportively. Euthanasia may often be the kindest option. With the wet form, the fluid may need to be drained from the chest or abdomen. The cat may need oxygen. They are often dehydrated so will need intravenous fluids. Immunosuppressive drugs such as corticosteroids and antiviral drugs may be prescribed, but the success of treatment is usually poor.  The cat may often require long courses of antibiotics to prevent the occurrence of secondary infections.

Environmental management plays an important role in supportive therapy.  This includes reducing stress and ensuring that the cat has a safe place to sleep and hide. Nutritional support is also important and includes things such as feeding soft food, warming the food and possibly hand feeding the cat.  

Once the disease becomes debilitating and weight and appetite decline, one should be prepared for the inevitable and strongly consider euthanasia as dying from FIP does appear to be painful.

Is FIP preventable?

In order to prevent FIP, one needs to try and prevent infection with Feline Corona Virus, which is nearly impossible. The good news is that not all strains of corona virus cause FIP, but reducing the transmission is still important.

There is a vaccine available but it has not been found to be very effective.  This is due to there being so many variations in the mutation of Feline Corona Virus and unfortunately these mutations are very difficult to predict.

Keeping cat numbers down in a household remains an important control method. It has been found that households with fewer than five cats are less exposed to contracting Feline Corona Virus and they tend to clear the infection quicker without being re-infected. In shelters and breeding catteries this becomes more difficult. An early weaning practice has been suggested in breeding colonies, where the queen is separated from the rest of the group one to two weeks before she gives birth. The kittens are weaned early at five to six weeks and kept isolated from the rest of the colony. In shelters, transmission is lowered where cats are kept separately but again this is not always possible as space is often limited and the virus is carried on clothes, feed bowls and cleaning equipment. The levels of Feline Corona virus may be decreased by general cleanliness, fewer cats and cleaning the litter boxes frequently. 

If a cat has been diagnosed and died, one should try and wait three months before getting a new cat as the virus can survive in the environment for a short period of time. In multi cat households, this is difficult, as most cats would have been exposed to the sick animal before it was diagnosed. FIP remains a challenging disease to manage as it is difficult to diagnose, there is no cure and it is easily transmitted between cats in the form of the non-mutated Feline Corona Virus. Keeping cat numbers down remains an important method of control as well as allowing an adequate waiting period before introducing a new cat into a household.

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

Hand Rearing Young Animals – A Basic Guideline

The birth of a litter is a very exciting event, but it is also a huge responsibility for the owner, as many things can go wrong. Besides the birth process itself, problems can occur with the young animals due to birth defects, infections, or insufficient mothering care. In these cases hand rearing may be necessary.

There is a huge amount of commitment required for hand rearing. The main principles of concern are providing correct nutrition; temperature control; good hygiene; and monitoring urination and defecation.

The first milk produced by the mother is called COLOSTRUM. This is thick and creamy milk that contains antibodies. In the first 24 to 36 hours of life young animals can absorb these antibodies directly (instead of digesting them like a protein would normally be). In this way immunity is passed from the mother to her offspring. It is VERY important that newborn animals ingest colostrum. If they do not, their chances of survival are dramatically decreased as they have inadequate resistance to infections. Colostrum intake is possibly the single most important factor in animal neonatal survival.

Very young animals may require feeding as often as every two hours. Newborn animals are very small and so their body reserves for energy are not well established. If food is not given frequently enough they can become hypoglycaemic (low blood sugar levels) and die. Some animals are able to suckle from a bottle and milk formula can be fed in this way. Sometimes the young animals are too weak to suckle, and so milk must be fed via a stomach tube. If it looks as if your young animal is not suckling vigorously then it is important to take it to the vet. It is not advisable to use a syringe for feeding, as this can increase the chances of spraying too much milk into the mouth. The same problem can also occur if the hole in the bottle teat is too large; or if the bottle is held at too much of an upward angle during feeding (it should be held only slightly higher than horisontal). When too much milk is in the animal’s mouth, the milk can go down the windpipe to the lungs, instead of down the oesophagus to the stomach, and cause pneumonia or inflammation and infection of the lungs. This lowers oxygen intake and decreases the young animal’s chances of survival.

To encourage suckling the teat can be held against the top of the animal’s mouth and then gently pulled backwards. This action stimulates the suckling reflex, and can be helpful if the suckling is very sluggish.

Milk formula is preferable to cow’s milk, because the milk for kittens and puppies should be higher in protein and fat than that which is produced for a calf. The milk formulae are made specifically for different species, as kittens and puppies have slightly different nutritional requirements. In the case of young rabbits, it is advised that kitten formula be used as it is richer, and more appropriate for this species than puppy formula. If no formula is available you can feed a homemade mixture made up of equal quantities of full cream dairy milk and egg yolk. It is important not to include the egg white as it causes a runny tummy (diarrhoea). It is important that the milk fed is given at body temperature, because food at the wrong temperature can also cause digestive upsets. It is advisable to boil the bottle and teat in water for a few minutes between every use to keep them as clean as possible.

The stomach capacity in puppies less than two weeks old is only about five ml per 100 grams of body weight. Therefore each feed should not exceed this amount or it will be more than the puppy can handle. The amount that young puppies require per day is about 20 ml per 100 grams of body mass in the first week; and 23 ml per 100 grams of body mass in the second week. This amount increases gradually every week.

Young animals can become dehydrated quickly, and a small amount of weight loss is significant. If a puppy loses ten percent of its birth weight in the first week of life then its chances of survival decrease. For this reason it is vital to get the young animal to the vet if it looks as if it is not eating properly; or if it is crying excessively; or showing signs of an upset tummy.

The small body size of newborn animals predisposes them to becoming cold. Besides this, they are not yet able to regulate their own temperature (this only begins at two to three weeks of age). It is necessary to provide a source of warmth that they can move closer to if they are cold, and move away from if they become too hot. A sign of cold puppies is when they huddle closely together, whereas puppies that lie far apart may be too hot. The ideal temperature for puppies and kittens in the first week of life is 29 – 31?C. In the second week this drops to 26-28?C, and continues to drop gradually as they grow older. Young animals must be kept out of draughts and if possible the air kept quite humid. This can be achieved by placing shallow pans of water around the area where the animals are kept.

Another important consideration when hand rearing young animals, is that they are unable to urinate and defecate without stimulation for the first three weeks of life. In nature a good mother will lick her offspring’s genital area, and other puppies may try to suckle here, which helps the puppy or kitten to pass stools (faeces) or urinate. Without these measures it is necessary to gently wipe the area under the tail and between the back legs with a piece of wet cotton wool. It is also advisable to hold the animal upright after feeding and stroke the back to encourage burping, as with a human baby.

It is clear that hand rearing a young animal requires a large amount of commitment and time, and even with the best care, survival of the initial period is not always possible. If you are concerned about your puppy or kitten it is important to consult the veterinarian sooner rather than later, as their resilience is less than an adult’s.

Finally, once the animal has gotten through the critical period and is eating successfully on its own, the next concern is ensuring adequate socialisation. The hand reared animal is not exposed to the natural environment of parents and siblings where hierarchies are established and normal behavior instilled, so extra care must be taken to ensure that your pet becomes a confident and well balanced survivor.

© 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.  

Dogs

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.

Cats

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.

Mating

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.

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