Stories from the surgery: mammary cancer in dogs and the importance of spaying
Each month Petplan vet Brian Faulkner takes a look at some of the issues he comes across in his day-to-day life as a practising vet.
This month Brian discusses a worrying increase in the number of mammary cancers in dogs that he has seen in the past few years…
The benefits of spaying your dog
Most owners know that they should spay their female dog, but many are not aware of the full health benefits.
Traditionally, spaying has involved removing the ovaries and uterus of your dog. However, more recently vets are being advised to leave the uterus intact and just remove the ovaries. Whilst this is much less traumatic for the dog, spaying is still a very serious operation.
However, there are many health benefits from having your dog spayed including the prevention of the following conditions:
Unwanted puppies and the risk of complications including abortion – this is when one or more foetus is delivered before they are able to live outside of the womb.
Pyometra – this is an infection of the uterus (womb) and is usually seen in older un-neutered dogs following their season, although younger dogs can also suffer from the condition. Symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Drinking more than usual
- Licking at back end more than normal
- Pus (yellow/brown/red) discharge from her vulva
- Swollen abdomen
False pregnancies – many un-neutered female dogs can experience a false pregnancy whereby they show symptoms of pregnancy due to a hormonal imbalance. Symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Mothering activity such as self-nursing or creating ‘nests’
- Enlarged mammary glands
However, one very serious potential consequence of not spaying your female dog is mammary cancer – and it’s something I’ve seen more and more of over the past few years.
I think I’ve performed more operations to treat mammary cancer in the last two years than in the previous 18 years combined. This is mainly because of a decrease in the number of my clients who decided not to spay their dog.
According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, the risk of a dog developing a mammary tumour is 0.5% if they are spayed before their first heat (which usually occurs after six months). However, it leaps significantly after their first heat to around 8%, while it reaches a shockingly high 26% if they are not spayed until after the second heat.
As previously mentioned, spaying is a serious operation but is a lot more preferable than putting your dog through the trauma of having a mastectomy, which is the usual course of action.
Before any mammary surgery is undertaken, your vet would take an x-ray to see if the cancer has spread to their lungs or other organs and unfortunately if this has happened surgery would not be helpful and euthanasia may be the only option.
Hopefully this has highlighted just how important it is for owners to have their female dogs spayed – and to do it as early as possible. Most female dogs are spayed around six months old in the UK before their first season.
What are your thoughts on neutering? Post your comments below…