To some extent, of course, the symptoms will depend on where the primary tumour has formed. However, in all cases, the cancerous mass of abnormal blood vessels is prone to leaking or even, in severe cases, rupturing, causing massive internal bleeding. In many cases, the first symptom is collapse due to severe blood loss.
Bone Haemangiosarcomasform (as one would expect!) in the bone, causing pain, lameness, unexplained breaks (a “pathological fracture”) and often local soft tissue swelling. If the affected bone is a rib, there may also be bleeding into the chest and difficulty breathing.
Heart Haemangiosarcomasare the most common form of heart cancer, and usually lead to rapid heart failure, due to pressure on the heart and bleeding into the sac around the heart (the pericardium). This causes difficulty breathing, pale gums, fast heart rate, abnormal heart rhythms, and sometimes fainting or collapse, especially after exercise.
Skin Haemangiosarcomasare less aggressive, and tend to form large “blood-blister” type lumps in or under the skin, often with local bruising.
Liver and Spleen Haemangiosarcomas are, however, the most common. Symptoms range from a swollen spleen, discovered by accident when the vet is examining your dog; to sudden collapse or even death. In most cases, there will be weight loss, weakness, intermittent collapse, pale gums, and sometimes wobbliness or lameness first.
There are four types of hypothyroidism seen in dogs, with a variety of causes.
Primary Hypothyroidismoccurs when the thyroid gland stops working - this may be because the dog’s immune system accidentally attacks it (“Lymphocytic Thyroiditis”) or because active gland tissue is replaced with fat “Thyroid Atrophy”). Together, these two types of Primary Hypothyroidism account for 95% of all cases.
Secondary Hypothyroidismoccurs when their thyroid gland is healthy, but the signals from the brain aren’t sent, and is quite rare.
The final type isCongenital Hypothyroidism, which is an inherited disorder; it is rare and is seen mostly in Fox Terriers and related breeds.
There are several different tests available for pregnancy in bitches:
(1) Abdominal palpation. In this test, the vet will carefully feel the abdomen and try to locate the bulges in the uterus that contain the developing puppies. This is most reliable between 4 and 5 weeks after the mating, but is very tricky in larger bitches and any who are overweight. Nowadays, we wouldn't routinely recommend this method, because it's not terribly reliable - it's very easy to miss a small puppy, or find a big lump of faeces and think it is a pup!
(2) Relaxin Blood Test. This is a blood test for the hormone relaxin which is produced by the developing placenta. It is a pretty reliable way to determine whether the bitch is genuinely pregnant, or just has a false pregnancy. In some pregnant bitches, the test will give a positive result at 22 days after mating - however, a negative result this early may simply mean the puppies aren't developed enough yet, so it should be repeated 10-14 days later. It also doesn't tell you whether the puppies are alive or not.
(3) Ultrasound scan. This is the method we prefer to use - it is accurate from about 3 ½ weeks after mating, and can tell you how healthy the puppies are. It cannot, however, tell you how many there are - you'll need to wait until the puppies' skeletons form (in the last 3 weeks) and then get an X-ray to count noses to know that.
Well, there are basically two different options if you decide you don't want to go ahead and let your bitch have the litter:
(1) Spay her. If you don't intend to breed from your bitch again, we can spay her even if she is in pup - although it is a more difficult and risky procedure, because the blood supply to the uterus is much bigger. It is not something we would routinely recommend, but there may be some situations when it is appropriate.
(2) Use medical treatment to cause her to reabsorb or abort the litter. This is usually the treatment of choice. We use a drug called aglepristone, which blocks the action of progesterone (the "pregnancy hormone"), causing the bitch to reabsorb the embryos (if given early enough in pregnancy). It takes the form of two injections 24 hours apart, given any time from 10 to 45 days after mating, and is effective in over 90% of cases. Occasionally, one or two of the puppies survive, so it is always useful to get a scan done 10 days afterwards, just to make sure.
This can easily be prevented - either neuter your dog, or make sure she doesn't have unsupervised contact with ANY male dogs when she's in season.
If you think your bitch might have been "caught" - give us a ring and talk to one of our vets for advice!
Before you decide to breed, it's really important that you're fully prepared. Remember, not everything goes according to plan - so are you prepared to pay for a caesarean section, if it becomes necessary, bottle rear some or all of the pups, arrange for treatment of any that become ill, and take back any that the new owner decides they don't want? Remember, too, if you skimp on the health testing, you could end up with puppies who suffer from a congenital or genetic disease condition.
If the answer to every question is yes, then definitely consider breeding. If, however, you're in any doubt, remember how many dogs there are in pounds up and down the country waiting for a new home. So, if you do decide to breed, you'll need to make sure you're legally covered: if you are producing five or more litters per year, or if your Local Authority think you may be breeding for commercial gain, you will need a breeders license, so check with them before you proceed! In addition, you may want to check what your pet insurance covers - it often excludes any conditions relating to breeding.
Remember, if anything should go wrong, make sure that you call us! The commonest problems that dogs suffer during pregnancy are:
(1) Eclampsia ("milk fever" or hypocalcaemia), which usually occurs at the end of pregnancy or within a couple of weeks of birth. It usually causes shivering and muscle tremors, but can progress to muscle rigidity, seizures and collapse. This can usually be managed with calcium replacement therapy, although in many cases it is necessary to wean the litter
(2) Uterine Inertia - where the uterus just doesn't push. This is most common in smaller litters, especially of small and toy breed dogs, but can occur to any bitch. It can sometimes be treated with injections, but usually a caesarean section is required.
(3) Dystocia, or an Obstructed Birth. This occurs when a puppy gets stuck in the birth canal, and is potentially fatal to the puppy and to the bitch. If the bitch is straining without result, or there's a prolonged gap between puppies, contact us for advice straight away, as the only treatment in most cases is a caesarean section.
(4) Weak or sickly puppies. There are a wide range of different causes for weak and puny puppies, but it's always worth getting the litter checked out if you have any concerns. Sometimes, even the smallest runts can be saved with appropriate intensive care, so don't give up until we've had a chance to check them!
You'll need to make sure all the dietary components are correct:
(1) Energy (or calories). Dogs can get energy from fat, protein or carbohydrate. The amount a dog needs will vary depending on their level of activity, their life stage (for example, puppies and pregnant bitches need more than an older dog).
(2) Protein. An adult dog needs at least 18% protein in their diet, and a growing puppy or a pregnant bitch needs a minimum of 22% (much higher than we do!). However, not all protein sources are equal - animal protein is termed "higher biological value" than plant protein, because it has a healthier mix of essential amino acids for dogs (yes, really - this is why it's really, really hard to formulate a healthy vegan diet for a dog). In addition, dogs need unusually high amounts of the amino acid taurine (unlike humans, who can manufacture their own) in their diet. Without it, they will develop heart disease (cardiomyopathy).
(3) Fats and Oils. Fat provides calories, taste, essential fatty acids and vitamins (A, D, E and K) that are required for healthy skin, coat, hormone production, blood clotting, immunity and many other functions. Insufficient fat in a diet means that firstly, the dog won't want to eat it, and secondly, they will get progressively more ill as their reserves of these vital compounds are depleted.
(4) Carbohydrate - a useful source of energy, but not essential for dogs! The only exception is in a bitch who is producing milk, where she should be getting at least 23% carbohydrate in her diet to produce milk sugar to feed her puppies.
(5) Fibre. Unlike humans, dogs do not need fibre - about 5% is probably about right, more can (surprisingly) lead to constipation and other gut problems.
(6) Vitamins and Minerals - these are generally similar to human requirements, although a bitch needs proportionately more calcium when she is lactating (she's likely to have a lot more than one baby to feed!).
You'll have to carefully calibrate how much exercise you give your dog, and how hard you work them. To work this out, there are several factors you need to take into account:
(1) Their breed. Some dogs need more exercise than others - Setters, collies and Spaniels, for instance, need much more activity (to keep them sane if nothing else!) than Greyhounds (for whom a "mad half hour" once a day is usually sufficient). Some dogs, like Labradors, are mentally happy with very little exercise, but need to be encouraged to do more; and others (like Jack Russell Terriers and Chihuahuas) tend to be underexercised (just because they have short legs doesn't mean they don't need as much exercise time as other dogs- it just means they won't cover as much distance in that time!).
(2) That particular individual's fitness; an unfit animal should have a gradually increasing exercise programme, rather than starting cold and doing too much. Likewise, a very fit dog will need more exercise to maintain that fitness.
(3) Their age. In general, a young dog needs more exercise than an older one, although there are of course exceptions.
(4) Their personality - some dogs love exercise, some not so much! Ironically, the dogs with a tendency to laziness probably need to be given more organised exercise, as they won't do it themselves...
(5) Any disease conditions they may have. For example, a dog with heart or lung disease may require controlled exercise; and a dog with arthritis needs little-and-often to keep their joints supple.
So, when you've made up your mind to have your dog neutered, what is the procedure? (Those of a squeamish disposition may wish to look away now...):
The night before the procedure, it's important he be starved - talk to our nurses who will advise you on how long, but in general, no food after 6pm and no water after 10pm. When you bring him in the next morning, we'll carefully check him over for any problems that might affect his surgery, and then we'll give him a premed injection (a combination of mild sedative to help him relax and a painkiller for afterwards). Then, when we're ready, we will give him a general anaesthetic so he is completely asleep, and pass a breathing tube down his throat to help him breathe.
The nurse will scrub the area around his scrotum (ball sack) while the vet scrubs up, and then they'll begin. It takes perhaps 15 minutes (a very quick procedure!) as a small incision is made in front of the scrotum, and one at a time the testicles are pulled out of this, clamped and cut off. The arteries and spermatic cords are then tied off with dissolvable stitches, and the skin sutured closed. Remember, the scrotum is NOT removed - it is normal for your dog to go home with an empty pouch of skin between their back legs.
Then we'll wake him up, and as soon as he's awake he can go home with a collar on to stop him licking at the wounds until they've healed. Most dogs are completely back to normal in a day or so, but it is important to restrict their exercise until the skin stitches come out, roughly 10 days later!
There are three major reasons for spaying a bitch.
(1) Ending her cycles. Most bitches will come into season roughly every six months (although it may be longer for large and giant breeds). When they're in season, or "in heat", they pass a bloody discharge from their back end, which can be really messy. In addition, every male dog in the vicinity is likely to be queuing up at your back door trying to get to her! Some bitches also undergo quite dramatic personality changes; and they may suffer from "False Pregnancies" in the couple of months following the season. If they get "caught" by a dog, it's likely to be a real pregnancy, and then you have to look after and find homes for all the puppies! Spaying completely removes her cycle (it cannot occur), and she cannot get pregnant. This means you're not going to be part of the overpopulation problem, with dogs stacked up waiting for rehoming in shelters and rescue centres.
(2) Reducing the risk of reproductive tumours. About 7% of unspayed bitches will develop a mammary tumour (breast cancer) in their lifetime; if spayed before the second season, the risk drops by 92%; if spayed before her first, it's down by 99.5%. Spaying an older bitch has progressively less effect. This protective effect extends to other reproductive tumours - a dog without a uterus or ovaries cannot, for example, develop uterine or ovarian cancer!
(3) Eliminating Pyometra. This is a serious and, if untreated, usually fatal infection of the uterus (womb). An astonishing 23% of unspayed bitches will develop a pyometra by 10 years old. The risk is essentially zero in spayed bitches.
(1) Urinary Incontinence. Neutered bitches are reportedly 8 times more likely to become incontinent in later life. This can usually be controlled easily with medication, but is an annoyance. Estimates for the number of affected bitches range from 5-20%.
(2) Hormone changes - weight gain, coat alterations. After neutering, most dogs will be more prone to put on weight - but that doesn't mean they become fat because of neutering. They become fat because their owners overfeed them! A few dogs also show a change to the quality of the coat - this is actually pretty rare, and usually really minor.
(3) Orthopaedic disease. There's been a lot of research done into the effects of spaying on certain bone and joint disorders. There is good evidence to suggest that there is a slightly higher risk of bone cancer (osteosarcoma) in spayed bitches (unspayed bitches have a risk of 0.006%, spayed bitches 0.012%). In addition, spayed bitches have a higher risk of growth plate injuries, and seem to be at slightly higher risk of cruciate ligament injuries.
Dogs in the UK are at risk of a number of unpleasant infectious diseases, including:
(1) Distemper. This is a very serious disease that, although closely related to measles, is much more dangerous. It is estimated that 50% of unvaccinated dogs who are infected will die, even with treatment. Typically, it causes a runny nose and eyes, vomiting and diarrhoea, pneumonia, seizures or fits, hardening of the footpads and ultimately death. Even in dogs who recover, encephalitis (causing dementia or fits) may occur as a result months or even years later.
(2) Infectious Canine Hepatitis. ICH is caused by a canine adenovirus that attacks the liver. Infected dogs become severely jaundiced, have a high fever and lose their appetite; in severe cases, bleeding, fits and death may occur within hours. Even after recovery, infected dogs will often excrete the virus in their urine for many months.
(3) Parvovirus. Also known as "Parvo", this virus is probably the most commonly seen fatal infection in dogs. Although vaccination is very effective, puppies face a short gap of vulnerability after their mother's immunity wears off and before their vaccines kick in - this is why it is vital to keep as many dogs as possible vaccinated to minimise the risk of transmission! Older dogs can also develop Parvo too, though - it's not just a disease of puppies. They virus attacks the intestines causing vomiting, diarrhoea and then severe, bloody diarrhoea, dehydration, septicaemia, shock and death. Even with intensive care nursing and treatment, at least 30% (and often more) will usually die.
(4) Leptospirosis. Also known as Weil's Disease, this is caused by a group of bacteria that are transmitted in urine (from rats, dogs and cattle). It can also infect people, and it is able to invade the body even through intact skin. It damages the kidneys and the liver, and in severe cases may be fatal. There are a wide range of different "serovars" or strains of the bacterium; traditional vaccines are available against 2 of these strains, but some newer vaccines will protect against 4.
(5) Kennel Cough. The two most important causes of Kennel Cough are Parainfluenza and the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica. The symptoms are a honking cough, which may persist for months, and often a low fever, lethargy and loss of appetite; however, in severe cases, pneumonia may occur which can even be fatal, especially in very young or very old dogs.
(6) Rabies. Although not (yet) present in the UK, rabies is a highly dangerous disease which can infect any mammal, including humans. Once symptoms occur, the disease is almost 100% fatal. Any dog wanting to visit mainland Europe (or most other non-UK countries) MUST be fully vaccinated before they leave. Infected dogs usually become hyperaggresive and will run around biting people and frothing at the mouth (the virus is transmitted in the saliva) before having seizures and dying. There is no treatment, and infected dogs must be put down to prevent their suffering and to protect the public.
(7) Leishmaniasis. This is a fairly exotic disease, not yet native to the UK. We do, however, see it in dogs that have returned to the UK from southern Europe, where it is fairly common. It is spread primarily by sand-fly bites, although direct dog-dog transmission can also occur. Leishmania usually causes a scaly, scabby skin lesion, which gradually spreads; however, it can also cause severe internal damage as the parasites attack the gut (causing vomiting and diarrhoea), the muscles (causing muscle pain and lethargy) and the kidneys (causing increased drinking and urination). Most dogs will also suffer weight loss, and although the disease can be managed, it cannot be 100% cured.
The "Core vaccines" - Distemper, Infectious Hepatitis and Parvo - are "modified live vaccines" and in an adult a single vaccine will provide protection; in a puppy, 2 or more vaccines 2 to 4 weeks apart are used to make sure the vaccine isn't "blocked" by the mother's inherited immunity. These vaccines last a minimum of 3 years. Rabies is a killed vaccine, but again, only one injection is usually required and it also lasts 3 years.
The "non-Core" vaccines need 2 injections, again usually 4 weeks apart, but only last one year.