Browsing tag: Neutering

Ask a vet online – ‘my dog only has one testicle down – what is the best age to have him neutered?’

Question from Pam Gilmour

Hi my chi(huahua) is 6 months , he only has one testicle. I will be having him done, what would be the best age to wait to see if it will come down?

Answer from Shanika (online vet)

Hi Pam and thank you for your Question regarding the best age to have a dog castrated which has a retained testicle.

I will start by explaining a little about the testicles, what they are, where they develop and what can go wrong along the way.

The testicles are two oval shaped structures normally found in the scrotum (loose sac of skin near your dog’s bottom). Testicles are male sexual glands and produce the hormone testosterone along with sperm and various other secretions which assist in reproduction.

The testicles start developing while the puppy is inside the mother’s uterus (womb); they are at first located inside the abdomen (tummy) and just behind the kidneys. A few days after your puppy has been born the testicles should be in the scrotum, they travel from their starting point down through the abdomen and through an opening called the inguinal ring in order to get to the scrotum.

When you take your puppy to the vets to have his first examination they will check for the presence of two testicles in the scrotum, if these cannot be felt then this will be checked again on future visits.  If both testicles are not present this condition is referred to as cryptorchidism (retained testicles), either one (unilateral cryptorchid) or both (bilateral cryptorchid) of the testicles may be missing from the scrotum.  In very rare cases on or both of the testicles has not actually developed at all.

What should you do if your dog has cryptorchidism?

Your vet is likely to suggest that you wait to see if the missing testicle comes down into the scrotum at a later date, this would usually be by 6 months of age but in some cases can occur up to 1 year of age.

What to do if the testicle does not appear?

Your vet will discuss a castration procedure with you in which both testicles are removed, it is a simple procedure to remove under general anaesthesia the testicle present in the scrotum, the retained one has to be located in your dog’s abdomen, and this can take some time. The surgical procedure to find and remove the testicle from the abdomen can be tricky as the testicle which has not found its way to the scrotum is often smaller and therefore not so easy to locate in amongst the contents of your dog’s abdomen.

Why should I have my dog castrated if he has cryptorchidism?

If the testicles are not in their correct location in the scrotum there is an increased chance of them becoming diseased, such as developing into cancerous tissue. Also a dog with cryptorchidism is likely to have reduced fertility and would not be an ideal candidate for breeding.

I hope that I have managed to answer your question regarding the timing of castration in a cryptorchid dog and have managed to explain some of the reasoning behind why it happens and what the best plan of treatment is.

Shanika Winters MRCVS(online vet)

If you are worried about your dog please book an appointment with your vet or use our online symptom checker.

New study shows that spayed & neutered dogs live for longer and die of different diseases compared to entire dogs

It was just last month that I wrote a blog here about the pros and cons of the decision on whether or not to spay/castrate your dog. This seems to be an area which is coming under increasing scrutiny by researchers, perhaps because it is relatively easy to analyse stored data to discover differences between spayed/neutered and entire populations. After all, the contrast between two study groups doesn’t get much more black and white than that: spayed/neutered or entire.

In one of the most recent studies (published online in April 2013), the historical records of over 80,000 sterilized and reproductively intact dogs were examined from a database of dogs presented to North American veterinary teaching hospitals over a period between 1984 and 2004. The cause of death and the lifespan of each animal was noted. To make the data as “clean” and unbiased as possible, the researchers removed around half of the records. First, they took out all young dogs, and all those where the spay/neuter status had not been recorded. Then they took out all those dogs that had died from congenital disease (i.e. disease which the animal had been born with, which obviously could not be influenced by neutering). Finally, they removed all of those dogs where no specific cause of death could be categorised. This left them with 40,139 dogs for analysis of the relationship between the effect of spay/neuter on age and cause of death.

The findings of the study are fascinating, and if you have an interest in reading scientific papers, you should read the report in full yourself. For those who don’t wish to, there were two main findings.

First, spaying/neutering caused dogs to live significantly longer lives. Females lived for 26.3% longer if they were spayed, and the life expectancy of males was increased by 13.8% after castration.

Second, there was a striking effect of spaying/neutering on the cause of death. Spayed/neutered dogs were dramatically less likely to die of infectious disease, trauma, vascular disease and degenerative disease. In contrast, sterilized dogs died more commonly from neoplasia and immune-mediated disease. This difference was similar for both males and females.

So what does this mean for pet owners? The study results could be taken to be broadly supportive of spaying and neutering both males and females, if length of life is taken as the most important outcome. It also suggests that owners of spayed/neutered dogs should be aware of the fact that their pets will be more likely to suffer from neoplasia or immune-mediated disease, and it would make sense to discuss with their vet what sort of signs they should look out for, so that if these diseases do develop, they will be well briefed in advance.

I still stand by my recommendations in the previous blog: all pet owners should discuss spaying and neutering with their vet. It may not be the right decision for every pet, but on average, this study demonstrates that it’s the most likely choice to lead to a longer life for your much loved pet.

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”.

Thinking of getting a puppy?

Bichon Frise puppyThis week I have seen two different families who each bought a puppy with very little thought or planning and then ran into problems that caused the animals to be rehomed (with one narrowly avoiding being euthanised), as neither could cope with or afford the issues they faced. What is particularly sad is that with a little forethought and planning, all of this could have been avoided.

Before you decide to buy a dog (and tell the kids!) you must make sure you can afford them. As well as the day-to-day costs of feeding, you also have to consider vaccines, worming and flea treatment, neutering and training classes, not to mention vets fees if things go wrong. Owning a dog can cost many thousands of pounds over their lifetime, even if they don’t have any particular health problems. Pet insurance is vital but it won’t cover routine medications or surgeries. A lack of funds was what caused the problems for both the families I saw recently.

milly puppySecondly, do your research into your chosen breed and make absolutely sure they are going to be suitable for you and your lifestyle. All dogs need a reasonable amount of exercise, aim for at least an hour a day, but some require much more than others. For example, Border Collies and Springer Spaniels are popular breeds but are not always suited to family life because they need large amounts of stimulation, both physically and mentally, and can become easily bored, and potentially aggressive, without enough. Dogs which make great family pets include Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and, contrary to popular opinion, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, as they tend to be very good with people, tolerant of small children and don’t require the high levels of exercise and interaction that some breeds do.

You must also ensure that your new pet comes from a reputable breeder who has mated their dogs responsibly, ensured all the pre-breeding testing has been done, has brought their puppies up properly and are registered with the Kennel Club. The KC has come in for a lot of criticism recently but breeders who are registered with them are far more likely to be responsible that someone who has just bred their dogs for fun or, more likely, for the money. You must visit the pup at the breeders home, see where it has been living (which should be in the house and not in a shed outside), see it with the litter and the bitch (this is absolutely vital, if the breeder cannot or will not show you them altogether, it is likely they are hiding something) and good breeders will always be contactable after you have bought your dog to help with any questions or concerns you may have. If you have any worries about the breeder or feel in any way you are ‘rescuing’ a pup from them, you must walk away and, if you are really concerned, contact the RSPCA.

Charlie puppyFinally, why not consider a rescue dog? Many rescue centres have pups that need homes and will have wormed, flea’d and vaccinated them, as well as being able to give you support for neutering costs if you need it. However, although puppies are adorable, they are a lot of work and they will also have lots of adult dogs desperate for their forever home!

Deciding to buy a new pup is an exciting time but I have seen too many people rush into it, make the wrong decision and suffer heartbreaking (and expensive) consequences. By making the effort to buy as healthy (both mentally and physically) and well bred a puppy as possible, although you cannot guarantee you won’t have problems, you are giving yourself the best chance of gaining a family member who will be with you, in good health, for years to come!

Please discuss any concerns about the health of your dog or puppy with your vet, they will be happy to help. You could also check on any specific problems with our Interactice Dog Symptom Guide to see how urgent they may be.

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What Your Rabbit Really Needs

Bunnies crop

Rabbits are really popular pets in the UK, second only to cats and dogs, and they can make great companions. However, despite peoples best efforts their needs are often misunderstood and rather than being treated as the intelligent, social animal they are, many are condemned to a life of loneliness and boredom in a cage at the bottom of the garden. It is not difficult to look after rabbits in a way that will keep them both healthy and happy, so what do they really need?

The most important thing you can do to keep a rabbit healthy is feed them a balanced diet. The most common problems that vets see in rabbits are over-grown teeth, tummy upsets and obesity related disease, all of which are directly related to them being fed incorrectly. The vast majority of a rabbit’s diet, at least 80%, should be good quality hay. As a rough guide, every day a rabbit should eat a pile of hay as big as it is. Rabbit’s teeth grow continually and without hay to grind them down, they can develop painful spikes, which rip into the tissues of the mouth, and nasty abscesses in the roots. Hay is also required for good digestion (rabbits can easily die from upset tummies) and helps prevent them getting fat. In addition to hay rabbits should have a small amount of fresh vegetables every day, half a handful is enough and a small amount of pelleted rabbit food, no more than a tablespoon twice a day. This is often where people go wrong, leaving the rabbit with an over-flowing bowl of rabbit food, which, because it is high in calories and very tasty, it is all they eat, giving them a very unbalanced diet.

Rabbits are extremely social creatures, in the wild they live in large family groups, and they should never be kept on their own. The best thing to do is to buy sibling rabbits when they are young. You can introduce rabbits when they are adults but it has to be done with care as many will fight at first. However, it is important to persevere and get the right advice as rabbits are miserable when alone. They are also very intelligent, so make sure they have a variety of toys in their cages and runs to keep them entertained. These don’t have to be expensive, there are plenty of commercially available rabbit toys or just a couple of logs they can play on and nibble are fine.

All rabbits should be neutered, even if they are kept with others of the same sex, and this can be done from the age of 4 months for boys and 6 months for girls. Neutered rabbits make much calmer pets and are far easier to handle. They are also much less likely to fight with each other; 2 entire males kept together, even if they are siblings, can become very aggressive once their hormones kick in. Neutering also has huge health benefits, particularly for the females, of whom 80% will get uterine cancer if they are not spayed.

For most people the whole point of owning a rabbit is because they are cute and cuddly creatures but anyone who has tried to pick up a startled or poorly handled rabbit will know that they can do a lot of damage with their strong nails and back legs! So, it is important that they are played with and handled everyday so they are used to human interaction. Rabbits are prey animals in the wild and their only defence mechanism when frightened is to struggle and try to run away. This is why they don’t always make great pets for children, who can be, unintentionally, quite rough or unpredictable in their handling and it is a big reason why rabbits bought as pets for children end up forgotten and neglected at the bottom of the garden; because no child will play with a pet which has hurt it. However, with regular, careful handling from an early age rabbits can become great companions and members of the family.

Rabbits can make great pets but they need just as much care and attention as other animals and shouldn’t be seen as an ‘easy’ option. Although they are often bought for children they are not always the most suitable pet for young people and they should always be kept with at least one other rabbit. However, they can be real characters once you get to know them and really give back what you put in, provided, of course, you give them what they really need!

For details on examining a rabbit, neutering and vaccinations, take a look at our Pet Care Advice pages. If you are worried about any symptoms your rabbit may be showing, talk to your vet or use our Rabbit Symptom Checker to help decide what to do.

Neutering dogs – Bitch spay operation: a step by step guide

Deciding whether to spay

Spaying or neutering a female dog is not a small operation, so owners should think carefully about all the pros and cons before deciding.

The main advantages of spaying are preventing pregnancy, preventing infection of the uterus (pyometra), preventing ovarian or uterine cancer and reducing the likelihood of mammary (breast) cancer, all of which can be life-threatening. It also prevents the inconvenience of having a bitch in season with unwanted attention from male dogs.

The main disadvantages are major surgery with associated risks, an anaesthetic with associated risks and the increased likelihood of urinary incontinence in later life. Fortunately, the risks involved in anaesthesia and surgery are very small indeed compared with the risks of the other conditions which are prevented by spaying. Urinary incontinence in later life is a nuisance but not very common, and can usually be controlled by drugs.

There is no medical reason to let a bitch have one litter before spay, in fact some of the benefits like protection against mammary tumours, are lost if the operation is delayed. Unless an owner is committed to having a litter, with all the work and expense that can be involved, and the bitch is also suitable in temperament and free of any hereditary problems, then breeding should not be considered.

Tilly GrinSome people expect that their bitch will get fat after spay, but in fact this is entirely preventable with a healthy diet and proper exercise.

My own opinion is that most bitches should be spayed because of the health benefits. My boxer bitch Tilly was recently spayed.

Deciding when to spay

It is not a good idea to spay when a bitch is in season or about to come into season, because the blood vessels supplying the uterus and ovaries are all larger and this will increase the risks of surgery. The other time we try to avoid is the 8 weeks after a season, when a bitch may suffer from a hormonal imbalance called a false pregnancy. If this happens, she may be acting as if she is nursing pups and the operation at this time would cause such sudden changes in hormone levels that it would be unfair to her. Also if she was producing milk, the enlargement of the milk glands would make it more difficult for the spay wound to heal.

For all of these reasons, the time chosen to spay is usually either before the first season occurs, or 3-4 months after a season. A physical examination by the vet will determine whether a 5-6 month old bitch puppy is mature enough to spay before her first season.

Before the operation

As well as timing the operation carefully to reduce any risks, it is also important that the bitch is not overweight. Because this increases the difficulty of the operation, it may well be advised that an overweight bitch should lose weight before the operation.

Another important way of spotting avoidable risks is by taking a blood test before the anaesthetic. This could be done on the day of the operation or a few days earlier. This is used to check the liver and kidney function (both vital when dealing with anaesthetic drugs) and to rule out any unsuspected illnesses.

Before going to the surgery

Before any anaesthetic the patient should be starved for a number of hours, according to the instructions of the surgery. This prevents any problems with vomiting which could be dangerous. It is also a good idea to allow the dog enough exercise to empty the bladder and bowels. Apart from that, it is best to stick as closely as possible to the normal routines of the day so that the dog does not feel anxious.

Being admitted for surgery

On arrival at the surgery, you can expect to be seen by a vet or a veterinary nurse who will check that you understand the nature of the operation and will answer any questions you may have. They will ask you to read and to sign a consent form for the procedure and ask you to supply contact phone numbers. This is very important in case anything needs to be discussed with the owner before or during the operation.

Before the anaesthetic

Your bitch will be weighed to help calculate the dosages of drugs and given a physical examination including checking her heart. If a pre-anaesthetic blood test has not already been done, it will be done now and the results checked before proceeding. If any abnormalities are found, these will be discussed with the owner before deciding whether the operation goes ahead or not. One possible outcome is that extra precautions such as intravenous fluids may be given.

A pre-med, which is usually a combination of several drugs, will be given by injection. This begins to make the dog feel a bit sleepy and ensures that pain relief will be as effective as possible.

The anaesthetic

There are several ways in which this can be given, but the most common is by an injection into the vein of the front leg. The effects of the most commonly used drugs are very fast, but don’t last for very long, so a tube is placed into the windpipe to allow anaesthetic gas and oxygen to be given. The anaesthetic gas allows the right level of anaesthesia to be maintained safely for as long as necessary.

Various pieces of equipment will then be connected up to monitor the anaesthetic. This is a skilled job which would usually be carried out by a qualified veterinary nurse. Apart from the operating table, the instruments and the anaesthetic machine, a lot of specialised equipment will be on “stand by” in case it is needed.

The area where the surgical incision is to be made will be prepared by clipping and thorough cleaning to make it as close to sterile as possible. The site is usually in the middle of the tummy, but some vets prefer to use an incision through the side of the tummy.

The operation

While the bitch is being prepared for surgery as mentioned above, the surgeon will be “scrubbing up” and putting on sterile clothing (gown, gloves, hat & mask) just as in all television surgical drama programmes. The surgical instruments will have been sterilised in advance and are opened and laid out at the start of the operation.

The operation involves removal of the ovaries and uterus (ovario-hysterectomy). The surgeon carefully opens the abdomen by cutting through the various layers. The first ovary is located and its blood vessels are tied off before it can be cut free at one end, then this is repeated with the second ovary. It is a delicate and fiddly job, needing great care and attention. The main body of the womb or uterus is then tied off as well before the whole thing can be cut free and removed. After checking for any bleeding, the layers of the tummy can then be sewn closed again. A dressing might be applied to the wound. Further drugs may be given now as needed.

When the operation is finished, the gas anaesthetic is reduced and the bitch begins to wake up. She will be constantly monitored and the tube removed from her windpipe when she reaches the right level of wakefulness.

Recovery

Like humans, dogs are often a bit woozy as they come round, so she will be placed in a cage with soft warm bedding and kept under observation. Usually they will wake up uneventfully and then sleep it off for the rest of the day.

After-care

The bitch will not be allowed home until she is able to walk and is comfortable. Full instructions should be given by the surgery concerning after-care. The most important things would be to check the appearance of the wound, to prevent the bitch from licking it (with a plastic bucket-collar if necessary) and to limit her exercise by keeping her on the lead. Any concerns of any kind should be raised with the surgery.

Any medication supplied should be given according to the instructions. Pain relief can be given by tablets or liquid on the food. Antibiotics are not always needed, but may be supplied if there is a need for them.

Usually there will be stitches in the skin which need to be removed after about 10 days, but sometimes these are concealed under the surface and will dissolve by themselves.

tilly's wound with text

After a couple of weeks, if all goes according to plan, the bitch can be allowed to gradually increase her exercise levels. This is the stage that Tilly has now reached and she is thoroughly enjoying a good run again now that she is feeling back to normal.

What is Pyometra?

Bobbi cropPyometra is a condition affecting unspayed bitches (and less commonly cats) where the womb, or uterus, becomes infected. In mild cases it can come on fairly slowly with only slight changes in the uterus, but the worst cases happen very quickly and the womb becomes swollen like a balloon, but filled with pus. These are urgent and life-threatening.

Pyometra happens when the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) changes under the influence of the bitch’s hormonal cycle. It nearly always happens a few weeks after she has been in season and is more common in older bitches. The use of certain hormonal drugs to postpone seasons has been linked with an increased risk of pyometra. Rarely, a spayed bitch can develop a similar infection in the remaining part of the uterus, called a “stump pyometra”, but this is uncommon.

The first symptoms are not very specific, with the bitch appearing a little unwell and off her food. Usually the thirst will increase and there may be some vomiting, but not all symptoms happen in all cases. If the cervix (the junction between the uterus and the vagina) remains open, there is often an unpleasant vaginal discharge. If the cervix is closed, the discharge cannot escape and these cases are more serious. The temperature may be raised, and when toxins enter the bloodstream the bitch will become seriously ill. In a small number of cases, kidney failure and death will result.

It is usually easy to diagnose a pyometra from a combination of the history and the physical examination. If there is any doubt, x-rays or ultrasound scans can help in the diagnosis. Blood tests can also help by confirming high levels of infection-fighting white blood cells.

The treatment for pyometra is the surgical removal of the uterus and ovaries, also called ovaro-hysterectomy or spay. It is a more difficult operation in a bitch with pyometra than the regular spay operation in a young healthy bitch. The uterus is often enlarged and fragile. If it should leak or burst, there is a high risk of peritonitis. Having said that, the operation is nearly always successful. It is usually carried out immediately after diagnosis, unless the bitch needs to be stabilised first to allow her a better chance of coming through the operation.

After-care would include antibiotics and possibly fluids by drip if the bitch was very poorly. Exercise will be restricted for a minimum of 10 days while the wound heals, and pain relief will be given.

There have been attempts to treat pyometra with drugs rather than surgery, but it is unlikely that severe cases would respond to anything but surgery. In mild cases which improve for a time there is every chance that the condition will come back after the next season.

It is often said by owners after the bitch has recovered from a pyometra operation that they are healthier than they have been for years. In these cases the condition had probably been grumbling for a long time but not enough to worry anyone until recently. The changes in the bitch’s behaviour which had been put down to advancing years are reversed, often giving a whole new lease of life.

The best way to prevent pyometra is to spay whilst the bitch is young and healthy. Unless you really want puppies, with all the responsibility and expense that goes with them, it is best to spay either before the first season or about three months after it. Your own vet can advise on the best time for your particular bitch. The added advantages of spaying young are the reduced risk of mammary tumours and the avoidance of further seasons and unwanted pregnancies. There could be a slightly increased risk after spay of developing urinary incontinence, and some bitches develop a fluffy coat instead of a sleek shiny one. These drawbacks are greatly outweighed by the benefits.

It is always a good idea to take note of changes in your dog’s behaviour or general wellbeing. Noticing small changes in appetite or thirst could be crucial in diagnosing this type of condition early. If you are worried about any of these symptoms, always ring your veterinary surgery for advice.

Our Interactive Symptom Guide can help you check out any unusual symptoms and advise on how soon you should visit your vet. Earlier diagnosis usually means more successsful treatment.

Why does it matter if my pet is thirsty?

Most pet owners will have been asked by their vet, probably more than once, whether there has been any change in the amount their dog or cat is drinking. It is an important question because the answer can give us valuable information. Of course thirst increases naturally in hot weather, after exercise and when being fed a dry diet, but it can be much more significant than that. The dog or cat will probably spend more time at the drinking bowl, or the owner will notice that they have to refill it more often than expected. The amount of urine passed will increase as well, and this may be the first sign noticed by the owner.

An increase in thirst can be a side effect of certain drugs, but can also be caused by a number of quite serious problems. It is always important to mention it to your vet. Some of the most common causes of increased thirst (polydipsia) are:

1. Fever, which can have many causes including infections or bite wounds

2. Kidney disease, where the kidneys lose their ability to filter waste products from the blood and control its salt content

3. Liver disease, which can take a number of different forms when the various functions of the liver are not being carried out as efficiently as normal

4. Diabetes mellitus, when there is a lack of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas which controls blood sugar levels

5. Diabetes insipidus, when the animal lacks anti-diuretic hormones so is unable to concentrate the urine

6. Cushing’s disease, when an excess of natural steroid hormones is produced by the adrenal gland

7. Pyometra (in unspayed females) is an infection of the womb (uterus) which can be sudden or gradual in onset

8. Urinary infection or bladder stones

9. Hyperthyroidism, more common in older cats, where increased thirst is only one of many symptoms caused by an excess of thyroid hormone.

Other causes also occur, and sometimes there is more than one cause present at a time.

To find out the reason for an increase in thirst, your dog or cat will need to have a full clinical examination. Small clues can be gathered from examination of every part of the body. For example, the colour of the “whites of the eyes” may change in liver disease. Weight loss or gain could be important. Feeling the abdomen may reveal enlargement of individual organs such as liver or kidneys. A discharge from the vagina could indicate a womb infection (pyometra) in an unspayed female. A heart murmur is often present in hyperthyroidism, and changes in skin and body shape occur in Cushing’s disease.

These clues mean more when considered with the full history of the animal. The age, gender, whether neutered, breed, type of diet, previous illnesses and vaccination status are all relevant. Then the vet will need to ask about the increase in thirst. How long ago did it start? Was it sudden or gradual? Have any changes been noticed in the appetite? You may be asked to measure your dog or cat’s water intake over 24hrs to check whether it is abnormally high or not.

Usually some lab tests will need to be carried out to diagnose the problem. A urine sample is useful to look for signs of infection, crystals or substances which should normally be removed by the kidneys, and to measure the kidney’s ability to concentrate the urine.

A blood test is nearly always needed to distinguish between the various possible causes. The first test is usually a general screening test to narrow it down, followed by more specific tests to reach a diagnosis. To get to the correct diagnosis can take time.

X-rays or ultrasound imaging can be used to visualise the internal organs and might be advised if the results of blood tests suggest they would be useful.

Many of the causes of increased thirst are very serious if left untreated, but many are also very treatable. They require very different treatments, so it is well worth diagnosing the problem so that the right treatment can be given.

If you are worried that your cat or dog may be drinking more, or about any other problems, talk to your vet or try using our Interactive Symptom Guide to help decide what to do next.

Choosing a first family pet.


Most children love animals, and there are many benefits from owning one. Apart from the fun and companionship, caring for an animal can help give children a sense of responsibility.

On the other hand, children can become bored with things quickly when the novelty wears off, so adults always need to be prepared to take overall responsibility for a pet. Choosing the right pet for your family’s lifestyle can make it more likely that the children will stay involved and that their relationship with their pet will be a fulfilling one.

The basic welfare needs of all pets are that they should be provided with a suitable environment and diet, the right health care as needed, be kept with others or apart from others (depending on species), and be allowed to exhibit normal behaviour patterns. These basic rights are a legal requirement under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Different animals have very different needs however, so it is worth doing some research before deciding which pet would best suit your family.

Dogs

The most popular pet in Britain for many years (although now being caught up by cats), dogs are also amongst the most time consuming and expensive to keep. It is not fair to leave a dog alone at home for long periods, so this would make it unsuitable if everyone is out at work all day, unless a reliable dog walker was used. As well as needing company and exercise, dogs need time spent on training, and grooming if long-haired. Having a garden and somewhere close by for exercise would be ideal. Expenses would include food, vaccinations, neutering and other vets bills, grooming or clipping and boarding kennels or dog-sitters. Dogs come in all shapes and sizes so the traits of different breeds should also be considered. If a dog is your choice of pet, you can expect years of fun and loyalty.

Cats

The independent nature of cats means that they are not quite as reliant on humans as dogs. With a cat flap or a cat litter tray and food available, they can be left for a number of hours, but most cats still enjoy human company. Not all cats like to be lap cats though, so their enjoyment of your company may be on their own terms! This very independence of character is part of the appeal to a cat lover. They also exercise themselves, but long-haired cats need daily grooming. Expenses to consider would be vaccinations, neutering and other veterinary bills, cattery fees.

Rabbits

The number of pet rabbits in the UK goes up all the time, and many now live more like cats and dogs than in the traditional hutch. Rabbits can be litter-trained like cats and can make very good house pets. They are not always ideally suited for children though, as they may resent being picked up and scratch or kick. To keep them in good health they should have the correct diet, vaccinations and in some cases, neutering. They need daily attention to ensure they do not suffer from problems like fly strike or overgrown teeth.

Caged animals

In general, these animals take more time to look after than you might think. Cleaning out cages can be quite time-consuming and can reduce the amount of time spent handling and interacting with the pet. The smallest furry animals can be very quick and a bit nippy, making them less suitable for young children. My own personal favourites in this group would be guinea pigs and rats, but we are probably all influenced by which pets we grew up with ourselves.

Guinea Pigs

These make very good pets and are easy to handle and sociable. They need the right diet (especially a source of vitamin C) and as with all caged animals they need their home to be regularly cleaned. They like to have a companion of the same gender.

Hamsters

The biggest drawback with hamsters is that they tend to be nocturnal, so they may be asleep when you want to play with them and active during the night. They need to be handled very carefully and very frequently to keep them used to handling. If they get ignored for a while they become reluctant to co-operate and will bite. Cages need regular cleaning. A hamster’s lifespan is only about 2 years.

Ferrets

These are interesting and entertaining animals, which have a longer lifespan than many other small furries. They can have a strong smell, especially the males. Females need to be spayed to prevent health problems. Ferrets can be prone to disease of the adrenal glands requiring hormonal treatment.

Rats

Another animal which I think makes a great pet if well kept and well handled. They are intelligent and like to play and interact with humans. They do like to live with a companion rat of the same gender.

Fish

These can be enchanting and relaxing to watch but there isn’t any opportunity for handling as with other pets. The initial expense of setting up a tank is quite high. They can be ideal pets for a family with little space and no garden.

Birds

Many different species are kept as pets, either caged or in an aviary. Caged birds can be tamed and handled and allowed out of the cage to interact with the family, while birds kept in an aviary can enjoy having room to fly. Specialist knowledge is needed to offer the best conditions as different species of birds have very different requirements.

Exotic Pets

Snakes, reptiles and others require very special environments which are secure and have controllable temperature, light and humidity. They also require very special diets to keep healthy and should not be considered good first time pets. Some grow to a very large size which would make them impractical for many people to look after.

If you want to know more about the care needed by a particular type of pet, most veterinary surgeries will be happy to advise. It is also worth remembering that some of the worries about expense can be eased by taking out pet insurance. This is not just for dogs and cats but is also available for rabbits, birds and exotics.

Note from editor: The PDSA have a fun interactive ‘Pet Finder’ tool that is very helpful.

Harvey’s Retained Testicle

Joe Inglis BVSc MRCVS is the vet for the One Show, This Morning and BBC Breakfast. He runs his own line of natural pet food called Pet’s Kitchen

SpanielWhen Harvey the spaniel came in for his routine 6 month check up he looked the picture of health – tail wagging, eyes bright and full of enthusiasm – so neither his owner nor myself were expecting anything other than a straightforward check over. And for the first five minutes of the examination, I found nothing untoward whatsoever – Harvey was clearly a fit and healthy young dog with a strong heart, clear eyes, wet nose, healthy lungs and a good coat. However the final stage of my examination did show that he wasn’t quite 100% perfect and there was a problem that was likely to require treatment, as I explained to his owner, Mrs Mann;

‘Hmm,’ I started as I straightened up from the final stage of my examination at the back end of Harvey’s wriggling body, ‘I’m afraid to say Mrs Mann that there’s a bit of a problem here – Harvey’s only got one descended testicle.’

‘Oh dear,’ exclaimed Mrs Mann, obviously taken aback by the suggestion that all was not right with her beloved dog, ‘only one testicle – is that a serious problem for him, I mean I’m not planning on breeding from him so it shouldn’t really matter should it?’

‘Well, it’s not a major problem but if the testicle doesn’t come down in the next few months it will need to be surgically removed as there is a risk of cancer developing if it is left inside his body long term,’ I explained. ‘What I’d advise is that we check him again in 2 months time and see what’s happened. If it’s still not down then I would strongly recommend that we do operate to remove it at that stage.’

Two months later and Harvey was back, this time with less of his puppyish enthusiasm and a little more grown up dog suspicion of vets in his demeanour. And unfortunately my examination revealed that there had been no change and he still only had one testicle descended. I explained to Mrs Mann that there was a tiny chance that he did only have one testicle, but it was far more likely that there was a second testicle stuck in his abdomen – where it would be at high risk of developing cancerous growth in later life if left in place. The reason for this risk is that testicles usually sit outside the abdomen where the temperature is lower, which suits sperm production. If they are left in the abdomen the higher temperature leads to a high risk of the testicular cells turning malignant and cancer developing.

After a long discussion about the risks involved and the surgical procedure that he would need, Mrs Mann agreed to book Harvey in for the operation the following week. The operation is far more complex than a straightforward neutering procedure as it involves a game of hide and seek for the missing testicle which can be anywhere in the abdomen from the kidney right down to the groin. Finding testicles in these situations can be a real challenge and I have known operations like this one take hours as the elusive organ evades the surgeon.

Thankfully in Harvey’s case the missing testicle was relatively easy to find and the whole procedure was over in a little under half an hour. Despite this relatively speedy operation, it was still around three times as long as a routine castration, and Harvey’s recovery will be slower and more uncomfortable that normal.

I suspect that when I see Harvey for his post op check his character will have become even more suspicious where vets are concerned – but for me saving him from a risk of cancer later in life is well worth any grudge he may bear me personally!

If you are concerned about your dogs health, please contact your vet or use our interactive Dog Symptom Checker to help you decide what to do next. For more information about insurance which could ensure the cost of operations like this one are covered, please see our pet insurance pages.

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