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Was I wrong to castrate my young male dog? And is it wrong to spay young female dogs?

I knew I wasn't going to breed from my Hungarian Viszla so I made the decision to have him neutered which I did at six months old. Since then I have been told by the breeding fraternity that neutering at such an early age is a factor in dogs getting bone cancer. I cannot bear that I may have done something in good faith that could affect my beloved dog's future health. What is the truth?

This question from a VetHelpDirect reader is an increasingly common query from pet owners responding to internet rumours and discussions that are doing the rounds. As is often the case, the truth is complicated: we still do not know everything about the impact of spay/neutering, but we do know that there are pluses and minuses to having the operations done.

In the past, it was more-or-less universally agreed that early spay/neuter was the best choice for all dogs and cats. New information from recent studies means that this one-size-fits-all advice now needs to be modified. It seems that spay/neuter of some breeds of young dogs may increase the risk of some some types of cancer. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that the operation also reduces the risk of other (common) cancers. A balanced view now may be that the decision needs to be made for an individual, after considering all factors, rather than just saying "early neutering is always best".

It does sound to me as in your case, with a Viszla, it was the correct decision. Early neutering is still strongly recommended for nearly all dogs as the best way to ensure that a dog is a good family pet. There are many behavioural advantages, such as stopping male dogs showing sexual behaviour, urine marking etc. And there are many health benefits too - reducing prostate disease, reducing certain types of cancer etc. And bone cancer is rare in Viszlas.

For female dogs, there are also many benefits from spaying. The operation eliminates the risk of unwanted pregnancy, dystocia and the physiological and behavioural changes associated with the six-monthly reproductive cycle. It eliminates the risk of pyometra, which occurs in 23% of intact females and kills approximately 1% of intact females. Mammary tumours are the most common malignant tumours in female dogs, and spaying before 2½ years of age greatly reduces the likelihood of this cancer.

Neutering and spaying has other beneficial effects on a society-wide basis: it prevents dogs from straying and dramatically reduces the problem of unwanted pups.

What about the negative aspects? A comprehensive review paper published in 2007 provides a detailed catalogue of the potential negative risks which seem to be more in some breeds and some cancers than others (e.g. more osteosarcoma in giant breeds like Newfoundlands and St Bernards). A more recent study on Golden Retrievers found an increased risk from other cancers and some joint diseases from early neutering but the study has been criticised by statisticians and other scientists as being potentially biased and not representative of the general population of dogs. It's likely that other studies are in the pipeline, so it's worth keeping an eye out for these in the coming years.

When reading these studies, it needs to be remembered that a big increase in the risk of a rare cancer may not be as significant to a pet as a small decrease in the risk of a common cancer. It is not easy for pet owners, unfamiliar with judging medical data, to assess these types of situations. What should pet owners do? Refuse to spay/neuter their pet, then blame themselves when their male dog develops anal tumours or when mammary cancer affects their female dog? Or go ahead and spay/neuter, then beat themselves up when their pet develops osteosarcoma?

The best answer is that there is no perfect choice. The take home message is that you should not ignore the subject: all pet owners should discuss this with their vet. A decision should be made after addressing all of the issues above. Only in the fullness of time will you know whether it was the right or wrong choice.

The most important issue is that you carefully consider the various implications: at least then, regardless of the outcome, you will be able to look back and say " I did my best to do the right thing".


Ask a vet online – ‘How imperative is having the annual booster jabs for cat flu/ Felv/ Fiv/ Leukemia?’

Question from Jakkii Mickle: Feline question again- how imperative is having the annual booster jabs for cat flu/ Felv/ Fiv/ Leukemia ? If they have had these injections from kitten age- would they have built up a natural immunity ? One of my cats reacts very badly to these injections, so as a result, I decided not to have them immunised - also my mums dog developed canine leukemia as a result of the injection programme ( confirmed by vets )-- so what is best- assume they have their own immunity , or risk them catching these horrible ailments ? Or make them ill by injecting them....??? Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS, Online Vet Hi Jakkii and thank you for your interesting question about cat vaccinations. In order to answer your question I will discuss what is in the feline vaccines, what immunity is and how vaccines work. What diseases are covered in my cat’s vaccine? Commonly found in the vaccine your vet will offer your cat is protection against feline influenza (cat flu), feline infectious enteritis (viruses affecting the gut) and feline leukaemia (FeLV).  Other feline vaccines available but less commonly given include rabies, Bordatella bronchiseptica (airway disease) and Chlamydia.  There is currently no vaccine against feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). What is immunity? The immune system is the way in which the body detects, reacts and fights off anything it encounters. The immune system is made up of white blood cells (and the substances they produce such as antibodies) and the lymph system (nodules of various size from tonsils through to parts of the spleen).  When the body meets an antigen (something like a virus of bacteria) for the first time certain white blood cells notice the antigen and set off a reaction in the immune system which leads to the development of immunity. Certain white blood cells produce antibodies that recognise and attach to the antigen, other white blood cells come along and help destroy the recognised antigen and some white blood cells keep a memory of the antigen so next time it is met it can be fought off quickly. Once immunity has developed to an antigen the body should be able to fight it off before it can cause illness. Immunity does tend to slowly decrease over time, the longer it has been since an antigen was last met the slower the body is to react to it. This is why booster vaccines are given each year to keep the level of immunity topped up. Vaccines and naturally being exposed to an antigen stimulate the immune system in the same way to help develop immunity, but vaccines contain antigen that has been treated so as to minimise the chance of developing the actual disease in the process.  The time intervals designed for each vaccine regime are based on research as to how long the immunity levels remain in the average cat. Generally the antigens in cat vaccines are either a small part of the antigen, an artificially produced version (that is less able to cause disease) or a killed version of the antigen.  This is all done so as to provide immunity with the least risk of your cat actually getting ill. Why does my cat react badly to the vaccine? After vaccination some animals feel mildly unwell or can have a slightly raised body temperature, but this is not common. It is also possible for some cats to react badly to some vaccines and develop a full infection. The other thing that cats can react badly to is ingredients in the vaccine most commonly the adjuvant.  Animals that are unwell at the time of vaccination or have an underlying disease can also have bad reactions to vaccines.  This is a large part of why it is important for your pet to have a full health check prior to vaccination.  In the case of your mum’s dog developing leukaemia as a result of vaccinations this is very rare. The adjuvant is a chemical added to the vaccine to help the cat’s body react more to killed and part antigen components as these would otherwise cause less stimulation of the immune system.  If as is the case with your cat there is a sever bad reaction to vaccination then this should be discussed with your vet, noted on your cats medical records and an attempt made to work out what it is that your cat is reacting to. Should I still have my cat vaccinated if it reacts badly? After careful consideration it might be that your cat could tolerate the vaccines if given separately or if a different form of antigen or adjuvant was in the vaccine used.  After many years of vaccination your cat will have developed a reasonable level of immunity but it is very hard to work out exactly how long this will last if annual vaccination is stopped. In conclusion the decision as to whether or not to have your cat vaccinated every year should be made between you and your vet weighing up the chance of your cat being exposed to various diseases against the severity of its reaction.  I hope that this answer has helped you and your cat. Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet)
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Don’t Panic! – What to do in a Vet Emergency

Don’t Panic! Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS Thankfully, medical emergencies don’t happen very often with our pets, however, when they do occur they can be very frightening and it is easy to panic when a beloved animal is seriously ill. This article will hopefully help you by explaining some common emergency situations and what to do. Firstly, all vets have to provide an emergency service out-of-hours, so you will always be able to contact a vet if you need one. Some practices run their out-of-hours and others will use a separate, dedicated emergency clinic. It is useful to know your vet’s arrangements before you need them but usually a quick call to the surgery will give an answer-phone message with the instructions you need (so remember to have a pen close to hand if you call!) The best place for a sick pet to be seen is the surgery and although sometimes your vet may be able to visit, it is likely you will need to take them in, so make sure you have some arrangements in place, especially if you have a large dog who you might not be able to carry if they collapsed. Cuts and bleeding wounds are a common problem, particularly in dogs who don’t aways look before they leap! Firstly, identify where the wound is, and if it is bleeding, stem the flow with constant, even pressure using a clean towel. If the blood is oozing from the wound it is unlikely in the short term there will be significant blood loss but if it is dripping quickly or pumping out, then pressure application is vital, even if your pet resents it. Resist the temptation to check if the bleeding has stopped, just keep the pressure on and pick up the phone! If the wound isn’t bleeding badly your vet may advise you to wait until normal opening hours but to keep it covered so your pet can’t lick it and don’t apply any wound powders or gels as these can make stitching the skin more difficult. Dogs having epileptic fits are a frequent reason for calls to the out-of-hours services (they can occur in cats but are very rare). When they happen they are usually unexpected and very frightening to watch. However, they normally only last a minute or so and usually by the time you get in touch with a vet, your pet is already coming round. During a classic fit, the dog will fall on their side, shake violently and sometimes lose control of their bowels or bladder. The best thing you can do is turn off the lights, TV or radio, stay calm and move anything your pet could hurt themselves on. You can hold them gently but be aware some dogs are very disorientated when they come out of the fit and may snap at you. Continue to keep the environment dark and quiet and then call for more advice. Road traffic accidents are extremely scary and often cause very painful injuries. If you see it happen, make sure your pet is under control (when they are frightened and hurt, animals have a tendancy to run away if they can), keep them warm with a coat or blanket and get them to the vet as soon as possible. If you have to lift or move them do so as gently as possible, keeping the body level and avoiding any obviously damaged areas. It is a very good idea to tie something dogs noses, like a scarf, or cover cat’s heads before moving them as pets who are in pain have a tendency to lash out, even towards people they know. A very common opener to a call to the emergency vet is ‘I’ve just realised my pet has eaten.........’, and again it is usually dogs! Unfortunately there are many things around our houses and gardens which are toxic to our pets. If an animal has eaten something they shouldn’t, even if you are not sure it is poisonous, the best approach is to call the vet straight away and make sure you keep all the packaging so you can tell them exactly what it is and it’s active ingredients. Upset tummies are a regular occurrence at any time but many pets wait until the middle of the night before vomiting or having diarrhoea all over the carpets! In many cases they can be safely left until morning but if they are passing blood (from either end), are vomiting continually, or you know they have swallowed something solid (such as a toy, stone or bones), you should call the vets immediately for advice. Other problems which should definitely trigger a call to your vets regardless of the time of day include any animal which is collapsed, has very pale gums, a rapidly expanding stomach, especially in large breed dogs, being unable to stand on a leg and any bitch giving birth who appears to be struggling. Hopefully an animal emergency will never happen to you but if it does remember, keep calm, take steps to ensure both your pet and yourself are as safe as possible, stem any bleeding with pressure, keep them comfortable and ring your vet as soon as possible. Even if it isn’t an obvious emergency, it is never the wrong decision to call for some advice, you won’t be charged and while you may just need your mind putting at ease, you might just be saving your pet’s life! If you are unsure if you are dealing with a genuine emergency you can use this free interactive pet symptom checker written by UK vets.

Ask a Vet Online – ‘My vet says my poodle cross Pom, may have cushings disease what is this please?’

Question from Carol Fogerty Hi my vet says my poodle cross Pom ,may have cushings disease whot is this please Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS, Online Vet Hi Carol and thank you for asking about Cushing’s disease (HAC hyperadrenocorticism) which is a condition where the body makes too much of the steroid cortisol which can result in a variety of symptoms.  HAC is most common in middle aged to older dogs but does also affect cats, horses, hamsters and ferrets. There are three different types of HAC: Pituitary dependant HAC (PDHAC) is the most common type and this is when a tumour of  the pituitary gland in the brain is making too much of a hormone called adrenocotricotrophic hormone (ACTH)  this causes the adrenal glands to make too much cortisol. Adrenal dependant HAC (ADHAC) is less common, this is when a tumour of the adrenal glands causes too much cortisol to be produced. Iatrogenic HAC (IHAC) is when very high doses of steroid given as medication lead to symptoms of HAC. What are the signs of HAC? If your pet is showing some of the following signs then your vet may suspect HAC: Increased drinking (PD polydypsia), increased urinating (PU polyuria), increased appetite (PP polyphagia), a large rounded low slung abdomen ( tummy), muscle weakness, hair loss on both sides (bilateral symmetrical alopecia), hard areas under the skin due to deposits of the mineral calcium (calcinosis cutis) and dark spots on the skin due to blocked keratin (hair protein) filled hair follicles  (comedones). How do we test for HAC? There are several blood tests, urine tests and diagnostic imaging tests than can be done to try and make a diagnosis of HAC:
    Routine blood tests in cases of HAC may show up increased levels of liver enzymes, increased cholesterol, increased blood glucose (blood sugar) and also changes to the white blood cell numbers.
    Routine urine tests may show an increase in glucose, white blood cells and protein.
More specific tests for HAC include:
    Urine creatinine: cortisol ratio, here a urine sample collected from your pet is sent to a laboratory for analysis, abnormal results are found in cases of HAC but can also suggest diabetes, liver disease or womb infection (pyometra).
    ACTH stimulation test, this is a set of blood tests in which a blood sample is taken from your pet, an injection of artificial ACTH is given into a vein (blood vessel) and 1-2 hours later another blood sample is collected. The laboratory results are abnormal in approximately 80% of dogs with HAC, this test is also often used to monitor dogs on treatment for HAC.
    Plasma cortisol level, this is a blood test which directly measure the level of cortisol in the blood , the blood sample has to be treated very carefully and sent to the lab quickly so as to get an accurate result.
    Ultrasound scan of the abdomen can be used to check the size of the adrenal glands (found next to the kidneys), look for a tumour and assess the other abdominal organs. IN PDHAC the adrenal glands are usually normal size or slightly enlarged with ADHAC the adrenal glands are usually different sizes, the large irregular gland being the one with the tumour.
    Low and High dose dexamethasone suppression test (LDDST & HDDST) are blood tests where the effect of artificial steroid on the adrenal glands is measured, the results can sometimes help tell apart PDHAC form ADHAC.
    Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and computed tomography (CT) scans can be performed at referral centres to help in the diagnosis of HAC and also tell which type it is.
How is HAC treated? Trilostane is a tablet with blocks a step in the production of cortisol in your pet’s adrenal glands therefore decreasing the amount of cortisol in your pet’s body. Mitotane is another tablet which works by destroying the parts of the adrenal glands that produce cortisol. Surgery to remove the actual tumours can be performed usually at referral centres. Trilostane and mitotane are the most commonly used treatments for HAC, they are effective on both PDHAC and ADHAC and your pet should have regular blood tests to monitor that the dose given is correct for your pet. Too much medication for HAC can lead to symptoms of Addison’s disease (Hypoadrenocorticism) where there is not enough cortisol which includes dehydration, depression, diarrhoea and lethargy (weakness). I hope that my answer has given you some useful information about HAC, the exact test done on your pet will need to be discussed with your vet. The aim of treating your pet is to reduce the signs of HAC to improve your pet’s quality of life and is best achieved by working closely with your vet. Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet)
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Ask a vet online – ‘ Is too many wormer tablets bad for my dog?’

Question from Gillian Richards I have a American bull dog and every couple of weeks as worms I have giving 1 dose wormer tablets but is to many wormer tablets bad for her or is their another wormer I could use to treat it many Thanx Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS, Online Vet Hi Gillian and thank you for your question about worming your dog. I will start by discussing the common worms that affect dogs and then treatment options. When we say a dog has worms we are usually talking about intestinal (gut) worms but we are now much more aware that worms can also affect the lungs and heart of dogs. Worms have a life cycle and this can include other species sometimes such as cats, foxes, sheep, slugs, snails and mosquitoes. The worms are a parasite, the animal it is living in is called the host, and if the worm as part of its life cycle has to pass through another animal then this animal is called an intermediate host. Common worms affecting dogs include the round worm Toxocara canis, tapeworm Dipylidium caninum, whip worm Trichuris vulpis, hookworm Ancylostoma caninum, heart worm Dirofilaria immitis and the lung worm Angiostrongylus vasorum. The life cycle of the round worm is as follows: Worm eggs are eaten or licked up by the dog, these hatch in your dog’s stomach and develop into larvae. Larvae pass into your dog’s blood, are carried to the lungs where they climb up the trachea (windpipe) and are coughed up and swallowed. These larvae then mature into adult worms. Larvae can also remain inside your pet in an encapsulated (protected stage) in different body tissues. Adult female worms produce eggs which are then passed out in your dog’s faeces (poo). These eggs can then be eaten by your dog or other animals. Worm eggs can survive in the environment for a long time. Round worms can be passed directly from pregnant bitches to the puppies both before and after birth. How can you tell if your dog has worms? Most healthy adult animals show little or no signs of having intestinal worms. Passing worms in the faeces, segments in the case of tape worms around your dog’s bottom which look like grains of rice, intermittent diarrhoea, vomit plus or minus worms, weakness and anaemia may be seen. Very young animals, those which are severely infected or with a weak immune system may show the more severe signs listed when infected with intestinal worms. If there are no obvious signs of worms or we are trying to work out which exact type of worms your dog has then test can be carried out of faeces and blood samples from your dog. How do we treat intestinal worms? Most pregnant bitches are given several doses of an appropriate worm treatment throughout pregnancy and lactation (milk production). We advise regular worming of puppies from birth to 6 months of age. Puppies 6 months of age and adult dogs are advised to be routinely wormed three to four times a year. It is safest to discuss which wormer to use with your vet to ensure it is safe for your dog, its life stage and that the correct dose is given. Worm treatments tend to kill the adult worms and larvae inside your dog, the encapsulated larvae are only killed by certain worm treatments. It is very easy for your dog to pick up worms soon after treatment from eggs in the environment, faeces and other animals. Worm treatments: The worm treatment drugs come in the form of tablets, pastes, granules and spot on preparations. The exact type you use should be decided after discussion with your vet especially in the case of recurrent infestations. It is always important to use the correct dose of a drug and one that is safe for your pet’s age and health status. Reasons a worm treatment may not appear to be working include: pet reacts badly to certain drugs, the worms they have are not being killed by the drug given, their immune system is weakened by other conditions or they are being exposed to a high level of worms. Many combination drugs are available that treat different types of worms and some other parasites also. A list of drugs commonly found in worm treatments include, fenbendazole, praziquantel, milbemycin, pyrantel, moxidectin, selamectin and flubendazole. In conclusion regular worming of your dog with a suitable drug is important for dogs of all ages, the exact drug used can be chosen after discussion with your vet based on your dogs needs. If worm infestation is recurrent then your vet may suggest performing tests to work out exactly which worms are present, helping to choose the best drug to use and an individual worming regime can be set. Worm treatment is a constant battle as re infestation occurs to easily. I hope this has helped you and that your dog’s worms are soon under control. Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet)