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Speying and Neutering

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"She looks fine now". The woman looked somewhat sheepish as her kitten explored the top of the consulting table. She’d rushed into the clinic in a panic a moment earlier, convinced her dear little Topsy was having a fit - or in dreadful pain. "She’s been rolling round all over the floor and making the strangest noises, I was so worried..."she trailed off lamely, as the kitten leapt gracefully onto her shoulder, a picture of good health.

"How old is Topsy now?"
"She’s just eight months."
"And she hasn’t been speyed yet has she?"
"No - I’ve been meaning to make the appointment - I just haven’t got around to it yet."

And there we had the "problem". No fits, no pain - this was a kitten in the grip of her hormones, a cat on heat. And for those unfamiliar with such a beast, it can be quite a revelation. For the sweet playful kitten turns into a yowling, howling, shameless little hussy, quite happy to associate with any or all of the most disreputable tomcats. Shut in for safety, she moons around the house like a lovesick teenager, while cat fights erupt at the backdoor as the toms line up to vie for her favours.

If that seems manageable (usually a day of this mayhem is enough to induce urgent phone calls to the vet pleading for her to be speyed - "Yesterday if possible!"), the fact that cats will continue to come on heat every couple of weeks for up to ten days at a time if they’re not mated, is enough to put off all but dedicated breeders.

Topsy’s mum was having none of it - the kitten was admitted on the spot for speying the following day. End of problem.

Dogs are a different kettle of fish. Once they’re on heat, it’s preferable not to spey, because the dramatic increase in blood supply to the uterus and ovaries makes the operation more difficult - not such a problem in a cat. Unlike cats, dogs only cycle every six months, whether they become pregnant or not. On the other hand, the heat period lasts a full three weeks, and although, on average, it’s more likely a bitch will conceive only during the middle week, she may well be attractive to dogs for the whole period.

"That’s fine" you may well say "Our section is fully fenced so she’ll be safe." Don’t count on it! Dogs will go to enormous lengths - and heights - to get to a bitch on heat. And she’ll be pretty keen to get to him too. The most obedient dog will forget all its training when the urge takes over!

So at the first sign of heat - a swelling of the vulva with some dripping blood - she needs to be locked away.

Inevitably, mistakes happen. Someone leaves the door open or you turn your back for a moment and before you know it, your darling girl is out on the street, well and truly "attached" to that horrible great mongrel from up the road.

Don’t panic! First of all, it’s perfectly normal for dogs to remain "tied" together for some time after mating. It will do more harm than good to try to separate them - the mating has already taken place, after all, and there have been some horrific injuries caused by forcing "tied" dogs apart.

Secondly, a pregnant bitch can still be speyed with no problem once the heat is finished. Finally, there is the equivalent of the "morning after" pill for dogs to prevent pregnancy after mating. However, the fact that it significantly extends the heat period and may potentially have side effects - increasing the chance of uterine infections, for instance - make this a much less desirable option.

Speying and neutering pets is much more accepted than it used to be. Quite apart from the discount most councils now offer in the registration fees for speyed and neuter dogs, the pure hassle of having females on heat, or males constantly out on the prowl is too much for most owners. Some still demur, however.

"We thought it would be nice for the kids if we let her have a litter of kittens" is one line. Well, nine times out of ten, she’ll have them in the middle of the night in the darkest corner she can find. The children will be mad at you because they missed the big event, and all of a sudden you’ve got five kittens to find homes for.

"It’s too expensive - I just can’t afford it," is another common excuse. Certainly, there is cost involved, especially if you’re speying a large dog. However, the one-off expense of a neuter or spey is pretty small bikkies in the overall scheme of things.

Instead of wondering if you can afford to spey or neuter the dog or cat, it might be more appropriate to ask whether you can afford not to. De-sexed animals are definitely cheaper to keep. Lower veterinary bills, lower food costs, and none of the expense of raising a litter of pups or kittens!

Then there’s the "you’ve got to let them have their fun" attitude - usually applied to male pets by their male owners - and those who get a vicarious thrill out of having an animal that’s "real tough" and can beat the living daylights out of anything that moves. Maybe they see their dog’s castration as threatening to their macho image...

A more common fear is that neutering changes the pet’s character. There is no evidence for this. Which is not to say that neutering has no effect at all. In a spey operation, the ovaries and uterus are removed; in a male the testicles go. What this does is to remove the animals’ major source of sex hormones. So along with not being able to reproduce. they also lose a lot of the behaviour that relates to sexual activity - the roaming after bitches on heat; the competitive aggression between rivals; the excessive urine marking; and even inappropriate mounting behaviour.

Unneutered tomcats tend to fight a lot more than their neutered counterparts and are consequently much more susceptible to abscesses and to the feline version of AIDS, which is passed on through the saliva when one cat bites another. In females, because sexual activity is confined to the "heat" periods, the behavioural changes are less apparent. One other effect of the loss of hormones is a slight lowering of the metabolic rate, so it is indeed true that a neutered animal will put on weight more easily - but only if you feed it more than it needs. You could even look on this as a cost-saving exercise, as the neutered pet needs relatively less food to maintain its weight at a healthy level.

The other problem which sometimes occurs with the loss of hormones is the leaking of urine experienced by some older speyed bitches. The muscle that holds the neck of the bladder closed is to some extent hormone dependent. Without the hormones, and with the gradual loss of muscle tone with age, the muscle may slacken, allowing urine to leak out. Fortunately, this problem is easily dealt with medically. In terms of character changes, their personalities are unaffected.

And there are certainly lots of advantages to neutering pets, not least of which is the need to avoid contributing to the already over-abundant pet population. Every year, because the supply is always higher than the demand, thousands of surplus companion animals are put down - a "convenience" killing that has been estimated at 50,000 cats and dogs a year. That’s not a fun job at all - in fact it’s inclined to make those involved feel quite militant against people irresponsible or ignorant enough to let their pets breed indiscriminately. De-sexed animals will also tend to wander less, thereby reducing the possibility of road accidents. Neutered males are less likely to mark territory by urine spraying, a benefit which will be particularly appreciated by anyone familiar with the strong and lingering smell of tomcat urine! And, of course, there is a much reduced incidence of the hormone-dependent cancers of the mammary glands in the female, the prostate in the male.

- Virginia Williams & Bert Westera

Skin Cancer

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1. How do you detect early skin cancer on cats and dogs?
Early cancer lesions are easily missed because they often look quite innocuous. People may think the lesion is merely the result of a fight - just a small scratch or scab on the nose or ears. The difference is that the cancer lesion persists beyond the few days in which you would expect a wound to heal. As time goes on, the lesion begins to ulcerate, forming an open sore, which, if left, will rapidly increase in size and depth.

2. How is it treated?
Treatment depends on the stage to which the cancer has advanced. Very early lesions can often be successfully treated with an anticancer ointment applied daily for three to four weeks. More often the lesions need to be either surgically removed or frozen using liquid nitrogen. This can be fairly radical surgery, sometimes leaving the animal somewhat disfigured. So obviously, it’s better to prevent the cancer occurring in the first place.

Keeping your pets out of the hot summer sun is the single most important way to avoid skin cancer, and is just as important as protecting your children and yourself from those increasingly harmful rays. This is even more crucial for those animals with pale fur and thin hair coats. White cats for instance are notoriously bad, while Bull Terriers often suffer from the effects of the sun. So shut the cat in the house during the hottest part of the day (11am - 4pm). If your cat is an inveterate sunbather, remember that glass and perspex will cut out a high proportion of the harmful rays - let him be an "inside" sunbather. Make sure there will be shade available for your dog when you take it out to the park or beach. Prevention is so much better than cure - cheaper too!

3. We hear about using sun-blocks on our pets - is there one especially formulated that doesn’t lick off easily?
We generally advise the use of an antibacterial sunfilter called Filta-bac. This is a very sticky zinc-based ointment which seems to stay on well, and does no harm if licked by the animals. You need to be careful not to overdo the ointment on very hairy ears so as to prevent the loss of hair when the ointment is removed.

- Virginia Williams & Bert Westera


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Ringworm is one of the more common skin infections we find in young animals, but the name itself is somewhat misleading, for it is caused not by a worm but a fungus.

The "ring" part of the name is not always accurate either - although the lesions tend to progress outwards from the centre as the fungus invades and kills off the hair, they are not necessarily round at all.

Many species can be infected with ringworm - cats, dogs, horses, cattle and of course humans. We probably see it most commonly in cats - in fact some cats, mainly longhairs, may become carriers. But in general, ringworm tends to be very much a disease of the young, whatever the species. Humans and animals gradually build up an immunity to it through their lives, though there are always exceptions to the rule.

Ringworm tends not to be itchy in most animals - usually the first sign people see on their pets is an area of hair loss in which the skin looks rather scaly. It is the hair at the edges of this bald patch which will be currently infected, and will give the characteristic fluorescent glow when looked at under ultra-violet light.

Ringworm is passed on by hair to hair contact so that lesions are most commonly found around the head and front paws of pets, though they are by no means confined to these areas. Grooming a pup with a brush that has been used on an infected dog for instance could spread the disease right through its coat. The way people tend to cuddle their pets also means that the face, neck and arms are the main area of infection in humans as well.

In humans, ringworm shows up as small red patches, and contrary to the disease in animals these tend to be quite itchy.

Ringworm is not however regarded as a serious disease. Even those unusual cases which have spread to cover much of the body are not in themselves life threatening, and are readily treatable.

If you think you pet has ringworm it is safest to get it checked by your vet. The extent of the infection is not always visible to the naked eye and treatment will depend on how bad the infection is. Mild cases may be treated simply with anti-fungal ointments or iodine-based solutions. More severe cases will require a course of anti-fungal drugs.

- Virginia Williams & Bert Westera


Question 1:

Referring to your article in the last newsletter - is it true that humans can in fact pass on ringworm to an animal?


Yes. Animals that come in contact with a patch of ringworm on human skin can pick up the fungus that causes the infection this way if they are not already resistant. Remember that ringworm is primarily a disease of the young so that people with ringworm need to be particularly careful in handling kittens and puppies for instance. It is advisable for humans to keep infected areas covered to avoid passing on infection to animals or other humans.

Question 2:

I read in a woman's magazine that the ringworm infection is of similar origin to athlete's foot, in that they are both fungal infections. Will the one medication cover both types of infection?


It is true that both infections are caused by fungi which should be controlled by antifungal medications. Athlete's foot however tends to be a more superficial infection while in ringworm, the fungus gets right down inside the hair follicles. This means that it may be more difficult to treat with topical medication - we usually need to treat severe ringworm infections with a long course of oral medication as well as topical treatment.

Question 3:

My cat has the annoying habit of licking herself all over after being brushed which makes her fur look sticky and flat. (She is long haired.) I was once told that this may be caused by some underlying problem - is this so?


It is not normal for a cat to make its fur sticky through licking. There are two main possibilities why this is happening. Firstly it may be a problem of excess saliva production, perhaps as a result of dental problems. Secondly, it may be that your cat is licking excessively because of some underlying skin irritation - the obvious one is flea infestation, but allergies to a variety of substances can also make the cat feel itchy. We would suggest that you get your vet to check out your cat.

Question 4:

Is it safe to desex a male dog at any age or is there an age limit?


Neutering a male dog is not a major operation and can generally be carried out quite safely as long as the dog is healthy. Old age may bring with it problems such as heart disease which may increase the risk of giving a general anaesthetic, but the surgery itself is quite safe. Older dogs are also more likely to suffer from prostate problems for which neutering is often the first line of treatment. Your veterinarian will thoroughly check out any older animal before advising anaesthesia.

Pest Animal Poisons - Protect your Dogs & Livestock

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by Marjorie Orr

Thousands of tons of poisoned bait are used in New Zealand each year to poison feral mammals in many different environments from native forests to the family home. It's an unfortunate fact of life that where feral mammals are pests their numbers must be controlled by killing them. Accidental poisoning of domestic animals is then inevitably a risk, but the risk can be managed.

Heed the warnings

There are many types of poison available for pest control, but the two types most commonly used and therefore most likely to cause accidental poisoning are 1080 and anticoagulants.

Only licensed operators may use 1080, and they contact all landowners/occupiers in the area to be poisoned to warn of the risks and hazards. Before aerial drops of 1080 in carrot bait, operators put notices in the Public Notices column of local newspapers. For all operations, operators post notices around the poisoned area giving the dates of the operation and the poison used. Animal owners must heed these warnings to prevent accidental deaths of dogs and livestock.

Unlike 1080, anyone can use the anticoagulant poisons, which include Talon, Storm and Pestoff, and there is no requirement to display notices. There is no way of knowing if an anticoagulant has been laid on private land without asking the owner. This is another good reason for always asking permission before taking dogs over anyone else's land.

Most Regional Councils have information leaflets about large scale poisoning operations and information about specific operations can be obtained from the approved operator involved.

1080 poisoning

In most species, 1080 appears to be ...relatively humane. In dogs however,it causes great distress with frenzied behaviour and every indication of terror. The dog may show great agitation, with howling and trembling before the onset of fits and then death up to 18 hours after the first signs appeared. Intensive treatment by a vet can be effective, but it must be begun soon after the poison has been eaten. Untreated dogs seldom recover.

For weeks or months after 1080 poisoning operations, there is a very real risk to dogs, not just from eating bait, but also from scavenging carcases. Dogs must not be allowed access to poisoned land until it is likely that all poisoned carcases have completely decomposed. Usually this takes at least 10 weeks if there has been more than 10 cm rain, but it can take much longer in very dry or freezing weather which tends to preserve the poisoned carcases with the poison intact in the stomach. Muzzling (using a type of muzzle which allows the dog to pant) and keeping dogs under observation can help reduce the risk.


Anticoagulant poisons like Talon, Storm and Pestoff (which contain brodifacoum) and the warfarin/pindone type poisons are commonly used rat and mouse poisons, and they are also used against rabbits and possums. Often the poison is in green or blue waxy baits about the size of a pullet's egg. Anyone who uses these poisons should make every effort to ensure that other animals do not get access to the baits, and that dogs are not able to scavenge poisoned carcases.

Anticoagulants cause death through internal bleeding and there may be signs such as bleeding under the lining of the mouth, nose bleeds or lameness as a result of bleeding into the joints, and the dog becomes anaemic and weak. Fortunately, there is an antidote. Early cases of poisoning can sometimes be treated successfully with vitamin K. Treatment by a veterinarian may be protracted and expensive, but it is usually effective if started early.Make the dog vomit

If it is known that 1080 or anticoagulant poison has been eaten, making the dog vomit immediately might save its life. This means taking the dog to a vet as soon as possible. If this is not possible there are various last resort methods of inducing vomiting such as drenching with a supersaturated (very strong) solution of household salt in warm water, or making the dog swallow a crystal of washing soda (sodium carbonate). Caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) must not be used.

Parvo Virus

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Parvo - a killer dog virus caused deaths in epidemic proportion in the Manuwatu during May this year.

There is only one way to prevent a dog catching parvo - that is by vaccination. The mortality rate in puppies who catch parvo is significantly higher.

Regular worming also helps a lot. The virus lies around and can therefore be picked up in many places like the park you walk your dog in.

The symptoms that might signal parvo are lack of appetite, vomiting, salivating, depression, bloody diarrhoea.

Once symptoms appear it is best to get your dog to a vet, although it will not guarantee your dog will survive. Yearly vaccinations cost around $30. That’s a small price to pay for your best friend.

- Virginia Williams and Bert Westera