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Wondering When To Spay or Neuter Your Pet?

When Should You Spay or Neuter Your Pet? It Used to Be a Simple Question… 

Fortunately, the question of timing in cats is simple, so we will start with our feline pets. Cats who are not intended for breeding should be spayed or neutered by 5 months of age. The biggest reasons to spay or neuter are to prevent overpopulation and curb unwanted hormonally influenced behaviors. Cats are incredibly fecund and precocious, meaning they can become pregnant as young as 6 months, and it usually takes a single mating. In addition to this, hormonal influence can lead to roaming, fighting and, in males, a powerful urine smell with a tendency to mark in the home. Marking behaviors often persist despite neutering once they are established, so early intervention is recommended. Waiting until after a first heat cycle to spay female cats increases the incidence of mammary tumors, which are an aggressive form of cancer in felines. These reasons, coupled with no known benefits to waiting, make the question of spay and neuter timing in cats clear-cut.  

Although one would think that the answer is just as straightforward in dogs, there are many factors that might influence the timing decision. Before we explore these factors, it is important to remember that prevention of overpopulation and its painful and sad consequences is our first responsibility. This means that if a dog’s situation puts it at risk for an unwanted litter, then early spay or neuter should be done as soon as possible. This is the approach taken by animal shelters and rescue organizations. For owned pets that are not at risk of an unwanted pregnancy, there may be benefits to waiting beyond the traditional 6-month recommendation and even potentially allowing female dogs to go through a first heat cycle.  

There are both risks and benefits to early spay, as well as risks and benefits to a later spay (ovariectomy or ovariohysterectomy). To be clear, the question here is whether or not to spay early or after the first heat cycle. Because of significant risks of pyometra (uterine infection) or mammary cancer late in life we recommend that all female dogs not intended for breeding be spayed before their second heat cycle. Most females experience their first heat cycle between 5-9 months of age (large dogs usually start later), then once every 6 months thereafter. In terms of benefits, early spaying (before 5 months) results in very low (0.05%) risk of mammary cancer, no risk of pregnancy, and no heat cycle bleeding. Spaying before the first heat cycle results in an easier surgery with fewer potential for complications such as bleeding and pain.  

Urinary incontinence is, however, a common problem associated with early spay. It can be well-managed with lifelong medication. With early spaying or neutering, certain breeds may be at increased risk of developing orthopedic disease due to the removal of sex hormones. These problems include knee ligament rupture, hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. Breeds with documented increased risk appear to be Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Pitbulls and Rottweilers. There is possibly a correlation between early spay/neuter and anxiety. Other reported possible risks (with weak evidence) for males and females are a possible increased risk of certain types of cancer (osteosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, lymphosarcoma) and slightly increased risk of immune-mediated diseases.  

After the 2nd heat to spay, the lifetime risk of developing mammary cancer is approximately 26%. If you wait until after the 1st heat, but spay before the 2nd heat (i.e. between 5-15 months depending on breed size) the chance of mammary cancer is about 7-8%. This timing may be appropriate for some breeds in which we are wanting the maximum influence of estrogen on bone growth but wish to remove the 26% risk of mammary cancer when spayed after the second heat cycle. Most small mammary tumors in dogs can be cured with surgery, as long as they are detected when small (<3cm). This requires periodic teat exams to ensure early detectionIf you allow your dog to go through one or more heat cycles, you must be prepared to recognize when a heat cycle is happening (swollen vulva, bleeding or dripping blood from the vulva), take care to ensure your female is kept clean and is not around intact males during this time (for about 3 weeks) to minimize pregnancy risk. We are happy to discuss other factors that may influence individual timing recommendations (training classes, other pets in the house, cost of intact licensure).  

For male dogs the question is less complicated, as there are no medical risks associated with not being neutered for the first few years of life. A male dog with no behavioral problems such as aggression or marking and with no access to intact female dogs is not at risk in its first years of life. Older, intact dogs will reliably develop benign prostatic hyperplasia (testosterone-driven enlargement of the prostate) which can be associated with discomfort associated with urination and/or defecation; this condition is cured by castration. They are also at risk of prostatic infections. In general, we recommend that small male dogs be neutered between 6–12 months and large breed male dogs in their second year. Male dogs of any size exhibiting aggression or unacceptable testosterone influenced behaviors, such as marking in the home, should be neutered as soon as possible regardless of age.  

As can be imagined, there is considerable debate within the veterinary community about this, and if you need help determining the right timing for your dog’s spay or neuter, we encourage you discuss this with your veterinarian. 

Blue-Green Algae Could Pose A Serious Danger to Your Pet

Blue-green algae have caused the tragic death of many dogs around the country, and New Mexico is not immune to the scary trends. Also known as cyanobacteria, blue-green algae is one of the largest and oldest groups of bacteria, and can be found in freshwater lakes, streams, ponds and brackish water ecosystems around the world. Multiple bodies of water in our state, and even in the Albuquerque area, have recently been reported to be contaminated by these toxic organisms. Both the New Mexico Department of Health Epidemiology and Response Division and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department have distributed safety warnings and tips to keep families aware of this outcropping of bacteria.

What pet owners need to be aware of, however, is that the blue-green algae can cause even worse ailments for their dogs. As evidence to the danger, the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department has provided a second resource specifically for dogs. Humans can be easier to warn and control than your four-legged family members, making it harder to stop your pet from swimming into water that is obviously contaminated. Plus, once a dog comes in contact with blue-green algae, it’s difficult to wash it all out of their fur, which can mean further exposure when it comes to the animal’s habitual self-grooming. Symptoms of exposure in pets can include excessive salivation, fatigue, difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures. Death can occur within hours to days of exposure.

While the above resources give us a lot of information about avoiding blue-green algae and what to do if contact is made, it would be best to play it safe and leave your pets at home if you plan to visit any bodies of water this time of year. Please don’t hesitate to give us a call at 505-265-4939 if you have any further questions or are worried about a pet’s potential exposure.

Update: Grain-Free Pet Foods & Heart Disease

By now you’ve probably heard the warnings about the link between grain-free diets and the development of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. DCM is a heart condition that can result in abnormal cardiac rhythms, congestive heart failure and even sudden death.

Veterinary cardiologists, nutritionists and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have found evidence that grain-free foods are associated with DCM. At this point researchers are not completely sure why these formulations are a problem, but it appears to be most commonly tied to dog foods that use beans/legumes and potatoes as a carbohydrate source—though there is still not a 100% correlation.

We ask that you carefully read the FDA’s latest update at the link above so you understand the findings and how they relate to your pet. Although there are no specific guidelines from the FDA at this time, the update offers more detail on the specific brands of foods that have been most often associated with the development of DCM.

Based on this information, we feel that there is mounting evidence of a link between certain cases of cardiomyopathy and diet. If your dog is on a food containing large amounts of legumes or potatoes (they are listed in the first 3-4 ingredients on the package or can) there is a risk for this serious complication, and you should consider a non-grain-free diet for your pet.

We encourage you to contact us at (505) 265-4939 if you have questions about what to feed your pet, or if your dog has been on a grain-free diet and is exhibiting symptoms such as lethargy, coughing, or difficulty breathing, as these could be signs of developing heart disease.

Heartworm Disease is on the Rise in the Albuquerque Area

Albuquerque has again made a top 10 list and not for a positive reason, no pun intended. Heartworm disease is on the rise and with the increased rainfall, we have seen this spring we are poised to see even more spread of the disease. Several other factors that have changed in the last decade such as the use of rain barrels and container gardens have also played a role. These potential water reservoirs have given mosquitoes more opportunity to thrive in our desert environment. The evolution of many species of mosquitoes to survive in drier climates has also added to their ability to exist easily where they were not able to in the past.

Heartworm disease is a very complex disease and can affect many vital organs, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver. As a result, the outcome of infection varies greatly from patient to patient. Heartworm Disease is also a very complex and expensive disease to treat so the best approach is prevention.

For more information on Heartworm Disease, it’s treatment and prevention go to Heartworm Basics. For information on testing and prevention for your pets contact your veterinarian.

The Big Balloon Fiesta is Not Always Fun for Our Dogs

Albuquerque is home to the largest ballooning event in the world. From October 6, 2018 to October 14, 2018 our city will be hosting people from all over the world to witness this event and balloons will be filling the sky on most mornings.

Most of us find this to be a wonderful time with cool weather and the smell of roasting chili in the air. However, many of our canine companions experience significant stress due to this. The response that they exhibit is similar to that seen with thunderstorm and firework phobias. Although the reaction is not logical, the sense of dread is real, and these pets are very distressed by the sights and sounds of these strange things filling the sky. Continue Reading

Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats

Many cats suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and it is common for this condition to go untreated for years. Vomiting and diarrhea are never normal, and cats who suffer from one of these signs on a regular basis should be evaluated—even vomiting due to hairballs is not normal. Although hairballs can irritate the stomach, most cats with normal gastrointestinal (GI) tracts will process these and pass them in feces.

Some cats with IBD show neither vomiting nor diarrhea and may only have weight loss symptoms despite a normal appetite. IBD can affect any segment of the GI tract and the clinical signs that ensue depend on what portion of the tract is affected. Vomiting happens when the stomach and the first part of the small intestine is affected while diarrhea results from the colon being involved. When only the middle part of the small intestine is affected it is possible to have weight loss without vomiting or diarrhea. Continue Reading

Is Walking Your Dog a Challenge?

We are blessed to live in a place where getting out for a walk with the dogs is a year-round activity. Now that the winds have died down a bit and the days are longer, I am seeing our clients and neighbors out enjoying the springtime mornings and evenings with their dogs.

With the increased “traffic,” it means that our dogs are asked to cross paths with others more frequently, leading to more stressful interactions for owners of a reactive dog. If your dog finds sharing the sidewalk, median or path with others stressful or has “favorite” places on the route to release their inner Cujo (usually where there is another dog behind a fence), then you know the drill.

I am the proud owner of two rescue dogs, one of which joined our family when she was about a year old. When we took her for her first walk I realized that we had a “project” on our hands, as she perceived every car, bicycle, skateboard, fire hydrant and four-legged creature a mortal threat.

Continue Reading

Giardia: New Mexico’s State Parasite

Giardia is by far the most commonly diagnosed parasite in New Mexico. It is diagnosed in both cats and dogs and it can also infect people.

In contrast to most intestinal parasites (roundworms, tapeworms) Giardia is not visible to the naked eye. Pets usually acquire Giardia by ingesting the cysts from contaminated water. Clinical signs range from significant diarrhea to no signs at all. The life cycle of Giardia includes two stages. Usually a dog will ingest cysts in contaminated water or directly from the feces of another animal. Once the cysts are ingested and reach the intestines they transform into a fragile swimming form called a trophozoite which attaches to the lining of the intestines to feed. If enough trophozoites attach to the lining diarrhea develops (severity often correlates with the number of organisms present). As part of their life cycle the trophozoites produce very resistant cysts which pass through the GI tract and exit the body in the animal’s feces. Once the cysts are in the environment the cycle begins anew once they are ingested.
Continue Reading

Taking the Bite Out of Feline Kidney Disease

Did you know that kidney disease is the #1 cause of death in cats over 10? It’s long been
suspected that periodontal disease—dental disease—can eventually cause issues with internal
organs as bacteria from the disease travels from the mouth to other areas of the body. Now, the
Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association is reporting the results of an 11-year
study that shows a strong association between advanced periodontal (dental) disease and the
incidence of feline kidney disease.

The study collected data from over 169,000 cats, and the findings support the benefit of
maintaining your cat’s oral health to help stave off kidney disease.

At Aztec Animal Clinic, we take dental care very seriously and a careful examination of the mouth is an important part of cats’ yearly wellness care. Proper management of periodontal disease requires at home care and, as needed, anesthetized dental cleanings and assessments. This is especially true for senior cats.

Halitosis or bad breath is a common sign of periodontal disease, but disease can be relatively advanced before this develops. It is important to remember that kitties are great at hiding their pain and discomfort, so yearly exams at minimum are required to ensure that a painful dental condition has not developed.

Kidney disease can cause many signs in your kitty, but early changes such as mild weight loss and subtle increases in thirst and urination can be difficult to detect at home. An exam and routine lab analyses will readily detect kidney disease in affected cats.

Both periodontal disease and chronic kidney disease can be effectively managed once diagnosed.
If you have questions about kidney disease, dental disease or want to schedule an exam for your cat, make an
appointment online or by calling 505-265-4939.

Good Times for All at the Aztec End of Summer Picnic!

The team at Aztec Animal Clinic works hard year-round to provide your pet with exceptional care, so before the summer got away, we wanted to have some fun with our co-workers and loved ones.

On Saturday August 26th, the staff and their families, friends, and four-legged companions gathered for good eats and good times at a local park. Enjoy the pictures and see if you recognize our team members when they’re not wearing lab coast and scrubs!