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When to spay and neuter: also, tips for treating Lyme disease.

Q (Question): I recently acquired a female setter pup and my vet is encouraging me to have her spayed as soon as possible. I'm not planning to breed her so I do intend to have her spayed, as I don't want to be bothered with her heat cycles (and males trying to get to her), but I am concerned about the best time to do this.

My vet says the sooner the better because recovery time is quicker at a younger age. But I've heard spaying a female before her first heat period can lead to problems with incontinence and cause the dog to grow taller or larger than she would have normally.

I also recently saw an article citing a study that said early spaying was linked to the development of bone cancer.--ES

A (Answer): I feel that 4 months old is almost always the best time to spay or neuter. By then, the puppy is 30 to 50 percent of its adult size, making anesthesia easier. The puppy has more body mass, retains body temperature better, and metabolizes anesthetic drugs better than a 6-to 8-week-old pup.

Anesthetic control is the main reason I like to wait until 4 months of age for routine spays and neuters. We may have potential for more long-term side effects with very young surgeries also.

There are many reasons not to wait beyond 4-6 months for surgery. After this time, the reproductive tract will continue to enlarge in males. In females, there is obviously a huge change as the body prepares for the first heat cycle. The juvenile reproductive tract is easier and safer to perform surgery on with fewer chances of complications.

The long-term benefits of elective spay (OHE) at 4 months of age include: no unwanted pregnancies; no negatives associated with heat cycles--messy "spotting" in the house, etc.; a huge reduction in mammary tumors later in life and the elimination of pyometra, which can he deadly.

The long-term concerns about elective spaying include: Weight gain (this can be controlled by monitoring caloric intake); surgical and anesthetic risks, which are very low; hormone-responsive urinary incontinence; growth plates of bones remaining open or active longer, resulting in dogs that appear taller than normal.

With regards to bone cancer, a recent study showed increased percentages of bone sarcoma in spayed and neutered Rottweilers versus intact Rottweilers. It is very concerning to me, but it is one study on a limited population within one breed. More evidence should be on the way.

Don't let one study or one person's interpretation of one study totally influence your choices or replace the trust you have in your veterinarian.

Q (Question): On a recent Snap test my GSP tested positive for Lyme disease. My vet was unnerved as we don't have too many cases of this in Quebec.

I have removed the odd tick in the past and the vet said not to worry as we don't have a high incidence of Lyme here. An additional test, C6, proved her levels of antibody were hick 180. He told me the normal range is under 30 and suggested waiting six months to do another test before starting her on antibiotics. I gather the vet is not sure and is depending on the lab result recommendation.--KH

A (Answer): In our clinics, most dogs have been exposed to Lyme disease during travel as opposed to local exposure. Fortunately, the majority of dogs fight off the infection on their own.

If the dog is not clinically affected with lameness, fever or kidney problems then the next step is open to debate. The first question is, do we even run the C6 antibody test at the reference laboratory since it may not be correlated with current or future clinical signs?

The second is, if a high reading is found do we treat the dog? Remember, if clinical signs are present we should absolutely treat. But if no clinical signs are seen and the reference lab gives us high numbers what do we do next?

My last several cases I have chosen to treat. I land on the cautious side of the fence. Treatment with 30 days of Doxycycline is relatively inexpensive with low risk of side effects, but caution should be used in pregnant and young dogs. We do need to be aware that demand for this quantitative C6 test may have been created by the testing lab.

Vaccination does not interfere with this test. Vaccination for prevention of Lyme disease should be practiced if living in or traveling to an endemic area. Also, the use of topical medications like Frontline Plus should start early in the year and continue through November in most northern areas. We are now realizing tick activity continues much later in the year than previously thought.

By John Holcomb, DVM

Contact Dr. Holcomb with your questions at or at 2057 210th St., Winterset, Iowa 50273.
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Title Annotation:Veterinary Clinic
Author:Holcomb, John
Publication:Gun Dog
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 29, 2012
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