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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
To Spay or Not to Spay

 I recently read an article about a study from UC Davis, showing an increase in some cancers and joint problems in Golden Retrievers that are spayed or neutered as opposed to intact. As a shelter worker, this is so concerning. There are endless studies showing many health and behavioral benefits to spaying and neutering. It’s critical to look at the overall benefits to neutering before deciding to keep a dog intact based only on a limited study of one breed. As a shelter worker I have seen Intact dogs who are relentless in their pursuit of a mate. Digging out, jumping fences, chewing through walls, I've seen it all. Unaltered dogs roam more, get hit by cars more, fight more, bite more, and cause more human injuries and even fatalities. Intact females are prone to mammary tumors and pyometra and intact males can get testicular and perianal tumors. According to one veterinary study, 80% of unaltered males will develop prostate disease. Urine marking is a common problem in unaltered dogs.  

My champion Borzoi was un-spayed because she was a show dog. She developed a pyometra at 6 years of age, had to have emergency surgery at great expense and was ill with a nasty pseudomonas bacterial infection for a long time afterwards. She didn’t fully recover her former health for nearly a year. She also got along wonderfully with our spayed female dog except when she was in season. Twice yearly, they had to be separated as they were prone to fight. After she was spayed, they never had another issue.  Another un-spayed show bitch that I owned was so snappy and difficult for several months at a time around her seasons that I actually considered euthanasia. Thankfully I decided to spay her to see if it would help. It ended her show career but she was a delightful happy girl after that and lived to a ripe old age as a beloved pet.  

The article mentioned that neutered dogs are more likely to be overweight causing stress on the joints. While it is true that intact dogs may burn more calories fretting and looking for a mate, this is a feeding issue, not a neutering issue. All dogs should be kept trim and fed properly for their needs regardless of altering status. Excess weight is also a cancer risk. Ethical breeders are going to neuter dogs with joint problems and keep those with good joints for breeding which may result in a skewed study.

I would be interested in knowing more about the way the study was conducted. As shelter workers, we often see dogs surrendered to the shelter to be euthanized when they become sick or infirm with issues including cancer and hip dysplasia. Often these dogs are unaltered. The level of responsibility that goes along with extensive veterinary care often includes neutering, so of course neutered dogs will see the vet more for other issues as well. Unaltered dogs are commonly surrendered to shelters for behavior problems such as roaming, barking, urine marking etc. Many of these issues can be improved on by neutering. The article mentioned the fact that service dogs were affected. Unaltered dogs are not suitable for service work as they become distracted by potential mates. Could the work they do assisting people be a factor in causing stress on the joints?

The number one cause of preventable, premature death in companion animals in this country is euthanasia due to overpopulation. If people decline to alter their pets, this number will certainly climb. I have the greatest respect for those highly dedicated and ethical breeders out there, but for the rest of us there are endless, well-documented veterinary studies showing many health and behavioral reasons to neuter our pets.

For more information on the study see Joanna Lou's post.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Effects of Neutering
New study looks at the health implications of spay/neuter

I affectionately call Nemo my "monster Sheltie" since he measures 19.5 inches at the shoulder, three and a half inches over the breed standard. Due to his big size, he often gets mistaken for a small Collie. On the recommendation of my veterinarian, I had Nemo neutered at 16 weeks old, which I later suspected may have contributed to his extra large stature. Canine sports medicine specialist Dr. Chris Zink DVM has compiled a lot of research showing that neutering a dog before their growth plates close may cause extra growth and, more importantly, possible health implications.

Researchers at the University of California Davis recently published a study that highlights the need for more work in this area. The team looked at the health records of 759 Golden Retrievers, examining the relationship between neutering and two joint disorders and three cancers (hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tear, lymphosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma and mast cell tumor). The dogs were classified as intact (not neutered), neutered early (before 12 months age), or neutered late (at or after 12 months age).

Joint disorders and cancer are of particular interest because neutering interrupts the production of certain hormones that influence the closure of bone growth plates and regulation of the estrous cycle in female dogs.

The University of California study found that the rates for all five diseases analyzed were significantly higher in neutered males and females (whether they were neutered early or late) as compared to intact dogs.

Specifically, early neutering was associated with an increase in the occurrence of hip dysplasia (a 100 percent increase!), cranial cruciate ligament tear and lymphosarcoma in males and of cranial cruciate ligament tear in females. Late neutering was associated with the occurrence of mast cell tumors and hemangiosarcoma in females.

The lead investigator, Benjamin Hart, says that it's important to remember that the effects of early and late neutering may vary from breed to breed, since vulnerabilities to various diseases differ.  

Knowing this information, it makes a compelling case to get a vasectomy for male dogs (eliminates sperm without effecting testosterone levels) instead of a standard neuter. Unfortunately female dogs don't have an easy alternative.  

No matter what, considering how many dogs are neutered early in this country, it's important that more research is done in this area. However, I hope that this study doesn't discourage people from neutering dogs all together. I think we've come a long way in promoting spay/neuter to help control the overpopulation problem (and still have a long way to go). But more research in this area would help us come up with a birth control solution that limits adverse effects on health.

For another view on this study, from a shelter worker, see Shirley Zindler's post.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Shelter Pups Need Love

Even though I work mostly out in the field as an animal control officer, and love it, the animal shelter is still my baby.  Almost every day I walk through at the beginning and end of my shift to check on the animals. As I passed through one of the small dog areas recently, I noticed an adorable terrier mix puppy in a cage. The puppy begins to growl as soon as he sees me. Teeth showing, eyes dilated, body tense, the pup makes no secret of the fact that he will bite.  I open the cage and he growls louder. I talk softly to him, then offer a cookie that I always have in my uniform pockets.  He threatens to make mincemeat out of my face but finally leans forward and sniffs the treat cautiously.

He continues to glare at me as he reaches for the tidbit. “That’s a good boy, you’re such a good boy” I croon as he chews. The body visibly relaxes and I scratch him under the chin. He licks my fingers and wiggles closer. A moment later, the puppy crawls into my arms, snuggling as close as he possibly can while his tail whips in delight and he covers me with kisses.  In less than two minutes, we’ve gone from “Get away, I hate you, I’m going to bite you” to “I love you, I trust you, don’t ever leave me”.  I’ve seen it a thousand times and yet it never fails to move me. I cuddle him close and promise him a better life, swallowing the lump in my throat and marveling again at what a gift dogs are.

Of course, sometimes it takes hours, days or even weeks for a scared dog to come around, and a few never do, but most improve quickly with patient handling. My own Great Dane, Tyra, took longer than most to trust, but now she’s the happiest girl around. It always warms my heart to watch a dog blossom into a confident pet.  

The puppy’s initial behavior is so understandable. Abandoned, terrified and in a strange place, his response was completely based on fear. As soon as he felt safe, his reaction changed.  Over the following days of his stray hold period, I visited with the pup daily. He greeted me happily each time, with a wagging tail and soft, wiggly posture. The pup had been vaccinated, wormed and flea treated on intake and as soon as his stray hold was up, he was vet checked and neutered. Once on the adoption floor, it only took a few days for him to be adopted by a loving family. This is what it’s all about, I thought, as I watched him go out the door in the arms of his new adopters.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mandatory Microchips
All British dogs must be microchipped by 2016

I’m a huge fan of microchipping. Identification tags fall off, collars get snagged, and unfortunately bad people steal pets. A microchip, typically implanted between a dog’s shoulder blades, can help dogs find their way back home. I’m a proponent of microchip education and low cost clinics, but I wasn’t initially sure how I felt about a microchip law.

Earlier this month, Britain announced that all dogs in England must be microchipped by 2016. The Environment Department is hoping that the requirement will be a simple solution for reuniting more lost or stolen pets with their families, promoting animal welfare, and taking the pressure off animal shelters. In the past, Britain has also proposed mandatory microchips to help in prosecuting dog bite cases.

According to the Environment Department, 60 percent of Britain’s 8 million dogs are already microchipped. Closing the gap would put England in good company with countries like Portugal, Italy, and Switzerland who already require microchips. Interestingly horses have had to be microchipped in England since 2009. After 2016, dogs without a microchip would face a hefty fine of up to 500 pounds (about $800).

I think this law is generally a good idea because it will increase awareness about microchiping. But given that the process involves injecting a foreign body into our pups, it seems better to keep the process optional.

What do you think about mandatory microchipping?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Provides Philosophy Lesson
Living life with greater joy

Nobody illustrates living in the moment better than dogs, and it was immediately apparent that this dog was a role model in this regard. Bear is a chocolate lab who stayed with us over this past weekend while his guardian was out of town. We loved every minute of it, in large part because Bear himself is so happy. This is a dog who is sucking the marrow out of life, so to speak.

On my first walk with Bear around the neighborhood, I was reminded that though I try to carpe diem as much as the next person, I have room for improvement. Within minutes, I saw that this dog with large bones and a big heart to match was living the good life and that if I just followed his lead, my happiness would increase. I took in a few lessons from Bear.

Do everything with enthusiasm. Whatever Bear was doing, he gave it his all. If he was sniffing snow, he was up to his ears in it. When he was running, he was doing it at full speed. When my kids were petting or brushing him, he surrendered completely and relaxed under their skilled hands.

Find your purpose. Everyone should have things that drive them, and in Bear’s case, it’s fetching. Sticks, toys, socks that were tossed in the laundry basket, snowballs and any other flying object were toys to him and his purpose was to retrieve them. He is very thorough in his work, and never, NEVER tires of playing fetch. He knows it’s what he loves best (not counting his guardian!), and he’s eager to play anytime. He often initiates the game with anyone who looks like a willing partner. He has found his passion in life, and that’s a great part of happiness.

Accept things as they come. He was so at ease with whatever the days brought. Staying at a new place with new people? No problem. A long walk with a couple of friends and their dogs? Great. Running around in the backyard catching snowballs? Excellent. Massage time? Perfect. Time for rest and a snooze. Fine. Outside for one last chance to pee and then bedtime? Okay. He is so agreeable, so well adjusted, and comfortable with so many situations. His middle name could definitely be Go-With-The–Flow.

I thought we were making an even trade—the fun of a canine visitor for us, the opportunity to travel without the constraints of a dog for his guardian. It turns out that we came out way ahead because of Bear’s philosophy lesson about enjoying life. I don’t know what my neighbors thought as they saw me running and playing with him as we frolicked near our house, laughing constantly as we went up and down the local streets. I’m hoping they understood that I was just living in the moment, finding joy with a dog who spreads it everywhere.

Of course all dogs tend to bring us joy, but can you share a story about a dog who was absolutely brimming over with contagious enthusiasm for life?

Wellness: Health Care
Hyperadrenocorticism or Cushing's Disease in Dogs:
Excessive levels of steroids in the body leading to disease

Hyperadrenocorticism, known as Cushing's disease, is a hormone imbalance that results from excessive cortisol in the bloodstream over a long period of time. Cortisol is produced and stored in the adrenal glands, which are two little glands that “sit” on top of the kidneys and is what is released in times of stress, preparing for a “flight or fight” response. However, if this system goes awry, and a dog's body is exposed to this hormone for a majority of the time instead of just in times of stress, it can become chronically debilitating. 

There are 3 main ways that a dog can get Cushing's Disease. The first way is from a tumor forming on the pituitary gland, and is known as Pituitary-dependent hyperadrenocorticism (PDH).  These tumors are generally small and non-cancerous, although rarely a cancerous tumor can occur.  The pituitary gland is located in the brain and is the “master gland” of the body.  One of its jobs is to detect when cortisol levels are declining, and in response, secrete a stimulating substance, called ACTH, that kicks the adrenal gland into gear causing it to secrete more cortisol. When the body reaches normal levels of cortisol, the pituitary gland stops this message from being sent, and production is halted. In the case of PDH, a tumor causes the pituitary gland to go into overdrive, telling the adrenals to produce excessive amounts of cortisol, despite there already being too much in the body. This is the most common form of Cushing's and accounts for about 85% of dogs with disease.  

Adrenal gland tumors are the next common cause, account for approximately 15% of dogs affected. This is a situation where a tumor is on the adrenal gland instead of the pituitary, and puts the gland into overdrive. The adrenals begin making excessive steroids all on their own, no longer “listening” to the pituitary when it tells the adrenals to shut off. These tumors are generally larger in size (usually detectable on ultrasound) and both cancerous and non-cancerous tumors are possible. Another problem that can happen with this type of tumor is that the pituitary “sees” that there is enough cortisol in the body, and subsequently stops producing ACTH.  As a result, the other adrenal gland (the one without the tumor) becomes shrunken due to nonuse.  

The last major cause is what is known as Iatrogenic Cushing's and is the result of the long-term use of steroids, or medications containing steroids. This is not from any inherent disease in the pet's system, but from the effects of the hormones given over the long term. Over time, the pituitary gland perceives that the body is getting enough steroids (thinking it is being produced from the adrenal glands-not knowing it is coming from medications) and quits sending its signal to produce more. In turn, the adrenal glands stop doing their job and also begin to shrink, temporarily loosing their ability to release cortisone on their own should their body require it to do so.  This inability to produce steroids naturally in the body can last for several months following the stopping of medication. This is why your veterinarian will instruct tapering doses of steroids instead of an abrupt stop: this gives these important glands time to recover and begin working on their own again.

There are a multitude of clinical signs that can be seen, and as always, can mimic many other disease processes. Signs are generally gradual, and because of this, they are often attributed to “normal aging” and disregarded. The most common signs that are easily observed in pets by their owners are increased drinking and urination, increased appetite (a good reminder that eating well is not always a sign of normal health), a “pot-bellied” appearance, thin skin and sparse hair coat, blackheads and/or darkening of the skin, and loss of muscle mass or muscle weakness.  Aside from these symptoms described, advanced or untreated Cushing's disease can also put a dog at risk for the development of bladder stones, diabetes and blood clots to the lungs.

If you notice any of these signs in your pet, a veterinary exam is in order. Your veterinarian can begin the process of testing for the disease, ensuring your pet is appropriately treated. If your veterinarian has reason to suspect Cushing's (based on history, physical exam and initial blood work), it will then be necessary to perform confirming blood tests and ideally, an ultrasound. This is not an easy diagnosis to make, and it requires several specific tests to positively identify not only the presence of Cushing's, but whether the problem is in the pet's pituitary or adrenal glands, as there is a different treatment for each form of disease.

The expected course of disease depends on which type of Cushing's is present, as well as response to treatment. PDH generally carries a good prognosis, and survival time for a dog treated with appropriate therapy is 2 years, with at least 10% of dogs surviving 4 years (this is better than it sounds, as dogs are generally diagnosed at an older age, usually 10-12 years old).  Dogs with non-cancerous adrenal gland tumors usually have a good to excellent prognosis; those with cancerous tumors that have not spread can have a fair to good prognosis, making early detection important.

Other tips and sidenotes:
I am often asked just how much water should a pet be drinking, to determine if the amount is excessive. As a loose rule of thumb, your pup should consume daily about 1 cup of water for each 10 pounds of its body weight. This is a loose approximation, as consumption will be variable depending on temperature of the environment, activity level, etc. The biggest thing to keep your eye on is if the amount seems to be steadily or suddenly increasing with no change in your pets daily lifestyle.
Here are two listserves available for owners of pets with Cushing's disease, and may be helpful resources for anyone living with a pet who has this disease.

www.k9cushings.com
pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/caninecushings-autoimmunecare/

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog to the Rescue
Washington pup delivers a life saving note.

Every now and then you hear about a dog who is able to draw attention to a house on fire or to lead rescuers to a person in trouble. This story played out a little differently for a pup in Washington who delivered a life saving note.

When a homeless man found himself in the middle of the woods with a medical emergency, he had no way to call for help. His only hope was to attach a letter to his trusty dog, Buddy, that read: “Help. Send help. No joke, cannot walk. Medicine not working. Need doctor.”

A woman walking her own pup discovered the Australian Shepherd mix and immediately called 911. The police didn’t know where to look, but eventually got a tip about a man who lived in the woods with his dog. Soon after they located the man and brought him to the hospital. The man was treated and has since been reunited with his loyal pup.

News: Letters
Please Don't Chase the Wildlife

As an animal lover and a person who enjoys hiking with my dogs, I found it disturbing to read that contributor Rebecca Wallick allows her dog to run free through the forest; chasing deer. Her article on GPS tracking devices for dogs, (Sept/Oct 2012 issue) was informative, but her final sentence angers me. Her “knowing that if one day, he disappears after a deer, they will be reunited,” because he is wearing a GPS collar. Is this after the dog has injured, maimed or killed the deer, or any other wildlife that catches his eye?

Another of your writers, Lee Harrington, also wrote how she allows her dog to run off leash; chasing wildlife. Do people not understand how annoying and potentially dangerous it is to allow their dogs to run loose on nature trails, in public parks and recreation areas? This is the main reason dogs are banned from many local, state and national parks. I've had numerous (often frightening), encounters with loose dogs, charging into the faces of my leashed dogs. This culminates to growling, snapping, shouting and aggravating situations. An enjoyable, relaxing activity quickly spirals into a tense, nerve wracking event. People who choose to ignore the posted "All dogs must be leashed" signs, are ruining it for the rest of us.

Do us all a favor, stop this irresponsible behavior. Please keep your dog on a leash when biking, hiking or running in any public nature trail, park or recreation area. It is common courtesy, not to mention common sense. It is safer for all concerned, especially the dog and the wildlife.

—Pat Sullivan
Champlain, NY

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Has your Dog Caused Sleepless Nights?
Dogs interrupt slumber in many ways
Doggy Sleepless Nights - Dogs don't let me sleep. Yawning.

I was exhausted, but not too tired to shout, “You’ve got to be kidding!” at my alarm clock when it went off. My dog had woken me up half a dozen times in the middle of the night, and my face had the ugly morning look to prove it. This was a dog who usually slept peacefully through the night and was in no rush to start his day each morning.

On this particular night, though, the poor fellow was suffering from diarrhea, and he was waking me up by uncharacteristically whining and scratching on our screen door to be let out into the yard. Though I was sleep deprived, I was very aware how lucky I was. Better to wake up to noise repeatedly than to a revolting clean-up job in the morning. I was also able to encourage him to drink water and just be there for him. It was only one night of misery for him, and therefore only one night of misery for me.

It’s not the only time I’ve had my sleep schedule disrupted by a dog, though. Of course, there are the puppy times with their expected middle-of-the-night and early morning outings. There are the times when I’ve woken up long before morning because I have been either trapped in the covers by a dog lying on top of me in an awkward way or gradually pushed out from under the covers by a dog taking up more than a fair share of the bed. I’ve been woken up by a dog (who was new to my home) barking at every odd noise, but thankfully that only lasted about a week.

I know of friends who have hardly slept at all in the last few weeks or months of an old dog’s life as around-the-clock care, including carrying them outside to relieve themselves, became part of the routine. Others have dogs who find the wee hours of the morning a delightful time to play with the cat, or whose dog seems to think that it is perfectly acceptable to demand to be served breakfast at 4:30 in the morning. (It’s not!) Canine snoring accounts for a lot of nighttime disturbances, too.

How has your dog prevented you from getting a full night’s sleep?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Promoting Happiness
Animal Farm Foundation creates innovative fliers to encourage adoption

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I find myself ignoring the “dog for adoption” photos that my friends post on Facebook or the fliers that get posted at the pet store. There are just so many of them and sometimes it feels overwhelming how endless the overpopulation problem is. Obviously this kind of promotion works. I found my puppy, Scuttle, when a friend posted her photo online and I'm so thankful for that!

But I recently saw this really cool idea that aims to encourage a happy feeling when talking about shelter pets. The Animal Farm Foundation started creating fliers that promote two key messages to their community: choose adoption and when you do, choose our organization. Instead of spending energy creating individual dog fliers, they chose to show how much fun people have when they adopt a dog from AFF and become a part of their family. AFF considers their adopters their best marketing resource.

I love AFF's fliers because it really gives you a happy feeling to see all the photos of dogs in their new homes. I think it also challenges shelters and rescue groups to think of innovative ways to promote the positive side of adoption.

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