Stiffness and Pain – Don’t Ignore the Signs

Stiff and painful joints can have a big negative impact on your pet’s general health and quality of life and, although it is seen more commonly in older pets, it can affect pets of any age. If you can spot the signs you will be able to take action and help reduce discomfort and pain and improve your pet’s mobility.

Is your pet showing any of the following signs?

  • Slowing down a bit
  • Stiff on rising or after resting
  • Lame after going for a walkold beagle
  • Lying down for a rest part way through a walk
  • Reluctant to exercise
  • More reluctant to jump onto furniture or down from your lap
  • Sleeping more often
  • Withdrawn or out of sorts
  • Unable to curl up properly – changes in the way they sleep
  • Not grooming as much and becoming matted or scruffy
  • Scuffed nails
  • Grumbling, Hissing or snapping when touched in a certain area

These are all symptoms which are often put down to ‘old age’ by owners, but in most cases (just like in people) these symptoms are actually caused by specific problems such as arthritis or degenerative joint disease which, if treated, can relieve the signs of aging and lead to a much happier and more agile pet.

Some animals are very good at hiding any signs of discomfort; cat’s and rabbits especially, will rarely cry out or limp if they are in pain, preferring to shy away from contact and go off by themselves, so you may need to observe them closely for a few days to spot the signs.

older cat 1

Common causes of joint pain and/or stiffness can include

  • Natural wear and tear that occurs with age (this comes to all of us over time!)
  • Arthritis – A term meaning inflammation of one or more joints in the body, it is often used to describe general inflammation and stiffness. It can also be classified as Osteoarthritis which generally refers to a form of chronic joint inflammation caused by deterioration of joint cartilage within the body.
  • Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) is the progressive and permanent deterioration of the cartilage surrounding the joints in an animal’s body over a long period.
  • Hip or Elbow Dysplasia
  • Old injuries such as previously broken bones or cruciate ligament (knee) damage
  • Spine injuries

senior kittizens Rock

Please don’t just brush these signs off as ‘old age’

If your pet seems to have stiff joints, is limping or has difficulty getting about, then he or she is likely to be in some pain and there are ways you can help them lead a happier and more comfortable life.  Some of the treatments available include,

Nutritional supplements or Nutraceuticals for animals with pain or stiffness usually contain vitamins, glucosamine, chondroitin, and/or green lipped mussel; These ingredients can help support and maintain normal joint function in dogs and cats, but need time to build up in the body so results usually are not seen until after the first 5-6 weeks.  Neutraceuticles may come in tablet, suspension or diet food form. Your veterinary nurse can advise you on the best supplements for your pet and they are definitely worth trying in pets that seem to be just a little stiff on rising and after walks. Be careful about which ones you buy as many are not regulated and may not contain the right ingredients – if you are unsure, ask. If your pet is on treatment for other conditions, do check with your vet before starting him or her on supplements as some may interfere with your pets medication. 

Prescription Medication such as anti-inflammatory tablets or suspensions can only be prescribed by your vet. They are usually given once or twice daily to relieve the pain and help your pet feel much more comfortable. The vet will give your pet a thorough examination and assessment, which may also include a blood test before prescribing any medications. These are more expensive than the over-the-counter supplements and nutraceuticals, but your vet can also give you a prescription so you can buy them online or from the pharmacy.

Physiotherapy can help maintain joint movement and strengthen the muscles around the joints so that their is more support. Physiotherapy should always be provided by a qualified animal physiotherapist that you have been referred to by your vet.

Hydrotherapy can help your pet to exercise without putting pressure on sore joints, while building up the strength in supporting muscles. Hydrotherapy should always be provided by a qualified animal hydrotherapist that you have been referred to by your vet. Hydrotherapy may not suit all pets as some do not like water however, many animals start to enjoy their sessions including cats!

Acupuncture can be very effective at helping animals in pain and is a service offered at Castle Vets. Animal Acupuncture should always be carried out by a qualified veterinary surgeon. Acupuncture has worked well for many of our patients and can even help reduce the amount of medication they have to take.

Prescription diet Hills j/d has been proven to help with stiffness and joint pain in dogs and cats and can even help to prevent problems in susceptible pets. For more information you can visit the Hills Pet Food website.

Regular exercise is really important as it helps prevent joints getting stiffer and maintains mobility. Speak to your vet or nurse about a suitable exercise regime for your pet.

Maintaining a healthy weight can have a huge impact on your pet’s health, fitness and wellbeing. Being overweight vastly increases the stress on the body’s joints and we often find that pets with arthritis can improve drastically after losing their excess weight. Helping your pet lose weight is not as difficult as you think and often can be done on their current diet. We offer free Healthy Weight Clinics at Castle Vets and veterinary nurse Clare Espley can give you lots of advice and support with your pets weight loss.

Being overweight will put more pressure on joints

Being overweight will put more pressure on joints

We are here to help your pet

If you are concerned that you pet may have joint pain or stiffness then please contact us and arrange for him or her to be seen by a vet. Our veterinary consultations are 15 minutes long, so you will have plenty of time to chat through your concerns with your vet and discuss all of the treatment options available for your pet.

Our veterinary nurses offer free consultations and can give you advice on exercise routines, available treatments and which nutraceuticals may help your pet.

Contact us on 01189 574488 to make an appointment for your pet or visit our website for more information on the services we can provide.

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Troublesome Ticks & Harvest Mites

Ticks and Harvest Mites are small parasites that survive by feeding on different animal hosts, including mammals, birds and even humans if they get the opportunity. They can be a real nuisance for affected pets, often causing irritation, inflammation and sometimes infection and disease.

Ticks

There are many tick species in the UK but the ones that commonly cause problems by feeding off our pets are the sheep tick (Ixodes ricinus) and the hedgehog tick (Ixodes hexagonus).

Ticks are mostly found in areas with long grasses, in woodlands or in heathland but they can be found in gardens if they have been transported by wild animals during their larval or nymph stages. They can attach anywhere on the animal’s body but are usually found around the head, neck and ears. Owners often mistake ticks for wart-like growths on their pets because of their size and colour. Continue reading

The Hidden Danger Of Grass Seeds & Plant Awns

Grass Seeds and Plant Awns

At this time of year at Castle Vets we start to see a lot of patients (particularly dogs), with grass seeds and plant awns embedded in various parts of the body. This article will hopefully help raise awareness on this extremely painful problem.

During the warmer summer months grasses and plants start to dry out and their barbed seeds begin to scatter. These can cause major problems for our dogs (and occasionally other pets such as cats), who often get these seeds caught in their paws, nostrils, ears, eyes and skin. Continue reading

Are You Thinking About Getting A Pet?

pets

The prospect of getting a new pet can be very exciting and it is a wonderful feeling to be a proud owner. Anyone who has taken on a pet will know that within a matter of hours you are completely hooked, but there are a few things to think about before your commit to and bring home your new bundle of fun and cuteness.

Cost

piggy bank

This is not just the cost of actually buying the pet (which can be anything from Free to thousands of pounds!). Can you afford the costs necessary to give your chosen pet the correct care? The average annual costs of owning a pet can be quite high and have been estimated at £1000 – £2000 for a dog (depending on size), around £1200 for a cat, £400 – £500 for a ferret, £500 for a rabbit and £400 for a guinea pig and Chinchilla. (For cats and dogs that amounts to approximately £10000 – £31000 over a lifetime!) You will need to think about the costs of providing good quality food, bedding, housing for small animals, boarding kennels or pet sitters, routine vet bills for things such as parasite control and vaccinations, as well as the cost of vet bills should your chosen pet become poorly and require treatment.

Pet Insurance

This will cover your pet for any injuries or illnesses he or she may suffer from. Most types of pets can be insured, including rabbits, rodents and reptiles. The policy premium (the amount you pay in monthly or annually) will vary depending on the different cover levels and different animal breeds, so a very basic level of cover may be as little as £5.00 a month but a premium level of cover may be as much as £40.00 a month. It is also worth noting that many insurance companies now exclude certain types or breeds of pet from their policies, so check that your desired breed of pet is able to be insured. If you would like to find out more about pet insurance and what to look for in a policy, please read our pet insurance article.
Continue reading

High Blood Pressure In Cats (Feline Hypertension)

Hypertension

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a fairly common but potentially severe problem for older cats. Over the past few years the importance of monitoring blood pressure in older cats has been recognised and monitoring equipment is now readily available in most veterinary practices.

What is Blood Pressure and Hypertension?

The blood pressure is the force that is exerted by the blood against the walls of blood vessels. A certain amount of pressure is needed to enable the heart to effectively pump blood around the body in order to deliver oxygen and energy to the various organs, muscles and tissues. When an animal (or person) becomes hypertensive, the blood is pumped with greater force than normal which puts extra strain on the vessels, arteries and heart.

What Causes Hypertension?

Hypertension in cats may be caused by (or be a side effect of) another disease, illness or problem such as Kidney disease, Heart Disease, Hyperthyroidism, Diabetes and Obesity. However, many older cats can develop hypertension without having other illnesses or disease, or even showing any other clinical signs. Sadly if it is not detected early on and is left untreated, it can cause serious and sometimes sudden consequences, including the following illnesses and symptoms

  • Kidney problems
  • Heart problems
  • Neurological (Brain) problems such as seizures or disorientation
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Dilated pupils (large pupils that do not get smaller in the light)
  • Blood spots/bleeding in the eyes
  • Blindness
  • Respiratory problems

If your cat is showing any of the above signs, please make an appointment for your cat to be examined by veterinary surgeon.

How is blood pressure measured?

Blood pressure is measured in cats using the same method that is used for humans.

In humans, two values are taken into account, the higher one being the blood pressure in the arteries that is recorded when the heart beats (systolic pressure) and the lower value, when the heart rests between beats (diastolic pressure). These two values are recorded one above the other, separated by a slash mark; Normal human blood pressure is around 120/70-80 mmHg (which stands for millimetres of mercury). With cats, we tend just focus on the systolic blood pressure reading which is typically higher than humans, at around 120 to 170 mmHg.

Sphygmomanometer Dial

How Is Hypertension Diagnosed?

The vet will make a diagnosis by using the Sphygmomanometer as mentioned below, but also by taking into account any other clinical symptoms that your cat may have.
Because hypertension is often associated with other conditions such as kidney disease and hyperthyroidism it may be tested for if these illnesses are present, or, if hypertension is the initial problem, blood tests may be performed to check for these other illnesses.

Sometimes the vet may need to take 2 or 3 readings over 2 to 3 weeks to confirm a diagnosis of hypertension. Factors such as the cat being anxious, distressed or even excited can give ‘false high’ pressure readings which is why your vet may recommend several measurements over the course of a few weeks.

Blood pressure monitoring

Monitoring the blood pressure in cats is a non-invasive and relatively straightforward procedure that can be carried out by a vet or veterinary nurse at the practice (as long as the cat is cooperative and happy to sit still for a while!). The procedure is very similar to human blood pressure testing and is measured with an instrument called a sphygmomanometer.

  1. A small cuff attached to the sphygmomanometer is wrapped around the cat’s leg (or occasionally the tail).
  2. A Doppler probe is used to listen for the pulse in the cat’s lower leg, near the main stopper pad. The probe is a handheld diagnostic device that emits ultrasonic waves into the body; it picks up the sound of the blood flow (pulse) and enables the vet or veterinary nurse to hear it.
  3. The cuff is gently inflated with a pump until the pulse can no longer be detected, then a valve is opened to slowly deflate the cuff.
  4. The reading on the sphygmomanometer is recorded when the pulse can be heard again as the cuff is deflating.
  5. The measurements are taken 3-6 times and the vet will use an average of the readings as the blood pressure measurement.
Sphygmomanometer#2

Sphygmomanometer & Cuff

Treating Hypertension

Medication is available to treat hypertension and fortunately, with appropriate monitoring and treatment, feline hypertension is usually manageable. Early diagnosis means that treatment can be started as soon as possible, which reduces the risk of damage to the body from persistent high blood pressure. Occasionally, if the underlying disease or illness is treated, the hypertension may resolve on its own, but most cats will need to be on medication for life after diagnosis. Many cats may also be on medication for other conditions at the same time.

How often should blood pressure be monitored?

We usually recommend that any cat over the age of 8 years old is tested annually to make sure they do not have hypertension. In healthy cats this will be a record of what is normal for them and the offers the possibility of detecting hypertension early on before other signs are present.
If the vet has diagnosed hypertension, they may initially recommend monthly monitoring until it is under control. This may then be reduced to a test every 3 months or so.

BP1

The aim is to keep cats as calm as possible during the monitoring procedure to avoid the ‘white coat effect’ of blood pressure being raised due to anxiety.  Some cats will be better away from their owners and some cats will prefer to stay with their owners.

 

If your cat is already showing any of the clinical symptoms mentioned above, you should book an appointment for him or her to be examined by the veterinary surgeon as soon as possible.

 

Caring For Your Pet’s Eyes

Pug eyes

Your pet’s eyes function in the same way that your own do and are made up of the same components including

  1. Cornea, the transparent outer covering of the eye
  2. Pupil, the circular membrane in the centre of the eye that lets light from the environment enter the eye
  3. Iris, the pigmented membrane that surrounds the pupil and contracts or expands to regulate the amount of light that can enter the eye
  4. Lens, a transparent structure that adjusts its shape as needed to focus
  5. Retina, a sensitive membrane that lines the interior surface of the eyeball. The retina receives the focused light impulses that have entered through the lens and then sends them to the brain,as visual information
  6. Optic nerve, this sends signals to the brain

Keeping eyes clean

Cleaning away any discharges or tear-staining from around the eye area may be necessary for your pet, especially if your pet is short-nosed (brachycephalic breed), has slightly protruding eyes, has light coloured fur that is prone to tear staining or has an eye infection or problem.

  • Wash your hands so that you do not introduce any dirt or infection. Care should always be taken not to touch or contaminate the surface of the eye.
  • We recommend that you use either a sterile solution of boiled and then cooled water on some cotton wool pads or pet eye wipes (available from most pet stores).
  • Always wipe from the inner corner of the eye towards the back of the head or down and away from the eye, using a different side/piece of the cleaning pad each time you wipe.
  • Make sure you always use a separate piece of cotton wool or eye wipe, for each eye to prevent cross-contamination if an infection is present.
  • You may need to ‘soak’ any particularly stubborn eye gunk to make it easier to wipe away. Just gently hold your damp cotton wool pad or eye wipe onto the area.
  • If there are just tiny bits of gunk/sleep at the corners of the eye – you can wash your hands and then just use a finger or your thumb to remove/wipe this away easily.
  • If your pet is particularly hairy, you may need to trim some of the fur away from his or her eyes. Always do this carefully, using round ended scissors and if you are any doubt ask a groomer or vet nurse to do it for you.
  • Do Not use anything in your pet’s eye that you wouldn’t put in your own eye and Never use a salt water solution in or near the eye!

Cleaning the eye

Common Eye Problems

Although eye problems can occur in any species and breed, we tend to see them more commonly in the brachycephalic breeds and their crosses (flat faced, short nosed) such as Pugs, Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Persians and Exotic Shorthair cats. Their facial shape and sometimes protruding eyes tends to predispose them to more problems, so if you have one of these types of dog or cat make sure you check their eyes daily.

Cataract: Opacity in the lens in the eye. Similar to humans, this problem can occur with old age, trauma or disease.

Cherry Eye: This looks like a small red, inflamed mass in the corner of one or both of the eyes. It is caused when the third eyelid/nictitating membrane of the eye does not attach properly, which leads to a prolapse and allowing the membrane to flip up and over. It can be quite common in young dogs and is occasionally seen in cats and some breeds of rabbits.

Conjunctivitis: This happens when the lining inside the eyelid becomes red, inflamed and very painful. It may be caused by a bacterial or viral infection, injury, allergic reaction or a foreign body in the eye or conjunctiva.

Dry Eye: This is also known as Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca and is caused by inadequate tear production, which may be initially be due to trauma or infection, Symptoms of dry eye include a thick, yellowish discharge and chronic infections because the lack of tears means that the eye is not able to flush away bacteria and particles such as dus and pollen.

Ectropion: A condition (usually inherited) where the eyelid rolls outwards; giving the impression of ‘droopy eyes’. This can cause the eyes to become very dry which can be very painful .

Entropion: A condition where the eyelid rolls inwards, which causes irritation to the eye and its surrounding tissues because the eyelashes and hair rub against the surface of the eye. This condition may be an inherited problem in some breeds.

Foreign Body: Occasionally foreign objects such as tiny pieces of grit, thorns or other plant substances may become lodged in the eye or the surrounding tissues, causing pain and irritation.

Tear duct obstruction: the ducts that normally drain tears from the eyes become blocked resulting in tear overflow onto the face. This may be caused by an infection or be the result of a dental problem. Rabbits and very short-nosed breeds of dogs and cats can be particularly prone to this problem.

Tear overflow: Tears may leak from the corner of the eye, causing staining to the hair in light coloured animals or a build up of crusty “eye gunk” that gets caught up in the animals hair. If the eye area is persistently wet or the gunk is in contact with the eye itself it can lead to inflammation and infection.

Ulcers: The surface of the eye can become damaged or ulcerated following injury or infection.

Persian cat watery eyes

How to tell if your pet has an eye problem

Eyes are very delicate and sensitive organs and when problems occur they can be accompanied by a number of symptoms. If you see anything out of the ordinary you should contact your vet as soon as possible.

  • You pet is blinking more
  • Your pet seems to be squinting or the eye looks half closed
  • Your pet is rubbing the eye (either with a paw or rubbing against something in the house)
  • The eyes are producing more tears than usual
  • The eye or surrounding area looks red or inflamed
  • The eye itself looks to have a scratch, mark or something in it
  • There is any discharge (clear or gunky)
  • The eye looks cloudy or discoloured
  • The eye is bulging
  • Your pet has started to bump into things
Watering/Tearing Eye & Eye Gunk

Watering/Tearing Eye & Eye Gunk

How eye problems are diagnosed and treated

Eye problems are diagnosed with a thorough eye examination by a veterinary surgeon. They may use one or more of the following

Physical Examination – Sometimes eye problems can be linked to or caused by other illnesses and disease within the body, such as herpes virus, Feline Leukaemia, cancer and diabetes.

Ophthalmoscope – used to examine the inside and outside of the eye. The ophthalmoscope consists of a light source, mirror, and view hole through which a circular series of convex and concave lenses can be used to examine different parts of the eye.

Tonometer – measures intraocular pressure

Fluorescein Stain – this is a dye that can be applied to the eye which will stain any areas of injury such as ulcers and scratches or foreign particles.

Schirmer’s Test – this is a small paper strip that is used to measure tear production.

The treatment of eye problems depends on their cause; some pets may need a short course of antibiotic drops to clear up an infection, while those with problems such as Dry Eye may require ongoing treatment with eye drops and lubricating solutions. Pets with problems such as ingrowing eyelashes may require surgery to correct the problem. In all of these cases it is very important that your pet cannot cause further damage or irritation to the affected eye, so a buster collar may be necessary to prevent this.

Ulcers can be seen with a special dye

Ulcers can be seen with a special dye

How to Apply Medication or Eye Drops To The Eye

Your pet may need to have eye medication in the form of drops or a cream at some stage and giving this medication should be relatively simple if you follow our guide. The key thing with pets is to be prepared, have everything to hand and, most importantly, Don’t Faff About – Be direct and quick!

  1. Get the medication ready and within reach
  2. Wash your hands, you do not want to introduce infection to an already sensitive area
  3. It may be necessary for someone else to hold your pet for you while you apply the medication. For smaller animals we recommend placing them onto your lap or on a table.
  4. Gently clean any discharge / gunk away from your pet’s eyes (as mentioned above). You may have to skip this step if your pet’s eyes are too painful.
  5. Gently pull down on your pet’s lower eyelid and up on your pet’s upper eyelid and drop the medication onto the eye or onto the inner part of the lower lid as directed by the vet . I often find this easier to do if you are positioned behind the pet, rather than from the front as it helps to prevent your pet moving their head back and away from your fingers.
  6. Make sure that the medicine container does not touch the surface of the eye or any surrounding tissues Try to hold the eyelids open for a few seconds as this will help prevent the medication from being blinked out .
  7. Reward your pet with a really tasty treat and/or a game of something fun. This is especially important if your pet will need to have eye medication regularly.
Applying Eye Drops

Applying Eye Drops

If your pet has an eye condition that requires eye medication your veterinary nurse will usually be happy to demonstrate how to do this for you.

Opening the eye

Eye Medication

 

Should you neuter your pet?

The decision about whether to have your pet neutered or not is likely to be one of the biggest that you make as a pet owner. There is no doubt that neutering your pet can have really great benefits to their health and you will also be doing your bit to help the growing crisis of the thousands of pets already in rescue centres around the country, because there aren’t enough homes to go around. However, for many different reasons, not all pet owners (especially dog owners) will want to have their pets neutered and as long as these unneutered pets are managed responsibly, this decision is fine.  This article will describe the pros and cons of neutering and hopefully give you all the information you need to make your decision.

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. Neutering or de-sexing are terms that can be used for both male and female animals.

Spaying: When we spay a female animal, 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, rabbit and guinea pig just below the umbilicus, or a small flank incision in the cat (unless the owner specifically requests an abdominal spay).

Castration: When we castrate a male dog, cat, guinea pig or rabbit we remove the testes to prevent reproduction. The surgery involves a small incision just in front of the testicles in the dog, guinea pig 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.

Image

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

The reasons for neutering

There are many reasons to recommend that dogs, cats and rabbits are neutered; 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 150,000 stray or abandoned 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.

Image

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.
  • Enables some animals to live in mixed-sex groups without fighting and/or pregnancy

 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 and guinea pigs are less likely to show aggression towards other males
  • Enables some animals to live in mixed-sex groups without fighting and/or pregnancy

Image

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. Although castration has a complete cure rate of approximately 90%, neutering prevents it entirely. If your dog has one or both testicles tucked up inside his body (called cryptorchidism) he is far more likely to develop a testicular tumor compared to a dog with descended testicles; this condition can also be passed on to offspring so a cryptorchid dog should definitely be neutered.

Behavioural problems and injuries: 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 are likely to be positive ones. Neutered animals often 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.

“Neutered pets become fat and lazy”
While it is true that a neutered animal needs fewer calories in the diet, it is ultimately overfeeding and/or a lack of exercise by the owners that 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 pets are brother and sister so they won’t mate”
The fact that they are related to each other will make no difference to your pets, they will still mate and produce offspring.

“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 planning on showing your pet and plan to breed, you should consider having it neutered. Remember that one in four animals handed 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 male pet. In addition, it greatly reduces the risk of prostate and testicular diseases in dogs and the possibility of FIV & FeLV and fight related wounds and abscesses in male cats.

“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 may provide assistance with the cost of neutering.

“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.

If you are thinking about letting your pet have a litter, is important that you think things through properly and ensure that you make the health and welfare of your pet and its offspring an absolute priority. Breeding because you think a male and female will produce cute offspring or because you think you will make some money is extremely irresponsible. Care must to be taken to ensure you can find good homes for the whole litter, that you will not be allowing genetic/hereditary problems to be passed on to the offspring and that you can afford to look after the mother and her offspring properly.
Before you let your pet get pregnant, think about the following things

  • Have you ensured that your pet is healthy, vaccinated and is not going to be passing on genetic or hereditary problems to the offspring? Have you had the appropriate health screening tests carried out such as checking for hip dysplasia and eye problems in dogs (further information can be found on The Kennel Club website), viruses in cats and dental misalignment problems in rabbits?
  • Is your pet’s temperament good? Do they have any fear or aggression issues?
  • Is your pet fully grown and mature enough to have a litter?  Usually between 18 months and 3 years old, but this is dependent on species and size, so ask your vet or veterinary nurse if you are not sure.
  • Can you find an appropriate mate? It is vitally important and you ensure that the mate is healthy and has also had the appropriate vaccinations and health tests. Just letting your female pet out to get mated by any roaming male suitor is highly irresponsible, she may end up with disease or illness (particularly in the case of cats) that can not only make her sick, but could be passed on to her offspring.
  • If your pet has difficulties giving birth you may end up paying for a very expensive caesarean 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). For your information, the dog breeds most likely to require a Caesarean Section are the English Bulldog, Boston terrier, French Bulldog, Mastiff, Scottish Terrier, English Bull Terrier, Miniature Bull Terrier, Clumber spaniel, Pekingese and Chihuahua (as well as crosses of these breeds).
  • If the mother cannot or will not feed her litter are you prepared to hand-rear them and to give them food every 2 hours for 24 hours a day until they are weaned?  
  • Food and care of the litter will be expensive until they go to new homes. Can you afford the cost of feeding, worming and possibly vaccinating them all? If the mother and/or her offspring become unwell can you afford the veterinary treatment that they will need? The puppies will also need to be microchipped and registered before they go to a new home (this applies to all litters, whether planned or accidental).  
  • Do you know how to look after your pet during pregnancy and raise, habituate and socialise the offspring properly, before they go to their new homes?
  • 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? Are you comfortable with the fact that you could be adding to the many thousands of animals in rescue centres that cannot find homes? 

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Should you have your cat neutered?

We do generally recommend that cats are neutered, unless you have a registered pedigree cat that you are planning to breed from. This is because the vast majority of cats cannot be ‘chaperoned’ in the same way that dogs are and, when they are let outside, they are generally left to their own devices; making pregnancy in females highly likely and also increasing the risk of disease transmission through sexual activity and wounds, as well as injuries from territorial fighting. So unless you can prevent this by keeping your cat indoors and well mentally stimulated, or by cat-proofing your garden to prevent your cat getting out and other cats getting in, then neutering is usually the best option for your cat.

Should you have your rabbit or guinea pig neutered?

Whether to neuter your rabbit or guinea pig will very much depend on their housing circumstances and group dynamics. Female rabbits can often become territorial and aggressive from 4-6 months of age,  they may have repeated false pregnancies, and may growl at, bite and scratch their owners as well as other rabbits. Spaying reduces (and sometimes eliminates) these problems.  Male rabbits can be territorial, aggressive and spray urine. Neutered males of both species are often much happier and relaxed, they can also live with a spayed female or even another neutered male. Since rabbits and guinea pigs should be kept in groups of 2 or more, neutering of one or all is usually the best option.

Should you have your dog neutered?

It is up to you as the responsible owner to decide whether or not to have your dog or bitch neutered. At Castle Vets we generally do not recommend that male or female dogs are neutered until they have finished growing and have reached maturity, which is usually between 8 months and 2 years old, depending on the breed (bigger breeds take longer to fully mature). However, we also understand that some young and hormonal dogs can be a real handful, so we will neuter at a younger age if you request it.

We have discussed the risks of not neutering above, but here are some of the benefits seen in dogs that have delayed neutering until they have reached maturity, or have not been neutered at all

  • Fewer fear-related behavioural problems, especially in male dogs (1)
  • Lower risk of Hip Dysplasia and Cruciate Ligament damage in larger breeds (2)
  • Lower risk of some cancer types such as hemangiosarcoma and lymphosarcoma (3,4)
  • Lower risk of hypothyroidism (4)
  • Lower risk of obesity (although frankly this has more to do with what and how much is fed by the owner)
Being a responsible owner of an unneutered dog
  • Male dogs: If you own a dog and do not want to get him neutered, you need to make sure that you can prevent him roaming the neighbourhood and running away every time a bitch comes into season locally. It is as much your responsibility as the owner of a bitch in season, to prevent an unwanted mating. You also need to ensure that he has had proper socialisation, training and behaves well around other entire and neutered male dogs. If you can do this then you may not need to neuter your dog.
  • Bitches: If you own a bitch and do not want her neutered, you need to be sure that you can prevent her from being mated and becoming pregnant potentially twice a year and that you can cope with her seasonal bleed twice yearly as well (which can be very messy in some bitches). You will need to be careful about where and when you take her for walks during her season; she will still need exercise, but will be very attractive to any unneutered male dogs in the area. You also must never leave a bitch in season unattended outside, even in your own back garden, unless you are 100% sure that she cannot get out and other dogs cannot get in (you would be surprised at the length some male dogs will go to for a bitch in heat!)

Canine behavioural problems that neutering cannot solve

There are some canine problems that are often misinterpreted as being caused by the dog’s sex hormones and unfortunately neutering will not solve these problems. In some cases your vet may be able to give your dog an injection of a hormone suppressing drug that will mimic the effects of neutering and enable you to see if neutering will have any effect on the behaviour.

  • Over excitability and unruly behaviour: This problem is commonly due to adolescence and/or a lack of training and these dogs often respond really well to reward-based training and appropriate mental and physical stimulation. Increasing the amount of daily exercise and, if possible, giving them more opportunity to exercise off-lead can make a huge difference to these dogs.
  • Predatory hunting, herding or chasing behaviours: This is down to the breed/type of dog and what it has been bred to do rather than a hormonal issue. These problems often need the input of a qualified behaviourist to help you and your dog.
  • Fearful, unconfident dogs: Anecdotal evidence from many qualified animal behaviourists suggest that neutering these dogs may actually make the situation worse. Seek out advice from an appropriately qualified canine behaviourist to help you if your dog is fearful.
  • Bitches that show signs of aggression or reactivity when not in season: Spaying is unlikely to improve the behaviour and there is a small risk that spaying could make the behaviour worse. We advise that you speak to an appropriately qualified canine behaviourist to help you if your dog is showing signs of aggression.

What happens when your pet is neutered ?

At a good veterinary practice the following should happen when your pet is neutered

  1. Your pet will usually be admitted at the practice between 8am and 9am (dogs and cats will need to have an empty stomach – so no food after 10pm the night before).
  2. Your pet should be given an injection of a mild sedative and a long acting pain relief injection.
  3. Your pet should be placed in his or her own kennel with a nice snuggly blanket to sit on (or something to hide under if they are a cat)
  4. After the sedative has taken effect, your pet will be given an anaesthetic and some hair will be clipped away from the surgical site.
  5. The vet will perform the surgery whilst a veterinary nurse closely monitors the anaesthetic and records your pet’s breathing rate, heart rate, colour and reflexes throughout the whole of the surgery.
  6. 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.
  7. When your pet goes home they should have a buster collar or a medical pet t-shirt to prevent them from interfering with their wounds
  8. 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. Make sure your pet receives all of his or her medication, don’t stop it because your pet looks fine.
  9. You will need to take 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.

Always check with your veterinary practice that either a veterinary nurse or vet will be monitoring your pet’s anaesthetic and vital signs throughout the procedure and will be monitoring your pet carefully as he or she wakes up after the operation.

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.

Postoperative infections are very rare but if one does occur, your pet will be examined 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.
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References

1. Association Pet Behaviour Counsellors
2. Slauterbeck, et al Canine Ovariohysterectomy and Orchiectomy Increases the Prevalence of ACL Injury
3. Gretel Torres de la Riva, et al Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers
4. Laura J. Sanborn, Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay / Neuter in Dogs

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