Travelling with your dog

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We travel with our dogs for a variety of reasons; it may just be for the occasional short trip to the vet or the park, but occasionally we also like to take our dogs on longer journeys or away on holiday with us. At Castle Vets we often get asked about the best way to transport dogs and how to prevent travel sickness and distress. The vast majority of dogs travel very well, but for some dogs travelling can be incredibly stressful, so here are a few tips and tricks that you may find useful.

Top tips for easy travel

  • Make sure that your dog is secure in your car. Your dog could cause an accident if it decides to jump into your lap while you are driving, and what happens to them if you have to hit the brakes and stop suddenly? There are many options available for safe travel, for example a car harness or a carrier on the back seats, or you could put them in the boot of the car behind a safety net or guard.
  • If possible, put a blanket or a towel under your dog as this will help them feel more secure and give them something comfortable to lie on (it will also help keep your car cleaner)
  • Exercise your dog before travelling so that he or she has had chance to go to the toilet and feels more relaxed.
  • Keep your dog’s lead on in the car, so that you have something to grab if he or she decides to race out the second you open the door.
  • Make sure your dog has an id tag on his or her collar and is micro chipped in case he or she escapes while you are away.
  • Sun screens on the rear windows will provide shade and help keep the car cooler while you are travelling.
  • If you are making a trip to the vets take some treats with you (as long as your dog isn’t poorly or having an operation) to ensure the car trip stays a positive experience.
  • Don’t forget to make sure you take some water and a water bowl for your dog. Dogs can get quite warm in the car, even over short distances, and especially if they are a little anxious about travelling, so they may require more water than usual.
  • If you are going on a long journey, make sure you have plenty of rest stops so that your dog can stretch its legs and go to the toilet. Also make sure that your dog has access to water at each stop.
  • Dogs die in hot cars! It can get unbearably hot in a car on a sunny day, even when it’s not that warm. In fact, when it’s 22°C outside, the temperature inside a car can soar to 47°C/117°F within 60 minutes. Make sure you keep the inside of the car as cool as possible. In a hot stuffy car dogs can’t cool down – leaving a window open or a sun shield on your windscreen won’t keep your car cool enough. 
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There are lots of options available to keep your dog safe in the car. Car harnesses are a good investment, but if you have a slightly nervous dog then a carrier or crate may be a better option.

Distressed dogs and Travel sickness

For most dogs, travel sickness is related to stress and anxiety rather than the motion of your car but like humans, dogs can also suffer from motion sickness which can very quickly lead to stress and anxiety, which in turn can make them feel sick, making it all a bit of a vicious cycle.  Symptoms may vary from dog to dog and they may show some, all, or a combination of these behaviours.

  • Constant drooling and looking miserable for the whole journey,
  • Shaking/Trembling
  • Barking and crying for the whole journey (although some dogs will bark out of excitement, especially if they usually end up at the park!)
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhoea during or after the journey.
  • Frantically trying to escape the car

To help prevent this, the first thing you need to do is to try and help your dog associate car journeys with positive and good things. This is not always a ‘quick fix’ and with some dogs and can take a little while. Don’t be tempted to move on to the next step until your dog is completely comfortable in the car and if you are having no success it may be wise to contact a dog behaviourist (your vet can recommend a good one) to help you with the situation.

  1. Get your dog used to just being in the car without it going anywhere. Initially this involves just sitting in the car for short periods and being rewarded with treats, cuddles and praise.
  2. Next try and put them where you want them to travel i.e. in their car harness on the back seat, or in a crate or in the boot of the car. Start with a few minutes and gradually build up this time over a week. Again offering praise and treats for calm behaviour.
  3. The next step is to turn on the engine, but don’t go anywhere. Repeat the above steps for a few days until your dog seems comfortable and relaxed.
  4. Go for very short journey (5-10 mins) with a really positive experience at the end of it – usually this would be a nice walk or a game of fetch at the park. It’s a good idea to have someone else in the car during these initial journeys, because they can sooth and distract your dog if he or she starts to get anxious. When you get home remember to create a fuss and play a short game and offer some rewards.
  5. Gradually build up the travelling time but if your dog is starts showing signs again, reduce the length of the journey so that it ends before they are sick.
  6. When your dog is able to do 30 minute journeys without stress, anxiety or sickness, you have been successful.
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Offer treats or toys to reward calm behaviour in the car

Motion sickness remedies

  • Travelling on an empty tummy can definitely help in a lot of cases, so with some dogs you may need to use praise, cuddles and toys rather than treats.
  • Exercise your dog before travelling so that he or she has had chance to go to the toilet and feels more relaxed.
  • Make sure the car is kept as cool as possible, either with the air conditioning or by opening windows slightly to create a good air flow.
  • Some dogs prefer to be able to look out of a window and some dogs find this terrifying, so you could try experimenting with an enclosed carrier to see if this helps.
  • There are quite a few remedies available from the veterinary practice or from pet shops. Some of our patients have had success with Scullcap and Valarian tablets which are available at the practice. Ginger is also a good remedy for soothing an upset tummy. I have had success when my own dog was travel sick puppy by giving half a ginger biscuit about 20 minutes before travel and half when we arrived at our destination (although, as I look back now, it could well have been the anticipation of a ginger biscuit that became a positive association with travel for my dog and therefore solved the problem!)
  • Adaptil spray, which is available at Castle Vets, is useful for helping your dog feel more relaxed and can be sprayed onto some bedding in the car about 20 minutes before you leave. For more anxious dogs the Adaptil collar provides constant reassurance wherever the dog is.
  • Always check with your vet before using any human remedies to ensure they are safe and given at the correct dose.
  • Make sure you initially try any remedies on a separate occasion to travelling to make sure your dog is not sensitive to any of the ingredients.
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Ask your veterinary nurse about which travel sickness remedy may best suit your dog

If you have any questions about travelling with your dog or you think that your dog is suffering from travel sickness, please contact the surgery and we will be happy to help you.

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Neutering Your Pet – Why, When and How

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What is neutering

Neutering is the general term used to describe the surgical removal of the sex organs in animals to prevent them from breeding.

Spaying: When we spay a female dog, cat or rabbit, we perform an ovario-hysterectomy , which is the surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus. The surgery involves a small abdominal incision in the dog and rabbit just below the umbilicus, or a small flank incision in the cat.

Castration: When we castrate a male dog, cat or rabbit we remove the testes to prevent reproduction. The surgery involves a small incision just in front of the testicles in the dog and rabbit or a small incision into each side of the scrotum in the cat. Sometimes male animals have a problem called cryptorchidism, in which one of the testicles has not descended properly, in these cases they may require abdominal surgery to remove the retained testicle.

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The first picture shows where the operation site would be for a female dog and rabbit . The second picture shows the operation site for a female cat. The third picture shows the operation site for a male dog and rabbit. The fourth picture shows the operation site for a male cat.

The reasons for neutering

We recommend that dogs, cats and rabbits are neutered because it benefits their health and helps reduce pet overpopulation. So many animals end up in rescue centers, or are even put to sleep, because there are just not enough homes available for them. Each year, approximately 200,000 animals are taken in by animal welfare organisations in the UK, such as the RSPCA, Dogs Trust, and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, who try to find homes for them.

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The ideal age for neutering

  • Rabbits can be neutered from 4 months old.
  • Cats can be neutered from 5 ½ months old. You do not need to wait for a female cat to have her first season.
  • Bitches (female dogs) can be spayed either before they have their first season at around 5-6 months old, or 4 months after you see their season begins (This applies to older bitches too).
  • Male Dogs can be castrated at any any age but usually after they are 5 months old. At Castle we prefer to wait until they are around 12 months old (18 months for larger breeds) and have finished growing before they are neutered, but we are happy to neuter earlier if necessary.

The health benefits of neutering

Female animals

  • Prevents “heat” or oestrus (also known as being in season)
  • Prevents unwanted litters
  • Prevents hormone fluctuations that cause false pregnancy
  • Prevents Pyometra, a serious and potentially fatal womb infection
  • Prevents mammary (breast) cancer.
  • Prevents uterine and ovarian cancer.
  • Prevents the urge to escape and find a mate during heat.
  • Prevents unsociable behaviour during heat (Think PMS!)
  • Prevents genetic problems, deformities and bad temperaments being passed on.
  • Prevents urine spraying and marking behaviour that sometimes occurs in entire female rabbits (does).
  • Neutered female cats cats are less at risk of diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia (FeLV), which are highly infectious and incurable diseases.

 Male animals

  • Lowers the risk of serious conditions such as benign prostatic hyperplasia, prostatitis and hormone-related (testosterone) diseases such as perianal adenoma in dogs.
  • Eliminates the risk of testicular cancer, a common cancer in entire dogs.
  • Removes sexual urges and the need to escape or roam to find a mate. Entire male cats can have huge territories and are more likely to get into fights.
  • Reduces certain types of aggression in male dogs
  • Prevents genetic problems, deformities and bad temperaments being passed on.
  • Neutered animals are less likely to mark their territory with strong smelling urine.
  • Neutered male cats cats are less at risk of diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia (FeLV), which are highly infectious and incurable diseases.
  • Neutered male rabbits are less likely to show aggression towards other male rabbits, meaning they can be kept in groups.

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What happens when your pet is neutered at Castle Vets

  1. Your pet will come into the practice between 8am and 9am (dogs and cats will need to have an empty stomach – so no food after 10pm the night before). Operations are performed in the morning and early afternoon, so that we can get your pet home to you on the same day.
  2. We will give your pet a pre-medication, which is a mild sedative and a long acting pain relief injection.
  3. Your pet will be given an anaesthetic and the hair will be clipped away from the surgical site. On dogs and bucks this will be a small area in the groin. On bitches and does this will be a rectangular area on the lower abdomen and on Queens this will be a small square on the left flank.
  4. The vet will perform the surgery whilst a veterinary nurse closely monitors and records your pet’s breathing rate, heart rate, colour and reflexes throughout the whole of the surgery.
  5. After the operation a veterinary nurse will watch and monitor your pet closely until he or she is fully awake. We will then contact you to let you know how your pet is and when you can pick him or her up from the surgery.
  6. When your pet goes home they will be wearing a buster collar or you can put them in a medical t-shirt to prevent them from interfering with their wounds (except Tom cats and rabbits)
  7. Your pet may have some medication to take for the next few days, so a veterinary nurse will explain how and when you should give this to your pet.
  8. You will need to bring your pet back to the practice 3 days later for a check over and then 7 days after that for any sutures to be removed.

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Problems that could occur with the procedure

Every anaesthetic and surgical procedure carries a small risk, whether it be on an animal or a human. At castle Vets your pet will have a thorough health check prior to the operation, to ensure that he or she is healthy and well enough for the procedure to take place on that day.

Post operation infections are rare but if one does occur, your pet will be checked and given any necessary treatment and/or medication to help them get well again.

Occasionally a patient may need to be re-sutured if they pull out their stitches, which is why we always recommend they go home with buster collars to prevent this;  We even offer a refund if your pet does not need to use the collar because we would rather they had one just in case.

Problems that can occur in un-neutered animals

Pyometra: This is an infection of the uterus (womb) in female animals. The uterus fills with pus, and toxins quickly spread throughout the body causing the animal to feel very unwell. If this condition is not treated quickly it can be fatal.

Mammary (breast) Cancer: Mammary cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal mammary gland cells. If left untreated, certain types of breast cancer can metastasize (spread) to other mammary glands and organs throughout the body. While any pet can develop mammary tumors, these masses occur most often in older female dogs and cats that have not been spayed.

Ovarian Cysts: The symptoms of ovarian cysts will depend on the type of cyst but can include; swelling of the vulva, due to the high amounts of estrogen in the body, vulvar discharges that may contain blood and occur outside the regular bleeding in the heat cycle, hair loss, irregular heat cycles or lack of heat cycles, extended heat cycles, abdominal swelling due to pus or fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity.

False Pregnancies: False pregnancy is a term used to denote a common condition in a non-pregnant female animal that is showing symptoms of pregnancy or nursing without producing babies. Symptoms usually occur after her oestrus (heat) is over and is thought to be caused by a hormonal imbalance. Symptoms can include; behavioral changes, mothering activity, nesting and self-nursing, restlessness, abdominal enlargement, enlargement of mammary glands, vomiting, depression, loss of appetite (anorexia), fur plucking (rabbits)

Prostate problems (dogs): Enlarged prostate occurs in more than 80% of un-neutered male dogs past the age of five. Some dogs with an enlarged prostate have difficulty with urination or bowel movements.

Testicular cancer (dogs): About 7% of un-neutered males develop a testicular tumor. Fortunately it seldom spreads and has a cure rate over 90%. But neutering prevents it entirely. If your dog has one or both testicles tucked up inside his body (called cryptorchidism) he is 14 times more likely to develop a testicular tumor compared to a dog with descended testicles. A cryptorchid dog should definitely be neutered.

Behavioural problems: Roaming is the main problem for both un-neutered males and females as they are likely to want to try and find a mate. This can lead to road traffic accidents, fighting with others and injury. Dogs often have problems with recall and focusing on their owner if they are being led by their hormones. Some animals will also demonstrate hormone-related aggression.

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Neutered rabbits can live together happily

Common myths about neutering

“It changes the pet’s personality”
The only behaviour changes will be positive ones. Neutered animals make better companions and are more affectionate. Pets are less likely to roam, which means less chance of getting lost or hit by a car, they are also less likely to mark territory or get in fights.

“Having a litter is good for her and it will be a great experience for the family”
Motherhood will not make your pet healthier or happier (and some animals make terrible mothers!). In fact, early spaying greatly reduces the likelihood of mammary cancer, and eliminates potentially life threatening infections of the uterus and ovaries.
Before you let your pet get pregnant, think about the possible complications of the birth.

  • If your pet has difficulties giving birth you may end up paying for a very expensive caesarian operation. This could result in complicated surgery for the mother and you may end up with no babies or, worse, the mother could die too! (Pregnancy complications are not usually covered by pet insurance either)
  • If the mother cannot or will not feed her litter are you prepared to give them food every 2 hours for 24 hours a day until they are weaned? 
  • Food and care of the litter may be expensive until they go to new homes can you afford the cost of feeding, worming and possibly vaccinating them all?
  • Can you find good homes for all of the litter? 
  • What will you do if you can’t find homes for them or if they are returned to you because their new owners cannot keep them?

“Neutered pets become fat and lazy”
A neutered animal does need fewer calories in the diet, but ultimately a lack of exercise and overfeeding by the owners is what causes obesity in animals. Make time for walks and play, and ask your veterinary nurse about reducing calories once your pet has been neutered.

“My pet is a pedigree and shouldn’t be neutered”
Your pet is a companion, not a financial investment or status symbol. Unless you are showing your pet and plan to breed, you should consider having it neutered. Remember that one out of four animals turned in to animal shelters is a pedigree.

“I don’t want my male pet to feel deprived or less masculine”
You shouldn’t confuse human sexuality with an animal’s hormonal instincts. Neutering won’t cause any negative emotional reaction in your pet. In addition, it greatly reduces the risk of prostate and testicular diseases.

“It’s too expensive to have my pet neutered”
The surgery is a one-time cost and a small price to pay for the health of your pet and the prevention of life threatening illnesses, not to mention preventing more homeless animals. Our pet health club offers a 20% discount on neutering and there are also several animal charities that provide assistance with the cost of neutering.

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We hope you find this article useful and informative. Please contact the surgery if you wish to discuss neutering your pet.