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Reproductive Health

Pregnancy in Dogs

The cause of pregnancy is well known. The symptoms are a big belly and particularly towards the end of gestation, swollen mammary glands. The treatment is a healthy diet, moderate exercise, and a few routine tests for the mother.

Overview

As you might expect, pregnancy is defined as the time between conception and birth during which fetal puppies develop inside the mother’s (or “bitch’s”) uterus. Unlike feline fertility, canine fertility is not influenced by diurnal rhythms (exposure to sunlight). As a result, pregnancy in dogs tends to be nonseasonal.

Developing pups usually have claws, eyes, and ears by day 40 of gestation. Full body hair develops by the eighth week. Typically, the litter is born at 63 days, but 56- to 70-day gestations have been reported. Litter size can range from a single pup to as many as 10 or more.


While toy breeds tend to have smaller litters of one to four puppies, larger breeds may carry as many as eight to 12 puppies. Inbreeding can lead to smaller litters and stillborn puppies.

Signs and Identification

During the first few weeks of a dog’s pregnancy, there are very few signs. By the last three weeks, however, weight gain around the abdomen and mammary gland growth become evident. Toward the end of pregnancy, the mammary glands enlarge, and a milky discharge from the nipples a day or two before birth is common.

A pregnant dog may shred bedding and papers to create a nest. She may also become irritable and seek privacy. Restlessness and panting may occur during the last day or two of gestation.

A blood test to detect the presence of relaxin, a canine reproductive hormone, can indicate conception as early as 20-26 days after mating. However, the test results may remain positive even after a bitch has lost or resorbed a litter. Some veterinarians can identify pregnancy by palpating the abdomen with their hands as early as the third to fourth week of pregnancy. Ultrasonography, if available, may be used to identify fetal heartbeats around the third week of pregnancy. During the sixth week (starting at 45 days), radiographs (x-rays) can detect bones and give the most accurate estimate of litter size.

Hormones may cause some female dogs to show signs of pregnancy even when no mating has occurred. These signs include changes in appetite, weight gain, nesting, mothering inanimate objects, and even milk production and labor. Usually, signs of a false pregnancy resolve within three weeks, but may be recurring.

Affected Breeds

As most readers might well have deduced, there is no breed predisposition for pregnancy.

Treatment

Pregnant dogs should be fed a well-balanced commercial diet and should have access to fresh water at all times. As the pregnancy progresses, a veterinarian can counsel the dog’s owner on increasing food intake or other dietary needs. Nutritional supplements should not be offered without veterinary consultation, as some can be harmful to the fetuses. Most heartworm products are approved for use in pregnant dogs, but vaccines should generally be avoided during pregnancy. Consult your veterinarian before giving any medications or flea and tick products.

As developing puppies take up more space in the abdomen and press against the stomach, feeding bitches smaller, more frequent meals might be advisable. Further, dogs often require even more food during nursing. In fact, they can consume up to twice as much food as normal during this period.


A moderate amount of exercise during the first four to six weeks of pregnancy can help the mother maintain muscle tone, which is important for the birthing process. However, care should be taken not to overexert the dog during the final weeks, when her abdomen and mammary glands are enlarged.

Prevention

Spaying and neutering dogs is 100 percent effective against pregnancy.

 

Pyometra in Cats and Dogs

Pyometra occurs in unspayed female cats and dogs when hormones cause the uterine lining to thicken and form cysts, creating an ideal breeding ground for bacteria that ascend from the vagina, and resulting in a potentially life-threatening infection. Symptoms include general malaise and, in some cases, a foul vaginal discharge. Emergency surgical removal of the uterus and ovaries is typically considered the best treatment.

Overview

Pyometra is a severe bacterial infection of the uterus that can be potentially life threatening.

When a pet is in heat, the dominant hormone affecting the uterus is estrogen. At the end of the heat cycle, estrogen levels drop and progesterone (another hormone) levels rise. Over the course of several heat cycles, progesterone can cause changes in the uterine lining, such as thickened tissue and cysts. This creates the ideal environment for bacteria to flourish.


Pyometra occurs when bacteria ascend from the vagina into the uterus and multiply. The body attempts to fight off the infection by sending white blood cells to the uterus, which creates the fluid buildup.

Pyometra is described as being “open” or “closed.” With “open” pyometra, the cervix (the portion of the uterus that connects with the vagina) is open. The fluid that forms in the uterus as a result of the infection can drain through the vagina out of the body.


When the cervix is closed, as in “closed” pyometra, the fluid in the uterus cannot drain through the vagina, so it builds up, stretching the uterine walls and potentially rupturing the organ. If this occurs, the infection spreads to the abdomen (peritonitis) and possibly into the bloodstream (septicemia), leading to shock and, often, death.

The condition is most common in older, unspayed female dogs that have never had a litter, but it can occur in any female dog or cat that has not been spayed. In dogs, pyometra is most likely to happen in the first few weeks to months after a heat cycle.


Treatment with estrogen for other conditions (such as ending an unwanted pregnancy) can also predispose a pet to pyometra. Because of this potential side effect, this practice has fallen out of favor in the past few years.

Affected Breeds

There is no known breed predisposition for pyometra.

Symptoms and Identification

Pets that have open pyometra may have a foul-smelling white, yellow, or blood-tinged discharge from the vagina. Otherwise, the signs can be somewhat vague, such as:

  • Lethargy (tiredness)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Increased drinking and urinating
  • Abdominal distention (swelling)
  • Fever is not always present, as it is with most bacterial infections

Your veterinarian will most likely recommend bloodwork and abdominal radiographs (X-rays) to visualize the uterus. Occasionally, an abdominal ultrasound may be needed to get a better view of the uterus. If your pet has a vaginal discharge, your veterinarian may examine the discharge under a microscope for signs of infection.

Treatment

Surgical removal of the uterus and ovaries is the best treatment for pyometra. In most cases, this is an emergency surgery that must be performed before the uterus ruptures or the infection spreads to other parts of the body. Because it is a more complicated surgery than a typical spay in a healthy animal, it will most likely be more expensive. The pet may also need intravenous fluids and antibiotics.

If the pet is a valuable breeding animal, and she has open pyometra, it may be possible to administer special hormones to shrink the uterus back to size and avoid surgery. However, these medications can have serious side effects, and the risk of pyometra recurring is high.

Prevention

Early spaying of female pets prevents pyometra.

Neutering for Dogs and Cats

  • Neutering is a surgical procedure in which the testicles are removed in a male animal.
  • Neutering prevents unwanted reproduction and can help improve some negative behavioral effects of male hormones, such as roaming and certain types of aggression.
  • Neutering may also be performed to treat testicular cancer, some anal tumors and some prostate problems.

What Is Neutering?

Neutering, also known as castration, is a surgical procedure that involves removal of the testicles. It is a common surgical procedure performed on male dogs and cats to eliminate the ability to impregnate females. Neutering is also used to treat certain medical conditions, such as testicular cancer, some anal tumors, and some forms of prostate disease.

How Is Neutering Performed?

The Pre-surgical Evaluation

Your veterinarian may recommend a pre-surgical evaluation before neutering your pet. The pre-surgical evaluation may include a physical examination to ensure that your pet is healthy enough for surgery. Pre-anesthetic blood work may also be recommended. This testing is designed to help identify problems that may increase the risks associated with surgery or anesthesia. Your veterinarian may want to use pre-anesthetic blood work to check for several medical conditions, including infection, anemia (a low number of red blood cells), low blood sugar, inadequate blood-clotting ability, liver disease, and kidney disease.


If your pet has any pre-existing medical issues, such as a heart problem, your veterinarian may recommend additional testing to determine if any precautions are recommended or if surgery should be postponed or cancelled due to health reasons. Sometimes, the pre-surgical evaluation can be performed on the day of surgery. However, some veterinarians perform this testing a few days or weeks before the procedure is scheduled.

Surgery Day


To reduce the risk of vomiting during the procedure, it is generally recommended that pets have an empty stomach before undergoing anesthesia. Your veterinarian will likely ask you to remove your pet’s food and water bowls the night before surgery and to withhold food and water on the day of surgery. If your pet eats or drinks before undergoing anesthesia, tell your veterinarian, as postponing surgery may be recommended. If your pet receives insulin or any other medications, ask your veterinarian what you should do on the day of surgery. You may be advised to adjust the medication dosage or to withhold medication for that day.

Before the surgery begins, your pet will be given anesthesia.This keeps your pet still, asleep, and completely pain free during the operation.There are many types of anesthesia; your veterinarian will choose the one that is best for your pet.Some types are given as an injection, while other anesthetics are gasses that are inhaled.During anesthesia, a small plastic tube is inserted into the patient’s airway to support breathing. The tube is connected to the anesthetic gas machine to give the patient a constant flow of anesthetic gas and oxygen. During this time, your veterinary team may also connect monitoring equipment to constantly measure heart rate, breathing, and oxygen use during anesthesia.


Once your pet is asleep, the surgical site is shaved and scrubbed using a germicidal solution.The area is then draped with sterile cloths that help keep the surgical area sterile.The veterinarian and veterinary assistants then prepare for surgery through repeated handwashing with germicidal soaps and then put on sterile gowns, caps, masks, and gloves. Keeping everything sterile helps prevent infections. The neuter surgery in a cat is performed through an incision that is made directly into the skin over the scrotum. The testicles are located and separated from surrounding structures. As the testicles are surgically removed, blood vessels are closed and double-checked for bleeding before being replaced into the incision. The scrotum is not sutured and is left open to heal.

For neuter surgery in a dog, the incision is made a few centimeters in front of the scrotum. The testicles are located, pushed up through the incision, and separated from surrounding structures. As with feline neutering, blood vessels are closed and double-checked for bleeding before being replaced into the incision. In canine neutering, the surgical incision is sutured closed.


In some dogs and cats, the testicles do not both descend into the scrotum as they should during normal development. When one testicle (or in rare cases, both testicles) fails to descend, the condition is called cryptorchidism (crypt – orchid – ism). Cryptorchidism is a medical concern because the undescended testicle can remain in the abdomen, where it can become cancerous or cause other medical problems. Neutering is slightly different when the patient has an undescended testicle. The normal testicle is removed as noted above, but the veterinarian generally needs to make a separate incision (sometimes into the abdomen) to remove the undescended testicle.

Whatever procedure your veterinarian uses, every effort will be made to keep your pet as safe as possible during and after the procedure. Once the surgery is completed, the surgical area is cleaned again, and the patient is permitted to awaken from anesthesia. Afterward, he will be monitored in a recovery area until he is awake and stable enough to go home. Additional pain medication is generally given at this time. Some hospitals keep surgical patients overnight so they can be closely observed and monitored by hospital staff; however, other hospitals allow pets to recover at home.

At-Home Care After Surgery

Even the best and most successful surgery can result in complications if post-operative care is inadequate. Your veterinary team will review your home-care instructions before you take your pet home. Be sure to follow all instructions carefully and contact your veterinarian if you have questions or concerns after you get home. Here are just a few tips:

Food and water: You may be tempted to give your pet a large meal after he returns home from being neutered. Don’t! Smaller meals are generally recommended for the first day or so. Ask your veterinarian when normal meals can be resumed.

Stitches: Your pet may have stitches on the outside of the skin after surgery, but some veterinarians choose to bury the stitches underneath the skin or to use surgical adhesive to close the incision. Some suture material is dissolvable and does not need to be removed, whereas other stitches need to be removed after surgery (usually in 7 to 14 days). Your veterinarian will review these details and other at-home care details before you take your pet home from surgery. Even if stitches are not present, check the incision regularly for swelling, bleeding, bruising, or discharge and report any problems to your veterinarian.

Protecting the incision: Your pet should not be permitted to lick or bite the surgical area. This can open the incision or cause a serious infection. Your veterinarian may recommend that your pet wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent tampering with the incision and stitches. This is a plastic cone that fits over your pet’s head (like an upside-down lamp shade) to prevent licking or biting of the surgical area.

Medication: Be sure to give all medications as directed. If your pet vomits after receiving medication or has other complications, call your veterinarian.

Activity restriction: Running, jumping, or using stairs should be avoided (if possible) for approximately 7 to 10 days after undergoing neuter surgery. Excessive activity can cause pain, bleeding, swelling of the incision, and other complications. Even if your pet seems perfectly fine and wants to be active, continue activity restriction as recommended by your veterinarian.

What Are the Benefits of Neutering?

There are many benefits to neutering your pet.Most importantly, neutering helps reduce pet overpopulation. Neutering also prevents testicular cancer, is helpful in treating certain anal tumors, and reduces the risk of certain prostate issues. Neutering can decrease negative male behaviors associated with testosterone, such as roaming and some types of aggression.For male cats, neutering reduces the potency of unpleasant “tomcat” urine odors and reduces the likelihood of urine marking and some other negative behaviors.

For most pets, the benefits of neutering far outweigh the potential risks. The decision to neuter or not is an important one, so be sure to discuss this health issue with your veterinarian.

Spay Surgery for Dogs and Cats

  • A spay is a surgical procedure in which the ovaries and uterus are surgically removed.
  • Spaying prevents unwanted pregnancy and discontinues heat cycles.
  • Spaying may also be performed to treat certain medical conditions, such as a uterine infection.
  • When performed early in life, spaying can decrease the chance of your pet getting breast cancer.

What Is a Spay?

A spay, also known as an ovariohysterectomy (ovario – hyster – ectomy) is one of the most common surgical procedures performed on female dogs and cats. This surgery removes the entire uterus and both ovaries.The primary reason for performing a spay is to prevent unwanted pregnancy. However, the procedure has other uses, including treatment for uterine cancer and uterine infection.

How Is a Spay Performed?

Your veterinarian may recommend a pre-surgical evaluation before performing a spay on your pet. The pre-surgical evaluation may include a physical examination to ensure that your pet is healthy enough for surgery. Pre-anesthetic blood work may also be recommended. This testing is designed to help identify any problems that may increase the risks associated with surgery or anesthesia. Your veterinarian may want to use pre-anesthetic blood work to check for several medical conditions, including infection, anemia (a low number of red blood cells), low blood sugar, inadequate blood-clotting ability, liver disease, and kidney disease.

If your pet has any pre-existing medical issues, such as a heart problem, your veterinarian may recommend additional testing to determine if any precautions are recommended or if surgery should be postponed or cancelled due to health reasons.

Sometimes, the pre-surgical evaluation can be performed on the day of surgery. However, some veterinarians perform this testing a few days or weeks before the procedure is scheduled.

Surgery Day

To reduce the risk of vomiting during the procedure, it is generally recommended that pets have an empty stomach before undergoing anesthesia. Your veterinarian will likely ask you to remove your pet’s food and water bowls the night before surgery and to withhold food and water on the day of surgery. If your pet eats or drinks before undergoing anesthesia, tell your veterinarian, as postponing surgery may be recommended. If your pet receives insulin or any other medications, ask your veterinarian what you should do on the day of surgery. You may be advised to adjust the medication dosage or to withhold medication for that day.

Before the surgery begins, your pet will be given anesthesia.This keeps your pet still, asleep, and completely pain free during the operation.There are many types of anesthesia; your veterinarian will choose the one that is best for your pet.Some types are given as an injection, while other anesthetics are gasses that are inhaled.During anesthesia, a small plastic tube is inserted into the patient’s airway to support breathing. The tube is connected to the anesthetic gas machine to give the patient a constant flow of anesthetic gas and oxygen. During this time, your veterinary team may also connect monitoring equipment to constantly measure heart rate, breathing, and oxygen use during anesthesia.


Once asleep, the patient’s abdomen is shaved and scrubbed using a germicidal solution.The area is then draped with sterile cloths that help keep the surgical area sterile.The veterinarian and veterinary assistants then prepare for surgery through repeated handwashing with germicidal soaps and then put on sterile gowns, caps, masks, and gloves. Keeping everything sterile helps prevent infections.

The traditional spay procedure is performed through a small incision near the belly button.Some veterinarians have access to laparoscopic surgical equipment and use it to perform spay surgery. A laparoscope is a surgical device attached to a long tube (called an endoscope) that has a tiny camera at the tip. This sterile device is inserted into the patient’s abdomen through a very small incision, and the entire spay procedure can be performed using this technology.


During the procedure, both ovaries and the uterus are located and removed. Any affected blood vessels are closed off to prevent bleeding. Whatever procedure your veterinarian decides to choose, every effort will be made to keep your pet as safe as possible during and after the procedure.

Once the ovaries and uterus have been removed, your veterinarian will double-check for any bleeding and then close the incision. Once the incision is closed, the surgical area is cleaned again, and the patient is permitted to awaken from anesthesia. Afterward, the patient is monitored in a recovery area until she is awake and stable enough to go home. Additional pain medication is generally given at this time. Some hospitals keep surgical patients overnight so they can be closely observed and monitored by hospital staff; however, other hospitals allow pets to recover at home.


Even the best and most successful surgery can result in complications if post-operative care is inadequate. Your veterinary team will review your home-care instructions before you take your pet home. Be sure to follow all instructions carefully and contact your veterinarian if you have questions or concerns after you get home. Here are just a few tips:

Food and water: You may be tempted to give your pet a large meal after she returns home from being spayed. Don’t! Smaller meals are generally recommended for the first day or so. Ask your veterinarian when normal meals can be resumed.


Stitches: Your pet may have stitches on the outside of the skin after surgery, but some veterinarians choose to bury the stitches underneath the skin or to use surgical adhesive to close the incision. Some suture material is dissolvable and does not need to be removed, whereas other stitches need to be removed after surgery (usually in 7 to 14 days). Your veterinarian will review these details and other at-home care details before you take your pet home from surgery. Even if stitches are not present, check the incision regularly for swelling, bleeding, bruising, or discharge and report any problems to your veterinarian.

Protecting the incision: Your pet should not be permitted to lick or bite the incision. This can open the incision or cause a serious infection. Your veterinarian may recommend that your pet wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent tampering with the incision and stitches. This collar is a plastic cone that fits over your pet’s head (like an upside-down lamp shade) to prevent licking or biting of the surgical area.


Medication: Be sure to give all medications as directed. If your pet vomits after receiving medication or has other complications, call your veterinarian.

Activity restriction: Running, jumping, or using stairs should be avoided (if possible) for approximately 7 to 10 days after undergoing spay surgery. Excessive activity can cause pain, bleeding, swelling of the incision, and other complications. Even if your pet seems perfectly fine and wants to be active, continue activity restriction as recommended by your veterinarian.

What Are the Benefits of Spaying?

There are many benefits to spaying your pet.The Humane Society of the United States estimates that between 3 and 4 million unwanted pets are euthanized at shelters annually.Spaying is a reliable way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and help address this problem. Some dogs have health issues (such as false pregnancy) associated with heat cycles. Because spaying stops heat cycles, these problems are eliminated. Spaying can help improve certain behavioral problems, including certain forms of aggression. Spaying eliminates the risk of ovarian or uterine cancer, and if performed early in life, it significantly reduces the risk of breast cancer. For most pets, the benefits of spaying far outweigh the potential risks. The decision to spay or not is an important one, so be sure to discuss this health issue with your veterinarian.