Birth control

Part and parcel of responsible pet ownership is taking control of your pet’s reproduction. Pups and kittens should be brought into the world only if they are going to be looked after. There are a number of alternatives available both surgical and chemical besides the obvious one of locking up your pet while in heat.

Heat in the dog lasts 3 weeks on average and most bitches have 2 heats per year. They can be fertile for all the heat period, though the maximum fertile period is usually the second day of standing heat i.e. the second day they will allow the dog to mate with them. There are a few disadvantages to allowing the bitch to come in heat. Firstly they may escape or a dog get in and they may end up in pup; it only takes a minutes carelessness with an open door or people may not realise that dogs may scale 14 foot walls or chew their way through doors or may let the bitch out before the heat has fully ended.

Secondly one has to put up with a collection of dogs camped on one’s front doorstep for two to three weeks. Thirdly it is not healthy for a bitch to have repeated heats without having pups; every time a bitch has a heat a lining is laid down in her womb. If she has pups then the lining is shed if not the lining is retained and after a few heats she ends up with a number of linings one on top of another in her womb.

At time of heat these linings can get infected and the bitch ends up with a condition called pyometra –pus in the womb-, which is potentially fatal and requires rapid surgical/medical intervention.

Symptoms are excess drinking/passing of water, loss of appetite, poor form and vaginal discharge occurring anytime from during heat, up to 3 months after heat.

Chemical control of heat is done using injection or tablets. Tablets should only be used for temporary suppression of heat as continued use may lead to pyometra. Permanent suppression of heat is achieved by regular injections of long acting progesterone. These are given at intervals that your vet decides are appropriate. Disadvantages include some serious side effects – there can be an increased risk of mammary tumours and pyometra in particular – failure of the product to suppress heat, and weight gain.

Surgical control of heat usually involves carrying out a hysterectomy on the animal. If one is sure that one won’t be breeding from the animal it is the method of choice. There is a positive health benefit in neutering bitches before the first heat or at least before she reaches one year of age in that the incidence of mammary tumours is greatly reduced. Neutering after one year of age does not have any effect on the incidence of mammary tumours. Disadvantages would include the risk, however small, of the operation itself; an increased tendency to obesity and urinary incontinence, and in spaniel in particular a ”puppy coat” may develop which may have to be regularly clipped to keep the animal looking well. Neutered animals cannot be shown unless the kennel club give permission. Allowing bitches to have a litter does not have a positive benefit on bitches that are subsequently neutered.

If a bitch is aggressive to a family member neutering tends to make them worse.

Males are usually neutered to control or modify behaviour and not as a method of birth control. Aggression, roaming and marking behaviour is considerably reduced if not eliminated by neutering. Neutered males may not be shown as well. Males with only one testicle in the scrotum should be neutered before the age of four, as there is a very high incidence of testicular tumours in undescended testicles after the age of four.

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