Questions and Answers
Spay & Neuter
What you should know about spaying and neutering your pets.
Every year, millions of unwanted dogs and cats, including puppies and kittens, are needlessly euthanized. The good news is that every pet owner can make a difference. By having your dog or cat surgically sterilized, you will do your part to prevent the birth of unwanted puppies and kittens and enhance your pet’s health and quality of life.
Contrary to what some people believe, getting pregnant–even once–does not improve the behavior of female dogs and cats. In fact, the mating instinct may lead to undesirable behaviors and result in undue stress on both the owner and the animal. Also, while some pet owners may have good intentions, few are prepared for the work involved in monitoring their pet’s pregnancy, caring for the puppies or kittens and locating good homes for them.
During surgical sterilization, a veterinarian removes certain reproductive organs. If your cat or dog is a female, the veterinarian will usually remove her ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus. The medical name for this surgery is an ovariohysterectomy, although it is commonly called “spaying” If your pet is a male, the testicles are removed and the operation is called an orchiectomy, commonly referred to as castration or simply “neutering”
While both spaying and neutering are major surgical procedures, they are also the most common surgeries performed by veterinarians on cats and dogs. Before the procedure, your pet is given a thorough physical examination to ensure that it is in good health. General anesthesia is administered during the surgery and medications are given to minimize pain. You will be asked to keep your pet calm and quiet for a few days after surgery until the incision begins to heal.
Both surgeries prevent unwanted litters and eliminate many of the behavioral problems associated with the mating instinct.
Female dogs experience a “heat” cycle approximately every six months, depending upon the breed. A female dog’s heat cycle can last as long as 21 days, during which your dog may leave blood stains in the house and may become anxious, short-tempered and actively seek a mate. A female dog in heat may be more likely to fight with other female dogs, including other females in the same household.
Female cats can come into heat every two weeks during breeding season until they become pregnant. During this time they may engage in behaviors such as frequent yowling and urination in unacceptable places.
Spaying eliminates heat cycles and generally reduces the unwanted behaviors that may lead to owner frustration and, ultimately, a decision to relinquish the pet to a shelter. Most importantly, early spaying of female dogs and cats can help protect them from some serious health problems later in life such as uterine infections and breast cancer.
At maturity (on average, 6 to 9 months of age), male dogs and cats are capable of breeding. Both male dogs and cats are likely to begin “marking” their territories by spraying strong-smelling urine on your furniture, curtains, and in other places in your house. Also, given the slightest chance, intact males may attempt to escape from home and roam in search of a mate. Dogs and cats seeking a female in heat can become aggressive and may injure themselves, other animals, or people by engaging in fights. Roaming animals are also more likely to be hit by cars.
Neutering male dogs and cats reduces the breeding instinct and can have a calming effect, making them less inclined to roam and more content to stay at home. Neutering your male pet can also lessen its risk of developing prostate disease and testicular cancer.
Like any surgical procedure, sterilization is associated with some anesthetic and surgical risk, but the overall incidence of complications is very low. Because changes in concentrations of reproductive hormones may affect your pet’s risk of developing certain diseases and conditions in the future, your veterinarian will advise you on both the benefits and risks of the sterilization procedure.
Consult with your veterinarian about the most appropriate time to spay or neuter your pet based upon its breed, age and physical condition. Keep in mind that, contrary to popular belief, it is NOT best to wait until your female dog or cat has gone through its first heat cycle.
The procedure has no effect on a pet’s intelligence or ability to learn, play, work or hunt. Most pets tend to be better behaved following the surgery, making them more desirable companions. Also, this surgery will not make your pet fat. Feeding your pet a balanced diet and providing regular exercise will help keep your pet at a healthy weight and prevent the health risks associated with obesity. Ask your veterinarian to advise you on the best diet and exercise plan for each stage of your pet’s life.
Yes! This is a one-time expense that can dramatically improve your pet’s quality of life and prevent some behavioral frustrations for you. If you are still uncertain whether or not to proceed with the surgery, consider the expense to society of collecting and caring for all the unwanted, abused, or abandoned animals being housed in shelters. Having your pet spayed or neutered is a part of responsible pet ownership.
Many factors are taken into consideration when establishing a pet's vaccination plan. Your veterinarian will tailor a program of vaccinations and patient health care that will help your pet maintain a lifetime of infectious disease protection.
Vaccines are products designed to trigger protective immune responses in pets and prepare them to fight future infections from disease-causing agents.
Vaccines can lessen the severity of future diseases and certain vaccines can prevent infection altogether. Today, a variety of vaccines are available for use by veterinarians. Some vaccines are administered via injections using a syringe and needle, and others are administered into the animal’s nose or directly into the skin (transdermally). Other methods of administration are currently under development.
Yes! Pets should be vaccinated to protect them from many highly contagious and deadly diseases. Experts agree that widespread use of vaccines within the last century has prevented death and disease in millions of animals. If an unvaccinated pet develops one of these diseases, treatment can become very expensive and many of these diseases can be fatal despite treatment. Even though some formerly common diseases have now become uncommon, vaccination is still highly recommended because these serious disease agents continue to be present in the environment.
It is also important to remember that pets can be vaccinated for some Zoonotic (pronounced ZOE-oh-not-ick) diseases, which are diseases that can be spread from animals to people. For example, rabies is a serious, often fatal, disease that can spread from infected animals to people. By vaccinating your pets for rabies, you are protecting your family as well as your pet.
For most pets, vaccination is effective in preventing future disease. Occasionally, a vaccinated pet may not develop adequate immunity and, although rare, it is possible for these pets to become ill if exposed to the disease. These gaps in protection should be as short as possible to provide optimal protection against disease for the first few months of life. It is important to remember that although breakdowns in protection do occur, most appropriately vaccinated pets are able to successfully fight off disease–reinforcing the importance of vaccines in your pet’s preventive health care program.
Any treatment carries some risk, but these risks should be weighed against the benefits of protecting your pet from potentially fatal diseases. Most pets respond well to vaccines. The most common adverse responses are mild and short-term, including fever, sluggishness, and reduced appetite. Pets may also experience temporary pain or subtle swelling at the site of vaccination. Although most adverse reactions will resolve within a day or two, any excessive or continued pain, swelling, or listlessness should be discussed with your veterinarian.
Rarely, more serious adverse reactions can occur. Allergic reactions appear within minutes or hours of a vaccination and may include repeated vomiting or diarrhea, whole body itching, swelling of the face or legs, difficulty breathing or collapse. Contact your veterinarian immediately if any of these symptoms are seen. In very rare instances, death could occur from an allergic reaction. There are other uncommon but serious adverse reactions, including injection site tumors (sarcomas) in cats, which can develop weeks or months after a vaccination. The best advice is to always tell your veterinarian about any abnormalities you notice after your pet has been vaccinated.
Very young puppies and kittens are highly susceptible to infectious diseases because their immune systems are not fully mature. While nursing, their mother’s milk contains antibodies (special proteins) that provide some immunity to diseases; however, these maternal antibodies do not last long, and there may be gaps in protection as the milk antibodies decrease and the puppies’ or kittens’ immune system isn’t yet capable of fighting off infection. In many instances, the first dose of a vaccine serves to prime the pet’s immune system against the virus or bacteria while subsequent doses help to further stimulate the immune system to produce the antibodies needed to protect a pet from specific diseases. To keep these gaps in protection as small as possible and to provide optimal protection against disease in the first few months of life, a series of vaccinations are scheduled, usually 3-4 weeks apart. For most puppies and kittens, the final vaccination in the series is administered at about 4 months of age; however, in some situations, a veterinarian may alter this schedule based on an individual animal’s risk factors. Remember that an incomplete series of vaccinations may lead to incomplete protection, making puppies and kittens vulnerable to infection.
Not all pets should be vaccinated with all available vaccines. “Core” vaccines are recommended for most pets in a particular area because they protect from diseases most common in that area. “Non-Core” vaccines are reserved for individual pets with unique needs. Your veterinarian will consider your pet’s risk of exposure to a variety of preventable diseases in order to customize a vaccination program for optimal protection throughout your pet’s life. Talk with your veterinarian about your pet’s lifestyle including its expected travel to other geographic locations and/or contact with other animals (such as exposure at kennels, obedience classes, shows, and dog parks) since these factors impact your pet’s risk of exposure to certain diseases. For older pets, make sure your veterinarian is aware of any previous adverse reactions to vaccines.
For many years, a set of annual vaccinations was considered normal and necessary for dogs and cats. There is increasing evidence to support that immunity triggered by some vaccines provides protection beyond one year while the immunity triggered by other vaccines may fail to protect for a full year. Consequently, one vaccination schedule will not work well for all pets. Your veterinarian will determine a vaccination schedule most appropriate for your pet.
Antibody titers are blood tests that measure the amount of antibodies in the blood. Following exposure to a disease-causing organism (such as a virus) or a vaccine, the body generates antibodies that help to destroy the organism and prevent or minimize illness if the body is exposed to the same organism again.
Antibody titers do not replace vaccination programs, but in some instances may help your veterinarian determine if your pet has a reasonable expectation of protection against disease. However, there are only a limited number of disease-causing organisms for which antibody titers can suggest your pet’s level of protection, and those antibody tests have limitations. Consequently, a higher antibody titer does not necessarily mean your pet will be protected if exposed to the disease, and a lower titer may not mean your pet’s protection is lacking.
Fleas thrive when the weather is warm and humid. Depending on your climate, fleas may be seasonal or a year-round problem. Your pet can pick up fleas wherever an infestation exists, often in areas frequented by other cats and dogs. Adult fleas are dark brown, no bigger than a sesame seed, and able to move rapidly over your pet’s skin.
Once the flea becomes an adult, it spends virtually all of its time on your pet. Female fleas begin laying eggs within 24 hours of selecting your pet as a host, producing up to 50 eggs each day. These eggs fall from your pet onto the floor or furniture, including your pet’s bed, or onto any other indoor or outdoor area where your pet happens to go. Tiny, worm-like larvae hatch from the eggs and burrow into carpets, under furniture, or into soil before spinning a cocoon. The cocooned flea pupae can lie dormant (inactive) for weeks before emerging as adults that are ready to infest (or reinfest) your pet. The result is a flea life cycle of anywhere from 12 days to 6 months, depending on environmental factors such as temperature and humidity.
Diagnosis, risks and consequences
You may not know that your pet has fleas until their number increases to the point that your pet is obviously uncomfortable. Signs of flea problems range from mild redness to severe scratching that can lead to open sores and skin infections (“hot spots”). One of the first things you may notice on a pet with fleas is “flea dirt”–the black flea droppings left on your pet’s coat. You may not actually see the fleas themselves, but they can still be on your pet and in the environment.
Fleas bite animals and suck their blood; young or small pets with heavy flea infestations may become anemic. Some pets can develop an allergy to flea saliva that may result in more severe irritation and scratching; these pets can become severely itchy from just one or two flea bites. Also, pets can become infected with certain types of tapeworms if they ingest fleas carrying tapeworm eggs (a pet using its teeth to scratch the flea bites often eats the fleas). In areas with moderate to severe flea infestations, people may also be bitten by fleas. While fleas are capable of transmitting several infectious diseases to pets and people, this is rare.
Treatment and control
Your veterinarian will recommend an appropriate flea control plan for your pet based on your needs, your pets needs and the severity of the flea infestation.
Pets at risk for fleas should be treated during the flea season with an appropriate preventive. Your veterinarian can recommend a product most suitable for your pet.
Because much of the flea’s life cycle is spent off of your pet, treating only your pet will not eliminate the problem. If you kill the adult fleas and do not kill the eggs, larvae and pupae, your pet will become reinfested when these fleas become adults and the cycle will start all over again. Therefore, in addition to treating your pet, reduce the flea population in your house by thoroughly cleaning your pet’s sleeping quarters and vacuuming floors and furniture that your pet comes in contact with frequently. Careful and regular vacuuming/cleaning of the pet’s living area helps to remove and kill flea eggs, larvae, and pupae.
You may be advised to treat your house with insecticides to kill the fleas; consult with your veterinarian about products safe for use around pets and children. Flea larvae are more resistant than adult fleas to insecticides. With moderate and severe flea infestations, you may also be advised to treat your yard. Your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate course of action and suggest ways to prevent future flea infestations.
Ticks are commonly found in wooded areas, brush, shrubs and wild undergrowth, and any animal (or human, for that matter) that enters these environments is at risk of becoming a tick’s host. Immature ticks often feed on small, wild animals found in forests, prairies, and brush. Adult ticks seek larger hosts like dogs and cats which venture into these habitats. Tick exposure may be seasonal, depending on geographic location. There are many different species of ticks that can affect dogs and cats.
Diagnosis, risks and consequences
Ticks are most often found around your dog’s neck, in the ears, in the folds between the legs and the body, and between the toes, but they can be found anywhere on the body and are usually easily seen or felt. Cats may have ticks on their neck or face. Tick bites can cause skin irritation and heavy infestations can cause anemia in pets. An adult female tick can ingest up to 100 times her weight in blood! Ticks are also capable of spreading serious infectious diseases (such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and others) to the pets and the people on which they feed. They can also cause tick paralysis. Disease risk varies by geographic area and tick species.
Treatment and control
Prompt removal of ticks is very important because it lessens the chance of disease transmission from the tick to your pet. Remove ticks by carefully using tweezers to firmly grip the tick as close to the pet’s skin as possible and gently and steadily pulling the tick free without twisting it or crushing the tick during removal. Crushing, twisting or jerking the tick out of the skin while its head is still buried could result in leaving the tick’s mouth parts in your pet’s skin; this can cause a reaction and may become infected. After removing the tick, crush it while avoiding contact with tick fluids that can carry disease. Do not attempt to smother the tick with alcohol or petroleum jelly, or apply a hot match to it, as this may cause the tick to regurgitate saliva into the wound and increase the risk of disease if the tick is infected.
Pets at risk for ticks should be treated during the tick season with an appropriate preventive. Your veterinarian can recommend a product best suited to your pet’s needs. Owners who take their pets to tick prone areas during camping, sporting, or hiking trips should examine their pets for ticks immediately upon returning home.
Ear mites are common in young cats and dogs, and generally confine themselves to the ears and surrounding area. Mites are tiny and individual mites may be seen only with the aid of a microscope. Your pet can pick up ear mites by close contact with an infested pet or its bedding.
Diagnosis, risks and consequences
Ear mites can cause intense irritation of the ear canal. Signs of ear mite infestation include excessive head shaking and scratching of the ears. Your pet may scratch to the point that it creates bleeding sores around its ears. Excessive scratching can also cause breakage of blood vessels in the earflap, causing the formation of a pocket of blood (an aural hematoma) that may require surgery. A brown or black ear discharge is common with ear mite infections, and secondary infections with bacteria or yeast can occur. A swab of the discharge is usually examined under a microscope to confirm the presence of ear mites.
Treatment and control
Treatment of ear mites involves thorough ear cleaning and medication. Your veterinarian can recommend an effective treatment plan.
Microscopic sarcoptic mange mites cause sarcoptic mange, also known as scabies. Sarcoptic mange can affect dogs of all ages and sizes, during any time of the year. Sarcoptic mange mites are highly contagious to other dogs and may be passed by close contact with infested animals, bedding, or grooming tools.
Diagnosis, risks and consequences
Sarcoptic mange mites burrow through the top layer of the dog’s skin and cause intense itching. Clinical signs include generalized hair loss, a skin rash, and crusting. Skin infections may develop secondary to the intense irritation. People who come in close contact with an affected dog may develop a skin rash and should see their physician. Sarcoptic mange is usually confirmed by taking a skin scraping and examining it under a microscope.
Treatment and control
Dogs with sarcoptic mange require medication to kill the mites and additional treatment to soothe the skin and resolve related infections. Cleaning and treatment of the dog’s environment is also necessary.
Demodectic mange caused by demodectic mange mites is mainly a problem in dogs. Demodectic mange mites are microscopic and not highly contagious. In general, demodex mites are not spread to other animals or across species. A mother dog, however, may pass the mites to her puppies.
Diagnosis, risks and consequences
Localized demodectic mange tends to appear in young dogs (usually less than 6 months old) as patches of scaly skin and redness around the eyes and mouth and, perhaps, the legs and trunk. Itching is not common with this type of mite infestation unless a secondary infection has occurred. Unlike other types of mange, demodectic mange may signal an underlying medical condition, and your pet’s overall health should be carefully evaluated. Less commonly, young and old dogs experience a more severe form of demodectic mange (generalized demodecosis) and can exhibit widespread patches of redness, hair loss, and scaly, thickened skin. Dogs with demodecosis can develop secondary bacterial infections which require additional treatment.
Cats are rarely infected with demodex mites, and the cat demodex mite is not the same as the dog demodex mite. Affected cats develop hair loss, crusts and scaly skin around the face, neck and eyelids, and may excessively groom the areas. They may also be more itchy than dogs affected by demodex.
Demodectic mange is usually confirmed by taking a skin scraping and examining it under a microscope.
Treatment and control
Your veterinarian will discuss treatment options with you. Treatment of dogs with localized demodectic mange generally results in favorable outcomes. Generalized demodecosis, however, may be difficult to treat, and treatment may only control the condition, rather than cure it.
- Look for fleas, ticks, and coat abnormalities any time you groom your dog or cat or when you return home from areas that are likely to have higher numbers of these parasites.
- Consult your veterinarian if your pet excessively scratches, chews, or licks its coat, or persistently shakes its head or scratches its ears. These clinical signs may indicate the presence of external parasites or other conditions requiring medical care.
- Prompt treatment of parasites lessens your pet’s discomfort, decreases the chances of disease transmission, and may reduce the degree of home infestation.
- Discuss the health of all family pets with your veterinarian when one pet becomes infested. Some parasites cycle among pets, making control of infestations difficult unless other pets are considered. Consult your veterinarian before beginning treatment.
- Tell your veterinarian if you have attempted any parasite remedies, as this may impact your veterinarian’s recommendation.
- Be especially careful when applying insecticides to cats, as cats are particularly sensitive to these products. Never use a product that is not approved for cats because the results could be lethal.
- Follow label directions carefully.
- Leave treatment to the experts. Your veterinarian offers technical expertise and can assist you in identifying products that are most likely to effectively and safely control your pet’s parasite problem.