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Thank you for joining me again, Bored Surfer!

Hopefully you have returned because you enjoy my ramblings, not because this is your absolute last chance of finding anything worthwhile on the internet. In any case, I will not question your motives (unless you work for the NSA), I am simply delighted to have an opportunity to provide you some insight on veterinary- related matters, and (ideally) amuse you in the process.

It’s August, time for International Beer Day (Aug 2), which is conveniently followed by Hangover Day on the 3rd and Forgiveness Day on the 4th. There is also Sneak Some Zucchini onto your Neighbor’s Porch Dayon August 8th, Bad Poetry Day on the 18th, World Mosquito Day on the 20th, and Frankenstein Day on the 30th (Mary Shelley’s birthday).

August is also the winding down of summer, as the days get shorter and the kids get sent back to school. Yet the heat and bugs (except for the cool glowing ones) remain…

I shall refrain from elaborating on that and instead expound on the virtues (and caveats) of pet sterilization. In this case, sterilization means making them unable to reproduce, not making them germ-free (although, come to think of it, reproductive cells are sometimes referred to as germ cells). For female dogs and cats this usually consists of the surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus. This procedure is commonly referred to as a“spay”. The past tense or adjective form of spay is spayed, not spaded (which implies hitting them with a shovel, which we do not recommend). Male dogs are usually castrated (removal of the testicles), which is usually called neutering or altering. The past tense or adjective form (neutered or altered) is most commonly used for males, but can be used for any gender. Dogs and cats that have been surgically sterilized are also sometimes referred to as“fixed”; those with all their original equipment are considered “intact”.

Among the myriad of reasons vets recommend having your pet spayed or neutered are such things as individual health (preventing or treating diseases of the reproductive organs), peace of mind (no worries about heat cycles or pregnancy, fewer worries about roaming and fighting and, statistically speaking, longer, healthier lives) and herd health (aka population control).

Female dogs usually have their first heat cycle around 8 months of age, although there is some individual and breed variation. Though the amount of vaginal bleeding will vary, the interest of every male dog for miles around will not. Be prepared for the bleeding and take appropriate measures to spare your dog that embarrassing scene in the girls’ locker room. Having a female dog spayed at six months of age prevents (usually) them from ever going into heat. This has, over the years, proven to vastly decrease their chance of getting mammary tumors. It also prevents other reproductive cancers, and the dreaded pyometra (infection in the uterus which often requires an emergency spay).

Male dogs who get neutered tend to have fewer behavior problems like aggression, roaming and urine marking. They are also protected from testicular cancer and less prone to prostate disorders. Unlike 17th century choir boys, hounds who are neutered before puberty still grow up to have nice deep voices.

Cats have their own way of educating owners about the need for pet sterilization. Female cats announce their readiness to breed with a lot of fanfare, including, but not limited to yowling, rolling around and trying to escape. They will continue doing this until they get mated and, almost always, pregnant. Male cats have a tendency to mark surfaces with the overpowering, lingering odor of urine. Many people find these behaviors undesirable, and have their cat spayed or neutered to prevent such occurrences. Prevention works better if you have the operation before the behavior starts.

There are some potential down sides. There is always a risk (a small risk, but a risk nonetheless) with anesthesia and surgery. After surgery (usually years afterward), spayed females are more likely than their non- spayed counterparts to develop urinary incontinence. Neutered dogs are more likely to develop hypothyroidism than intact dogs. There is also the issue of weight gain. Yes, strictly speaking, spaying your dog does not make her fat, it is actually a mismatch of calories in vs. calories out. The caloric balance is affected by hormones, so there is definitely a tendency for neutered pets to gain weight. You will need to compensate for this when adopting a diet/exercise regimen. Overall, however, pets that are spayed or neutered live longer, healthier lives.

If financial considerations (namely the lack of funding) are the only obstacle to neutering, be aware that there are low-cost spay/neuter clinics available. Obviously, I would prefer you have the surgery performed at Best Care, but I understand that there are situations where that is not possible. Keep in mind that even a regular price spay is a lot less expensive than an emergency C-section or pyometra surgery.

There are people who have their reasons (philosophical, financial or otherwise) to refrain from having their dog (or, in rare cases, cat) sterilized. Ideally, they are prepared for the ramifications, in reality, that is not always the case. Here are some random thoughts about the business of breeding…

First of all, you paid a pretty penny for a pedigreed pooch. What all are you paying for? Hopefully you paid for a knowledgeable breeder who genuinely cares for the dogs he/she breeds. They may have been competing on the show (or agility or herding etc.) circuit for years. They may have spent time researching which dogs to breed to maximize preferred characteristics. They (hopefully) have spent the time and money to have their breeding stock checked for genetic disorders (hip dysplasia etc). They also want to make sure their puppy has a happy home, and will (usually) make you sign a contract agreeing to do so, and return the pup to them if you find yourself unable to do so. If this sounds like a big commitment, just wait, there’s more.

These days, you can probably find a mate for your dog on the canine equivalent of Match.com. You want to breed your dog with another dog who is also well-cared for, screened for disease and genetic disorders, not closely related to yours etc. etc. etc. Your friend or neighbor’s dog may or may not be good breeding material. The criteria should be mental and physical health, not convenience.

You must also be prepared in case the birthing process does not go as planned. This includes knowing what to watch for as the due date approaches, and taking appropriate actions if things are not going right. There was an article in the Omaha World Herald recently about a pet owner whose dog went into labor and she took it to the human hospital. This article raised more questions than it answered. For starters, it stated the pregnancy was “unplanned” but the owner had an intact male and an intact female dog living in the same house. Under such circumstances, you can plan on the female getting pregnant, even if the male is her biological brother. There are many other aspects of this story to ponder such as: Did the hospital charge for the staff’s time and equipment? If so, did they charge the higher, non-insurance price? If not, why not? Were there any human patients kept waiting while the dog was being treated? If so, how much did they sue the hospital for? By the way, the dog ended up with 2 live and 2 dead puppies, after having a C-section performed at the emergency vet clinic

Some puppies do not survive, and, as Dr. Demento taught us, dead puppies aren’t much fun. If you are using your dog to illustrate the miracle of birth to your youngsters, you need to be prepared for the whole circle of life.You are also in the awkward position of explaining that the “stud” shows up when the “bitch” is in heat, copulates with her, and then, often, disappears.The female alone goes through pregnancy, giving birth and nursing before her babies are sold or given away. Though this can lead to lively family conversations, it’s a lot tidier to find a documentary on Netflix and have David Attenborough explain these things with polite verbiage and a quaint British accent.

There is the medical care (and associated costs) of the dam and the puppies. You will need to ensure she is well cared for, even to the point of taking her in (and paying) for a Caesarian section if need be. The puppies will also need to be dewormed and vaccinated at regular intervals. You will be responsible for the first round at 8 weeks; the new owners (or you if you still have any of them) need to take them for 12 and 16 week vet visits.

Then there is the copious amount of care that puppies require. For the first couple of weeks, puppies can’t see or hear or get into much trouble. As they get more active, chaos tends to ensue. You will spend a lot of time cleaning up after them. You need to keep all of them until they are at least eight weeks old. Just because they are no longer nursing does not mean they are ready to go to a new home. This is an important period when they are learning vital behavior cues from their mother and littermates. It’s also the law (in Nebraska anyway, other states may vary).

You then need to find good homes for the pups. You may have friends or relatives to take some off your hands, but they are probably not going to give you much (if any) money for them, so there goes your profit. You may find that all those people who were clamoring for theoretical puppies are not necessarily able to accommodate the real thing. You also really want prospective puppy owners who really want one of your puppies. Ideally you meet and interview prospective puppy buyers and do your best to assess the conditions under which the pup would be living. There are occasions when people do take in animals for less than admirable purposes, such as making a spotted coat. You may not be able to prevent this, but do the best you can.

If you still think that breeding dogs is easy money, do some homework. Talk to someone who shows and breeds dogs. Also watch one of those Dateline shows about puppy mills. A puppy mill may have dozens of breeding dogs, all in small, unsanitary cages to maximize profit, and yet the owner is usually living in a dilapidated trailer. So, unless they are keeping all their investments well hidden, they are creating more misery than wealth.

If I have, by now, persuaded you to have your pet spayed or neutered, or if you were planning on it anyway and just reading this for entertainment value (Thank you!), please consider the timing of the procedure. For many years, conventional wisdom was to have the operation done when the pet was six months of age. Newer recommendations vary with the particular pet.

It is now recommended by the AVMA (American Veterinary MedicalAssociation), AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association), AAFP (I’m referring to the American Association of Feline Practitioners; I have no idea what the American Academy of Family Physicians’ stance is) and other cat welfare organizations that cats be altered before 5 months of age.

For a long time, dogs were routinely altered at 6 months of age. Then shelters began early spay/neuter, which meant every animal was sterilized before being adopted out, as early as 8 weeks of age. This is a good thing for population control, but may not be the best thing for the individual dog. Recently, there have been some studies suggesting increased rates of some types of cancers as well as some orthopedic conditions in some large-breed dogs sterilized before puberty. Surgical sterilization changes the hormonal balance, and thus affects the growth. Large breed dogs still have a lot of growing to do at six months of age, so it may benefit them to wait until they are close to their adult size, usually between 1-2 years of age. This will require 1 or 2 heat cycles for females, so you will need to be prepared to protect her from unwanted pregnancy. Since dogs are not very adept at applying condoms, abstinence will be required. You will need to chaperone your dog on all excursions outside your house. Yes, even in your fenced yard. You will need to protect her virtue for about a month starting as soon as you notice the tell-tale blood.

If it ain’t broke, why should I fix it? As a pet owner, you have a responsibility to your pet, any and all potential offspring and the world. There are wonderful animals out there who end up being euthanized because of the lack of space. Please don’t add to their numbers. Unless you are dedicating your time and money to improving a breed by carefully producing a litter of healthy pups for waiting recipients, please do as Bob Barker (and now Drew Carey) says and help control the pet population, have your pet spayed or neutered.

I fear this composition has gone on almost as long as that depressing Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercial. So, I must now conclude this month’s natterings and thank you, Bored Surfer, for your time and attention. Be sure to join me again next month for another delightful edition of BLOG blog.

Dr. Debbie Appleby