Tooth Problems Of Rabbits and Small Pets

rabbits and rodents

At Castle Vets we see many rabbits and rodents with a variety of different dental problems. The teeth of most animals (including humans) stop growing after the initial development period, but rabbits, chinchillas, guinea pigs and rodents have teeth that grow continuously throughout their lives, which means dental problems will develop if these pets are unable to grind their teeth down through feeding and chewing.

Symptoms of a dental problem

  • Decreased appetite, your pet may stop eating completely or only manage very small amounts at a time.
  • Drooling
  • Pawing at or rubbing their face on things
  • Swellings around the jaw area or under the eye
  • Weight loss
  • Runny eyes (one or both eyes may be involved)
  • Discharge from the cheek or jaw area
  • Overgrown teeth may be visible

If your pet is showing any of these symptoms, please book an appointment with your vet straight away.

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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.
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Make Some Pet Care Resolutions For the New Year

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As this year comes to an end, many of us will be looking forward to the coming year and what we hope to achieve (or avoid!). Thoughts are often about a new diet and getting more exercise, to make up for any holiday indulgences, or making more time for ourselves and our families. Here are some ideas and tips to enhance the health and wellbeing of your pets. Continue reading

Do You Know Your Pet Ownership Law?

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Owning and caring for a pet can be a source of great enjoyment, but being a pet owner is a major responsibility and part of being a responsible owner includes knowing about and understanding the law surrounding pet ownership.  Many pet owners in the UK are not aware of the law or of what they are required to provide for their pets to ensure their physical and mental well being. The PDSA’s Annual PAW Report 2015 reported that only 31% of pet owners surveyed were familiar with the Animal Welfare Act.

Although not all owners are familiar with the ins and outs of the actual Animal Welfare Act, the majority are providing everything their pet needs already. However, the RSPCA investigated a shocking 143,004 cruelty complaints and secured 1,781 convictions by private prosecution to protect animals in the last year.

The Animal Welfare Act

This came into force on April 6th 2007. It increased and introduced new penalties for acts of cruelty, neglect, mutilation, tail docking and animal fighting but importantly, it also introduced a duty of care for all pet owners. There is no particularly perfect way to care for pets because each pet will have it’s own individual needs, so it is up to you as the owner to find out what your particular pet’s needs are and ensure that you can meet them.

The Animal Welfare Act applies to anyone who is responsible for an animal whether permanently or temporarily and includes fines of up to £20,000, a maximum jail term of 51 weeks and a lifetime ban on some owners keeping pets.

Under Section 9  of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 you must  take all reasonable steps to ensure that you meet  the following needs that your pet has,

1. Provide a suitable environment and living space 

  • You pet will need a safe, clean environment with protection from hazards. If your pet is kept outside you need to check it frequently to ensure he or she is safe and well.
  • A comfortable, clean, dry, quiet, draught-free rest area.
  • Somewhere to hide in order to avoid things that frighten it.
  • Access to an appropriate place, away from its resting area, which it can use as a toilet area.
  • The living area should be large enough to be comfortable and provide sufficient space to move around in. Minimum cage sizes for small animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and other rodents should be taken into consideration – the bigger the better!
  • The living area should be properly ventilated and at the correct temperature so that the pet does not get too hot or cold.
  • You should never leave your pet unattended in any situation, or for any period of time, that is likely to cause it distress or harm.
  • When transporting your pet, make sure it is comfortable, safe and secure at all times. The transport must be well ventilated and at the correct temperature. Your pet should have access to water if the journey is longer than a few hours (small furries and birds should have access to food and water all of the time). Bedding or flooring must be adequate and absorb any moisture if the pet goes to the toilet during transport. Dogs should be given toilet breaks on longer journeys, but ensure they cannot escape in an unfamiliar place!

2. Provide a diet suitable to the pet’s needs

  • Your pet will need clean fresh drinking water at all times. If  you own a dog, this may mean taking water with you on walks where clean water is unlikely  to be available.
  • You must provide your pet with a balanced diet that is suited to its individual needs including its age, level of activity and health.
  • You must ensure that you feed the correct amount of food and that your pet is maintained at the correct weight and does not become underweight or overweight/obese.
  •  Your pet must be able to reach it’s food and water easily.
  • If you are uncertain what diet is best for your pet you should seek advice from a veterinary practice or suitably qualified pet care specialist.

3. Allow the pet to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns

  • Make sure your pet has enough things to do in it’s environment so that it does not become distressed or bored. This may mean adding toys, hiding places, climbing places, scratching posts, ladders, digging places, activity toys and feeders etc to suit your pet’s individual requirements.  For example giving cats access to high places and scratching places.
  • Make sure your pet has access to safe toys and suitable objects to play with and, in the cases of some pets, chew on.
  • Ensure that your pet can rest undisturbed when it needs to – this may mean giving them a bed, crate or separate part in their living space where they will not be disturbed by people or other animals when they are resting.
  • Provide your pet with regular opportunities for exercise and play with people or other pets, depending on the species of your pet.
  • Make sure that your pet has the opportunity to exercise properly every day. It is important to keep your pet fit, active and mentally stimulated. If you are unsure how much or what type of exercise to provide, seek advice from a veterinary practice or suitably qualified pet care specialist.
  • Ensure that where appropriate you train your pet. Use only positive reward based training and avoid harsh, painful or frightening training methods. Training is not only necessary for a well behaved pet, it is great for mental stimulation and bonding. Although most people associate training with dogs, almost any pet can be trained including cats, rabbits, rodents and birds. (View our training article)

4. To house their pet with, or apart from, other animals 

  • Make sure that your pet is never left alone long enough for it to become distressed.
  • Some pets are solitary and do not need to live with other animals, for example some dogs, cats and certain types of rodents prefer to be live as a sole pet, but others such as rabbits, guinea pigs and rats are very social and should be housed with one or more companions of the same species.
  • If your pet lives on it’s own make sure that it has opportunities to spend enough time with people so that it does not become lonely or bored.
  • In the case of dogs, you should  ensure that your dog has plenty of opportunity to meet, socialise and play with other friendly dogs. Encourage your dog to be friendly towards other dogs from an early age. There are some dogs that just don’t like other dogs, so in this case you will need to ensure they have plenty of contact from you.
  • Animals should be given regular opportunities to socialise with people and, where appropriate for the species of pet, other animals from an early age.
  • It is important that if you keep more than one pet , of the same or different species, that they get on well together and do not fight. They must have plenty of space to move away or hide from each other if necessary.
  • When pets live together adequate extra resources must be provided for some species, for example separate water bowls, food bowls, litter trays and toys. This will help avoid any conflict and tension over valuable resources. With dogs you may need to make an effort to provide them with 1-1 time with you and without the other dog.
  • If your dog is fearful of, or aggressive towards other dogs or people, or if certain social  interactions distress or frighten your dog we advise you seek appropriate advice from a qualified canine behaviourist.

5. To protect their pet from pain, suffering, injury, illness and disease

  • You need to take precautions to keep your pet safe from injury.
  • If you notice any changes in your pet’s behaviour or normal routine you should contact a veterinary practice and follow the advice you are given.
  • Check your pet regularly for signs of injury, disease or illness.
  • Maintain your pet’s condition, for example grooming and removing any knots in the coat (or get a groomer to do this for you) , making sure there is no faecal matter and urine on the the coat and making sure that your pet is fit and well.
  • If you recognise signs and symptoms of disease, suspect that your pet is in pain, ill or injured or if you have any concerns about its health or welfare contact a veterinary practice and follow the advice regarding treatment.
  • Ensure that your pet has regular veterinary health checks and that you provide preventative health care, where appropriate to the species of pet, for example vaccinations, booster vaccinations, worming, flea treatment and neutering.
  • Clean up after your pet including cleaning the toileting area and cage or enclosure regularly and with the appropriate, safe cleaning products to avoid disease and illness.
  • Protect your pets from ingesting or coming in to contact with harmful household items and substances such as medicines and foods intended for humans or other animals, cleaning products or antifreeze.  You should always seek veterinary advice if you suspect that your pet has eaten anything harmful.
  • Collars on cats and dogs should be of the correct size and fit, and should not cause any pain or discomfort; dogs are required to wear a collar and identity tag when in a public place by law.
  • If your pet is microchipped remember to keep the microchip database up to date with any changes in your contact details.
  • You should seek the advice of your veterinary practice before breeding your pet and take all reasonable steps to ensure that both the male and female pets are fit and healthy, with no inheritable diseases or conditions and that you will be able to find suitable homes for the offspring.

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As a responsible dog owner, there are several laws regarding dog ownership that you should be aware of and we have put the most important ones into this article.

Microchipping of Dogs (Control of Dogs Order)

All dogs in England must be microchipped and registered on an approved database by the time they are 8 weeks old. Breeders will need to microchip their puppies before they are transferred to a new owner. and new owners will be responsible for updating the microchip with their details. The owners/keepers of the dog must ensure that their details are kept up to date on the microchip database for their dog.

More information on Microchipping 

Identification (Control of Dogs Order)

Your dog must wear an identity disk or tag on his or her collar or harness while in a public place i.e. anywhere outside your property. The tag must have, at the very least, your surname and address on it; a contact telephone number is optional. This law applies even if your dog is microchipped (the law has not caught up with modern technological advances yet!) There is a fine of up to £5000 that may be given if your dog is in a public place and not wearing some form of ID. This applies regardless of whether you are with your dog or not.

According to the PDSA’s Annual report, more than 1.5 million dogs don’t wear a collar and tag and 30% of dog owners are unaware that this is a legal requirement!

Dog Law ID Tag

Public Spaces Protection Orders (Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act
and the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime & Policing Act)

Some public areas in England and Wales are covered by Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) – previously called Dog Control Orders (DCOs). There should be signs up designating these controlled areas

In public areas with PSPOs, you may have to:

  • Keep your dog on a lead
  • Put your dog on a lead if told to by a police officer, police community support officer or someone from the council
  • Stop your dog going to certain places – like farmland or parts of a park
  • Limit the number of dogs you have with you (this applies to professional dog walkers too)

If you ignore a PSPO, you can be fined £100 on the spot fixed penalty notice or up to £1,000 if it goes to court (You can’t be fined if you’re a registered blind dog owner).

Cleaning Up After Your Dog – Poop Scooping (Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act)

It is illegal to let your dog foul in a public place and not clean it up. Claiming that you are unaware that your dog had defecated or not having the correct equipment with you (poo bags), is not an acceptable excuse. Dog poo on pavements and in playing/green areas is not only unpleasant for other people and animals, but it also carries health hazards.

You can face an on the spot fixed penalty fine of £50 -£80 if you do not clean up after your dog. If you refuse to pay the fine you can be prosecuted and face a court appearance with a fine of up to £1000

Clean up after your dog. Not only is it against the law to let your dog foul in public places, it's unpleasant for other people too.

Clean up after your dog. Not only is it against the law to let your dog foul in public places, it’s unpleasant for other people too.

Stray Dogs (Environmental Protection Act)

The Council must serve notice on a known owner of a stray dog. If the owner fails to come forward and pay the Council’s fees within 7 days from date of seizure or service of the notice, the Council may rehome the dog or may have it put to sleep.

Another reason why your dog should wear and id tag and be microchipped.

Control Of Your Dog (Dangerous Dogs Act and the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime & Policing Act)

It is against the law to let a dog be dangerously out of control. This now applies to both private property and public places.

  • You must be able to control your dog at all times, this means being able to call your dog back to you and making sure that he or she responds to you.
  • Your dog must not jump up at or chase other members of the public. Even the friendliest or smallest of dogs can cause damage by jumping up at someone, especially a child or an elderly person.
  • If there is any possibility that your dog is might attack another dog or a person he or she must be muzzled in public places.
  • You must not train or encourage your dog to attack/threaten people or other dogs.

Your dog is considered dangerously out of control if it:

  1. Injures someone
  2. Makes someone worried that it might injure them
  3. It attacks a Guide Dog

A court may also consider your dog dangerously out of control if

  1. It injures someone’s animal
  2. If the owner of the animal thinks they could be injured if they tried to stop your dog attacking their animal

Depending on the severity of the offence you could be faced with a prison sentence of  between 6 months and 14 years and/or an unlimited fine. Your dog may be destroyed and you may not be able to own dogs in the future.

If your dog is likely to bite someone then you must take every precaution to prevent this from happening

If you think your dog might bite or attack someone then you must take every precaution to prevent this from happening

Walking and Travelling With your Dog (The Road Traffic Act)

It is an offence to have a dog on a designated road without it being held on a lead.

Dogs (or indeed any animal) travelling in vehicles should not be a nuisance or in any way distract the driver during a journey. When travelling in a vehicle, you must ensure that your dog is suitably restrained, either in a crate/carrier, behind a dog guard or by using a seatbelt harness. A dog that is loose in a car can cause an accident very easily.

If you are involved in a collision between your vehicle and a dog, you must stop, and the police must be informed. It’s the law!

The driver of a car involved in a collision with a dog MUST stop and stay on the scene until the police have given the driver permission to leave, which usually happens after they have attended the scene (If you see someone hit a dog with a car and drive off, inform the police and give them as much detail as possible).

If the dog was loose at the time of the incident, the owner of the dog may be liable for any damage caused to the car or any injury caused to the driver (see third party liability below), which is another great reason to insure your pet.

Noise Nuisance (Environmental Protection Act)

Dog barking can be classed as a statutory nuisance if it is intrusive and irritating and is effecting someone’s quiet enjoyment of their property. If a complaint is made to the local authority may serve a Noise Abatement Notice.

Causing Distress to Farm Animals (Protection of Livestock Act)

You must never let your dog off the lead anywhere near livestock (farm animals/horses) unless you can be absolutely sure that he or she wont go anywhere near them. You are responsible for what your dog does, and if your dog causes damage to livestock by worrying, chasing, injuring or killing them, you can be fined up to £1,000 plus compensation to the farmer.

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Farm animals get worried by dogs very easily

Third Party Liability (Animals Act and Dangerous Dogs Act)

The keeper of a dog is strictly liable for any damage caused by the dog in certain circumstances. This can include destruction of property and personal injury, illness or death (including the damage done to a person or their car if they hit your dog in the road!) It is recommended that you take out third party insurance liability cover as a precaution.

Please note

The above information is only a guideline of the laws involved in pet ownership, for further and more in-depth information on dog law we recommend that you visit www.legislation.gov.uk

The law surrounding dog ownership can be very complicated especially if a dog has injured someone. If you are concerned or you are involved in a case about your own dog, we recommend that you contact a dog law specialist as soon as possible for advice.

Warm Weather Pet Care

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With summer in full swing most of us are spending more time outdoors enjoying the warm weather (when it occurs!) Your pets will hopefully be enjoying the weather too but there are a few things you can do to ensure they stay comfortable and safe in the summer months.

How To Keep Your Pet Cool On Warm Days

  • Provide fresh drinking water at all times. It is really important to check water bowls and bottles frequently and freshen the water as necessary. If you are taking your dog out in hot weather it is a good idea to take water and a bowl with you.
  • Provide access to a shaded area and make sure your pet can get out of the sun if he or she wants to, watch out for pets who may be sun-worshipers and try to encourage them into the shade if possible. Make sure rabbit hutches and runs are moved to shaded areas too. If it is too hot outside bring your pets inside.
  • Use pet-friendly sun cream on your pet to prevent sunburn. This is especially important for pets with white ears, pink noses and/or hairless tummies.
  • Provide cooling places and objects such as a wet towel on 0729the ground for dogs to lie on or access to nice cool kitchen tiles. You can freeze water in plastic bottles or ice packs and wrap these in a towel then place near to your pet – rabbits and dogs love lying on or against these in the hot weather (just make sure the icy surface is not directly next to their skin. (Make sure your pet is not going to chew these objects though – especially ice packs as they may contain chemicals) You can also use old ceramic tiles that have been chilled for small animals to lie on.
  • Use a fan to cool and move the air, but make sure your pet can get out of the air flow, cannot touch the fan and cannot chew the electrical cable.
  • Good Ventilation and air flow is very important for outside hutches and pens as well as indoor pet cages.
  • Think about the best times for exercising dogs. Early in the morning and later in the evening will often be slightly cooler. A good rule of thumb is if the pavement is too hot for you to touch your wrist to for more than a half a minute, it is too hot for your dog’s paws.
  • Move cages containing indoor pets away from windows and/or direct sunlight, these can soon heat up to unbearable temperatures.
  • Avoid long journeys in cars if possible and definitely do not leave your pet in a parked car, caravan or conservatory (see our heatstroke article)
  • Use water to help your pet cool down. Some dogs like to play in paddling pools, but they should always be supervised and heavy exercise should be avoided during the hottest part of the day. Some pets like a gentle spray with some water to help keep them cool but if your pet does not like it, don’t do it.
  • Check Habitat Temperatures Carefully For tropical fish tanks and reptile vivariums as these may get too hot if the external temperature rises.
  • Don’t forget the wildlife. Small, shallow bowls of water dotted around your garden will help out greatly.
  • Watch your pet for signs of heatstroke. This can happen to any species of pet, but is more common in animals that are overweight, senior, hyperactive even in hot weather, short nosed breeds, or animals that have existing health problems with their heart or lungs. Symptoms of heatstroke can include rapid or frantic panting, excessive thirst, anxious behaviour, rapid heart/pulse rate, dizziness and/or disorientation, collapse. See our article on Heatstroke for more information 
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Cats with white ears and/or pink noses can be susceptible to sunburn and subsequently skin cancer

Summer Hazards

Barbecues and Parties

These will be on the agenda for a lot of households but, while they are fun for us, they are a scavenging hazard for ourpets! In the summer months veterinary practices often see a lot of pets with tummy upsets or burns after scavenging food, as well as pets that need operations to remove things like corn cobs, bones and wooden meat skewers that have been eaten and got stuck in the stomach or intestines.

If you have a nervous pet who becomes  distressed when you have lots of visitors, make sure he or she has a room they can retreat to where they will be undisturbed.

Flystrike

This is another common summer problem. It occurs when a fly lays its eggs on an animal and the maggots that hatch eat the flesh of the animal. Flystrike mainly affects rabbits, but other pets including dogs and cats can and do get affected.  The flies are attracted to soiled bottoms, poo and wounds, so make sure you check your pet daily and keep hutches, cages and bottoms clean. Flystrike is a veterinary emergency, so if you suspect your pet has flystrike contact your vet quickly.

Fly

Grass Seeds and Plant Awns

These can be a real nuisance at this time of year and we  see a lot of patients (particularly dogs), with grass seeds and plant awns embedded in various parts of their bodies. Check your pet’s coat daily and remove any seeds or awns that you find. (You can read more in our Grass Seed article)

If you have any questions regarding your pet’s care or would like any advice then please contact the practice on 01189 574488 or through our website

Before You Commit To A New Pet – Think!

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

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This is not just the cost of actually buying the pet. 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. (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 pet insurance for accidents and illnesses.

Looking after an animal can be very expensive, so please don’t take a pet on if you cannot afford to pay for the necessities including veterinary care.

Your Family 

Think about how the pet will fit into your family and home.

  • Are you ready for this pet? If you are due to go on holiday, start a new job, have a baby, move house or start a big project on your home, now is probably not the best time to get a pet.
  • Does everyone in the household want this pet? Believe it or not, pets have been cited as a common source of problems in relationships. Couples and families can find themselves arguing over their pets for a variety of reasons and while these arguments may seem minor, they can actually cause more major disagreements or problems over time.
  • Do you have children or do children visit your home? If the answer is yes, please make sure that you give special consideration and do your research on the breed and type of animal that you want as a pet, as not all of them will be suitable. You will need to train the children (yes I did say that!) to respect animals and not to tease them, they will also need to know not to touch them without an adult present. Remember all animals have the potential to bite, scratch or otherwise injure someone if they get scared, no matter how well trained and handled; this also includes the ‘small furries’ such as rabbits and rodents. If you are getting a dog, regardless of the breed, you must ensure that he or she is very well socialised with people of all ages from a very young age and that you understand canine body language well enough to remove the child if the dog starts to look uncomfortable with the situation it is in.
  • Does anyone have allergies and what will you do if you discover someone is allergic to your new pet? It has been shown that children that grow up with pets have less allergies and are healthier in that respect, but not everyone is that lucky.
  • Who will look after the pet? Never buy a pet for a child and expect them to take responsibility for it’s care and training. For most children the pet-owning novelty wears off very quickly once they realise its not all cuddles and walks in the sunshine! Obviously there are some exceptionally wonderful kids out there, but all too often the responsibility for the less glamorous parts of pet owning, such as cleaning up the poo and going for walkies in the rain, sleet and snow will fall back to one or both parents.

Size Of The Pet
size of pet

Do you have enough space at home and/or in the garden for your chosen pet? Even small pets like hamsters and rats require fairly big cages. Where will your pet eat, drink and sleep? The size of the pet will also affect how expensive it will be  for vet bills, insurance, food, housing and equipment. Those giant breeds of dog can look fabulous walking next to you, but have you thought about how you will travel with it if necessary? Will it fit into your car? Could you carry it in an emergency?

With regards to housing of ‘small furries’, remember that despite their small size, most will still need plenty of exercise and space to explore and play in. Rodents such as rats and hamsters often prefer habitats with multiple platforms and safe tubing. Rabbits and guinea pigs will not only need large hutches, but also a large, safe exercise area.

  • Rat cage minimum recommended size:  for 2 rats you need at least 3 ft ( w) x 2 ft (d) and as high as possible, with an additional 2 cubic feet for each additional rat. However, the bigger the better with rats, especially if they will not be getting any exercise outside the cage. Rats are extremely active and need lots of space.
  • Hamster cage minimum recommended size: 80 cm ( w) x  50 cm (d) x 35 cm (h) would suit a single Syrian hamster or a pair of Dwarf or Chinese hamsters.
  • Guinea Pig hutch minimum recommended size: An absolute minimum of  4 ft.( w) x  2 ft (d). x  2 ft (h).  for two guinea pigs. The more guinea pigs in the hutch, the bigger it will need to be. You will also need to include a secure exercise run of at least 6 ft. ( w) X 4 ft.(d) X 2 ft. (h)
  • Rabbit hutch minimum recommended size: The Rabbit Welfare And Fund (RWAF) recommend a minimum hutch size of 10 ft ( w) x 6 ft (d) x 2 ft (h) for a pair of rabbits, to allow them room to move, stand on their hind legs and have enough space for the food, toilet and sleeping areas to be kept apart. You will also need to provide a large secure exercise area.

Breed Of Pet

Once you have settled on the type or species of pet you want, you will need to have a really good long think before you settle on a specific breed and make sure it is absolutely right for you; please make your decision based on the animal’s needs and requirements versus what you can offer it, rather than on what it looks like.

Different breeds of animals often have very different personality traits (far too many to go in depth on this blog) so you should always consider what an animal has been bred to do in the past, before making your decision. For example everyone loves the look of the stunning Dalmatian or the handsome Siberian Husky, but you might not realise that these dogs were originally bred to run for miles and have HUGE amounts of stamina so, therefore, require lots and lots of exercise and mental stimulation to keep them happy and prevent unwanted behaviours. Terriers have been bred for their ability to dispatch rodent pests quickly so don’t be surprised at their feisty and bold behaviour. In the cat world the Siamese can be very vocal, Maine Coons are known for being very affectionate and Bengals can be very destructive when they get bored. With rabbits the Dwarf-Lop is generally friendly and outgoing where as Netherland Dwarfs can be very skittish and are generally unsuitable for children.

The difference between Pedigree, Pure-Breed, Crossbreed and Mongrel (Dogs and Cats)

These words/terms are often confusing to people and can lead to unsuspecting people getting fooled or deceived by crafty breeders.

The terms Pedigree and Purebred are interchangeable for most people and are generally used when refering to a dog or cat of a certain ‘recognised’ breed or type that is recognised by the Uk and/or American Kennel Club (KC) or the Governing Council Of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) for example Labrador, Cocker spaniel, St Bernard, Burmese, British Shorthair. Persian etc. The difference between the two terms is usually in the cost of the animal and whether or not you might be intending to show and/or have your pet produce a litter yourself at a later date.

Pedigree – These animals will have a registered mum and dad of the same ‘recognised’/’pedigree’ breed; by which I mean a breed that is officially recognised by the UK or USA KC or the GCCF. The parents and offspring will have a genuine registration certificate – usually from the Kennel Club (UK or USA) or The Governing Council Of The cat Fancy (GCCF), which means that the litter has been officially registered with the club and will have an official three to five (or more) generation pedigree certificate that will show his or her ancestry and it will state whether or not you can show and/or breed from your pet and register their offspring in turn.

Please remember that having a pedigree certificate does not necessarily mean that the breeder is a good or responsible one, or that the animal is guaranteed to be healthy and well bred! It simply means that you can show the animal at official shows and potentially breed from the animal and register it’s offspring.

Purebred – These animals will have a mum & dad of the same ‘pedigree breed’ but the offspring are not registered with the KC or GCCF so cannot be shown in official competitions (Mum and dad may or may not be registered).

Crossbreed – This is usually the result of the mating between 2 different identifiable ‘pedigree’ breeds for for example Cockerpoo (Cocker spaniel x Poodle), Labradoodle (Labrador x Poodle), Cavachon (Cavalier KC Spaniel x Bichon Frise), Multipoo (Maltese Terrier x Poodle), Jug (Jack Russell x Pug), Sprocker (Springer Spaniel x Cocker Spaniel), Lurcher (Greyhound x with anything else!) etc. These crossbreeds may also come under the ‘designer breeds’ label.

Mongrel/Moggy – This term is usually used to refer to a crossbreed of 3 or more ‘pedigree’ types or a mix of of unidentifiable breeds, but can be used to mean crossbreed too.

Be especially careful when looking at ‘designer breeds’ – which, to put it bluntly are essentially very expensive crossbreeds and mongrels! (You will often find the same or very similar ‘breeds’ in your local rescue center, in desperate need of new homes and for a fraction of the cost). These animals have usually been bred to look a specific way and to make money for breeders, rather than for a specific function.  It is true that some of them are fabulous crosses and make great pets, but others can be very bad crosses, especially if the parents had health problems or bad temperaments. Designer dog breeds are NOT pedigrees or purebreeds (no matter what the breeder tells you) Some examples of ‘designer breeds’ include

  • Labradoodles and other Poodle crosses: The Labradoodle was originally bred to create a ‘low-allergen’ guide dog and quickly became popular because you could have a low-allergen dog (thanks to the poodle’s non-shedding coat) of small, medium or large size. But, did you know that the low-shed and low-allergen only happens with the first cross of labrador to poodle? (and not all of the puppies in a litter will have this quality!) Labradoodle x Labradoodle often does not have this effect at all.  Other poodle crosses such as the CockerPoo or CaviPoo may have low allergen qualities as well, but it can never be guaranteed. Often these cross breeds make wonderful family pets, but not always as they are very active and smart dogs that need the appropriate care and stimulation.  There are literally hundreds of these types of dogs in rescue centres waiting for homes, so before you part with your money have a look at your local rescue.
  • Northern Inuit or ‘WolfDogs’: These dogs are not pedigrees. They have been bred purely to be a status symbol because they look like wolves (or what people imagine wolves to look like) and they are becoming hugely popular. The problem is that these dogs are the result of crossing many breeds together, such as the German Shepherd, Husky, Malamute, Canadian Inuit Dog, Labrador and Belgian Shepherd (to name a few!) Most of the ‘breeders’ are doing this with no regard to temperament or health of the offspring, and as a result these dogs can suffer from many conditions including epilepsy, heart problems, joint problems and endocrine problems. Not to mention the fact that these dogs are bred from VERY active and often high maintenance  breeds, so they are very active and very intelligent and therefore need a lot of exercise and mental stimulation in order to prevent behavioural problems.
  • Designer Cat Breeds: Examples include the Bengal, Ocicat, Sphynx, Tonkinese and Munchkin. On the whole these cats are quite healthy, with the exception of the Munchkin, whose short little legs can predispose them to spinal problems. Care needs to be taken with some of the breeds because of their ‘wild’ natures though.

While many crossbreeds and mongrels can be very healthy and make wonderful pets, sadly many unscrupulous breeders/farmers have jumped on the ‘designer pet’ bandwagon and are breeding animals for looks, rather than temperament and good health, for a quick profit. The brood bitches are often kept in appalling conditions  and no thought is given to their health or that of their offspring.

Please read our guide on choosing a new pet for more information on what to look out for and the questions you should be asking breeders and sellers.

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Take time to research your breeds carefully or you might end up taking on more than you can cope with.

Coat Types and Grooming

Most pets will require grooming and/or bathing of some sort and you will need to check their coats, mouths, ears, eyes and bottoms every day to make sure they are clean and healthy.
Pets with long coats will require daily grooming to prevent matting and you will need to consider if you will have the time to do this. Some animals shed lots of fur which may not be good for allergy sufferers. Even those designer pets with little or no hair (Chinese Crested dogs, Sphynx cats, Reptiles) will still need their skin looking after.

long haired pets

Time and Exercise

Many behavioural problems in pets occur because they are bored, under exercised and under stimulated.

Do you have enough time to keep your chosen pet properly exercised and mentally stimulated? Exercise is really important for the health, fitness and well-being of your pet and you will also need to spend time with your pet so you can play with it and provide any training it might need.

Dogs:  It is not recommended that dogs are left alone for more than 4 hours a day and for some, even 4 hours is too long. All dogs need at least two 20 minute walks a day (most breeds need much, much more than this) and the opportunity to run about off the lead in a safe area and meet other dogs if they are socially inclined. Depending on the breed of dog you choose, you may need to provide activities such as agility and training classes to keep it fit and stimulated.

Cats: In an ideal world a cat should be able to go outside, but if you have decided to keep your cat indoors then you must provide adequate mental stimulation for it and it will need much more of your time than an outside cat would to prevent boredom.

Rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets: These pets will need a large outside enclosed run/exercise area or they can be exercised on harnesses in safe areas. They can also be exercised in safe areas inside your house.

Rodents: These pets will either need a home large enough to exercise in or will be need to let out in the home for exercise.

Exercise

Did you know that the majority of behavioural problems in animals happen because they are bored, under exercised and under stimulated?

How To Find and Choose Your New Pet

So, you have read this article and have decided that you can afford a pet, you have the time and space and now is the right time to do it. Congratulations! But where do you start? Head on over to our next article about choosing a pet and where to get it from. We cover everything from rescue centres to pedigree pet breeders, the golden rules of buying or adopting a pet and what you need to ask and look for.

Pre-Purchase Advice Clinics

The Veterinary Nurses at Castle Vets are happy to chat with you before you buy your pet. Our FREE clinics cover

  • Breed types, personalities and traits
  • Potential costs involved in pet ownership
  • Where to look for your pet
  • Questions you should ask and what to avoid
  • How to avoid puppy and kitten farms

Please contact us at the practice for advice or to make an appointment on 0118 9574488 or you can send us an email for advice.

Neutering Your Pet – Pros, Cons, Why & When

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.

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The first image shows the operation site for female dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs. The second image shows the operation site for female cats. The third image shows the operation site for male dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs. The fourth image shows the operation site for male cats

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.

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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

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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 happily in groups without fear of territorial fighting and population explosions

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 showing your pet and plan to breed, you should consider having it neutered. Remember that one in four animals handed in to animal shelters are pedigrees.

“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 absolutely priority. Breeding because you think a male and female will produce cute offspring or because you think you will make some money is very 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 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 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)
  • 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 may 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? From 4th April 2016 all puppies will also need to be microchipped and registered before they go to a new home (this will apply 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 are happy to 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 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.
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

I hope you find this article useful and informative. Please contact your veterinary practice if you wish to discuss neutering your pet.