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Everything you need to know about spaying your pet

We dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding a pet’s reproductive health

The stigma against female pet adoption has been greatly influenced by the belief that female dogs and cats will bleed during their heat cycles.
The stigma against female pet adoption has been greatly influenced by the belief that female dogs and cats will bleed during their heat cycles. (iStockphoto)

"My dog is nine years old, will she soon be entering menopause?” This is one of the numerous questions concerning pets and their reproductive health that I get frequently. A majority of people tend to have many misconceptions about their dog or cat’s heat cycle.

The first thing to keep in mind is that dogs and cats do not experience a menstrual cycle. They undergo an estrus cycle. In smaller breeds, a female dog begins to go into heat at the age of five-six months, and, in larger breeds, this can be at 10-11 months. In cats, the advent of puberty is marked by the onset of heat as early as four months of age.

The stigma against female pet adoption has been greatly influenced by the belief that female dogs and cats will bleed during their heat cycles. Dogs go into heat only once every six months. Larger breeds may experience a lag of 8–10 months. Only a few drops of blood are seen every day throughout the brief bleeding phase (approximately 7-10 days) of the estrus cycle. Cats go into heat every three weeks, but they don’t bleed.

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It’s only when they are in the estrus, or heat phase of their cycle, that dogs and cats are open to mating. For dogs, this occurs once every six months, after the bleeding phase stops. At this stage, you should be careful while walking your female dog because she will attract attention from male dogs. Cats who give in to this impulse may leave their homes in search of a mate. I have encountered cats that have jumped out of windows in search of male cats, badly hurting themselves in the process. Male dogs and cats do not come into heat, which is another common misconception. They will only approach a female when she is in heat.

“While in heat, my cat has been wailing. Does she have any cramps? Can I administer Myopaz to her?” Such presumptions can result in needless self-medication and toxicities in animals. They may feel some discomfort while in heat, but unless there is abnormal or severe bleeding, it does not call for treatment. When a cat is in heat, they don’t cry out in pain; it is their mating call.

The best course of action is to spay your female pet to remove the ovaries, or both the ovaries and the uterus. It is a regular surgery with a five- to seven-day recovery period. Your pet will never go into heat or become pregnant if spayed. While it may be a clear outcome, spaying has additional benefits. Female pets that have not been spayed are considerably more likely to have pyometra, an infection of the uterus. It can be a life-threatening condition and I have operated on pyometra in dogs as young as two years. Spaying prolongs their lives by preventing the development of this illness. Spaying also lowers the incidence of uterine and mammary malignancies.

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I frequently get questions about the benefits and drawbacks of neutering male pets. A dog that hasn’t had its testicles removed is more likely to develop perianal adenomas, testicular malignancies, hernias, and enlargement of the prostate gland. All these issues call for surgical correction and can be avoided by having them neutered. When male cats reach adolescence, which can happen as early as four months after birth, they will begin spraying urine throughout the house. Neutering stops this behaviour.

However, these procedures are not without drawbacks. According to studies, neutering or spaying puts pets at risk of obesity. If not controlled, obesity can result in other illnesses, including diabetes and early-onset arthritis. Recent research has also revealed that early neutering increases the risk of orthopaedic problems in some large-breed dogs, such as Labradors.

Therefore, the old belief that all dogs can be neutered at six months of age is no longer valid. You should consult a veterinarian about the appropriate age for your dog because different breeds have different ideal ages for neutering or spaying. Cats can be neutered at any time after four months of age because obesity appears to be the only drawback.

I advise my clients to think about neutering their pets to ensure a healthy life, keeping in mind that discipline will need to be exercised in terms of their diet and exercise after the procedure to prevent obesity.

Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai.

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