In this section we will attempt to answer some of the questions our readers have submitted to us with respect to spay/neuter, the endocrine system (hormones) and related health issues regarding your best friend. Please use the Contact section of this website to submit your question(s).
- How do I find a veterinarian who is willing to perform tubal ligation, ovary sparing spay (OSS), or vasectomy?
- Should I spay my dog in order to prevent or treat pyometra?
- My vet tells me they do not know how to go about hormone testing. How did you test Billy’s hormones?
- What can I expect after my dog is given testosterone injections?
- Can you tell me more about SAMe?
- How can I tell if a dog I am meeting at a shelter or considering for adoption has anxiety/fear issues?
- My dog is very fearful, so I just keep him away from things that scare him like other dogs and other people. Is there something else I should be doing for him?
- Why do my dog’s favorite treats show something that seems to be nutritious (e.g., chicken breast) as the only ingredient-but they also have the following disclaimer on the label…”Unfit for human consumption”?
- Is there a connection between seizures and hormones?
- How can you identify a dog that has had an ovary sparing spay (OSS), tubal ligation or vasectomy?
1. How do I find a veterinarian who is willing to perform tubal ligation, ovary sparing spay (OSS), or vasectomy?
Although they can sometimes be hard to find, there are vets out there who perform tubal ligation, ovary sparing spay (basically a hysterectomy) and vasectomy. The first stop we recommend is the Parsemus Foundation. They maintain a list of vets who do alternative sterilization procedures, and vets are placed on the list by their own request. Their page on ovary-sparing spay (hysterectomy) is also informative if you have a female dog.
You can also check specialty surgery centers near you when you decide to move forward. If you are calling a surgeon not on the Parsemus list, ask the receptionist to check with the doctor/s, as sometimes the vet will do the procedure, but the receptionist looks it up on their codes list and does not find it so they tell you “no”. (This is a tip from a practicing vet who does these procedures and writes about it – she is in Florida).
It seems vets charge the same for tubal ligation or OSS (essentially a hysterectomy) as they do for spay. The same is true for vasectomy vs. castration. Logically the fees should be less as vasectomy, tubal ligation or hysterectomy (OSS) are much simpler, less invasive procedures than spay or neuter. However, as there is little competition at this time, the fee will be as much or more as a traditional spay or neuter.
2. Should I spay my dog in order to prevent or treat pyometra?
If you bring in a female dog for tubal ligation or hysterectomy (ovary sparing spay), be prepared for the discussion of pyometra as justification for performing a traditional spay procedure. Check the “Pyometra” page as well as the “Complications of Spay Surgery” page on our website before you go. You need all of the facts before making a decision. Most vets claim spay prevents pyometra (which can be life threatening) and tell clients that’s why they continue to recommend spay. However, many times the vets do not completely remove all uterine and/or ovarian tissue in the spay procedure. If the removal of the uterus and ovaries is incomplete, the spayed dog can still develop pyometra.
Unfortunately, it is this misconception that a spayed dog is incapable of developing pyometra that often delays its diagnosis until its late stages. This can be extremely dangerous. We experienced pyometra after spay with our dog Sally (before Billy), and it was a nightmare. Our research shows pyometra, should it occur in a dog who is intact or has had a tubal ligation, if caught early, can be successfully treated with several injections.
3. My vet tells me they do not know how to go about hormone testing. How did you test Billy’s hormones?
There are two good options we know of. The first is a company called IDEXX. IDEXX Small Animal Health provides diagnostic products and services to veterinary practices around the world. Your vet most likely is already using their services with respect to standard “wellness” blood panels performed once a year.
On the “Tests and Services” page of the IDEXX website, IDEXX does indicate they offer simple hormone tests. If you enter 802 into the search function, you will see it is a test for estradiol. Enter 806 for progesterone test and 807 for testosterone.
Another source for hormone testing which became available quite recently is:
UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE (UTCVM) Diagnostic Lab Services
Endocrinology/Reproductive Hormones Test (E,P,T) Estradiol, Progesterone, Testosterone. Baseline levels requires 1 ml. of serum and no ACTH stimulation. Cost to vet is $77.00
The vet can call the Endocrinology Lab directly at (865) 974-5638 if they have further questions. Also, the vet needs to request from the lab the normal ranges for intact females/males for the three items being tested. Then the vet can see if supplementation is needed.
There is yet another option that could work if the vet was willing to cooperate with you. We actually tested Billy’s hormones with a company called ZRT. Their technology is amazing and used extensively for humans by doctors. They specialize in fertility testing in humans and have slowly expanded to hormone imbalances in every stage of life. The interesting part is the actual testing method. You obtain one of their test kits and it has a small sheet with 12 squares. For humans, you poke your finger and drip a drop of blood into each of the squares, let it dry and send it into their labs. For Billy my vet drew a small vial of blood, and we dropped blood from the vial into the squares. We sent it in, and received the written results by mail. The problem is, the ranges of normal for each hormone are for humans! So, my vet determined what the normal levels of each hormone should be in an intact, healthy dog and we compared Billy’s values to the ZRT results. Sometimes you have to convert the units of measure to make a legitimate comparison. I received the test kit directly from ZRT as a doctor. You personally can also order the test kit on Amazon.
4. What can I expect after my dog is given testosterone injections?
There are many factors which would affect your dog’s response to testosterone supplementation. A recent loss of testosterone could result in a rapid resolution of symptoms upon supplementation. If your dog had zero testosterone for some time, the response to testosterone may be gradual improvement which builds over time. This was our experience with Billy. Other factors would be the age at neutering–if testosterone was lost during early development of the brain, new research indicates the structural changes in the brain may be reversible, but that will take some time. In that case, your dog’s behavior may be improved with testosterone, but not initially to the extent you had anticipated. However, over time you can look forward to a moderated response to stressful situations, generally reduced anxiety and an improvement in cognitive function.
Additionally, beyond behavioral changes, testosterone supplementation will help protect him over his lifetime from the damage to his immune system as well as the documented deterioration testosterone deficiency creates. This deterioration is rooted in the metabolic syndrome and its sequelae: excess abdominal weight, diabetes mellitus type 2, elevated triglycerides, atherosclerotic disease, osteoporosis and loss of muscle mass. All of these conditions strongly limit physical activity as your dog ages, and accelerate morbidity and mortality.
5. Can you tell me more about SAMe?
Billy had dramatic improvement with respect to behavior when we gave him SAMe. We recognize in humans that SAMe affects brain chemistry in a way that helps reduce anxiety and depression. It is possible if testosterone does not satisfactorily resolve your pup’s behavior issues that supplementation with SAMe may help as well. Why? No one knows for sure, but if you look at our page on the stress response, you can see that if an absence of testosterone caused changes in the brain’s development, sometimes a supplement that alters brain chemistry (SAMe being one of them) can help the brain to respond in a better way. Many vets have prescribed traditional antidepressants for dogs with behavior problems, but those rarely work very well and due to their documented adverse side effects we never considered antidepressants for Billy.
Oddly enough, we discovered SAMe was very helpful for anxiety and fear quite by accident. At one point in time, Billy’s liver values were less than ideal. Our vet recommended Denamarin for Billy to help support and heal his liver. Denamarin is a combination of milk thistle and SAMe. Billy’s fears and anxiety were greatly improved while he was on Denamarin, and we attributed it to his feeling better as his liver healed. However, when we stopped supplementing with Denamarin, Billy’s fear and anxiety became worse than ever. Our vet suspected the SAMe was helping Billy, as at the time SAMe was just beginning to be utilized to help humans with anxiety. We contacted the manufacturer of Denamarin and asked if the SAMe could be helping Billy’s fears and anxiety and they indicated it did not do so. We decided with our vet’s concurrence to put Billy back on the Denamarin as he indicated this compound had no documented bad side effects and we were all pretty convinced the SAMe in the Denamarin was providing Billy a significant mental benefit. Now, many years later, it has been determined that SAMe can help behavioral issues in dogs, and SAMe is available in preparations with dosages calculated specifically for dogs.
6. How can I tell if a dog I am meeting at a shelter or considering for adoption has anxiety/fear issues?
There are observed behaviors that should be considered when meeting a prospective dog for your family or assessing the emotional status of your current dog. Some things to look for:
• nervous habits (i.e. excessive grooming, licking lips or yawning)
• emotional outbursts (i.e. excessive barking)
• strong startle response
• poor interaction with humans
• problematic with other dogs
• poor posture to include hunched back, head down and tail down between back legs
It is worth noting that a shelter situation is very stressful for any dog, so you will be seeing a dog at his or her worst. Their behavior will most likely be much improved when they feel safe in their new home.
7. My dog is very fearful, so I just keep him away from things that scare him like other dogs and other people. Is there something else I should be doing for him?
Acting to reduce your dog’s fear or anxiety is critically important to your dog’s health. Prolonged anxiety/fear has physiologic endocrine effects. Some of these effects are:
• increased level of adrenaline
• increased level of noradrenaline
• increased level of cortisol
• lowered secretion of growth hormone
• lowered secretion of sex hormones by adrenal glands
• greater levels of glucagon
• lowered production of insulin
• blood sugar level is increased
• Immune system is repressed 85
Practically, there are two components in a plan to assist your dog in its ability to handle stress. First, we try to stabilize the HPA axis by rebalancing hormones. Second, we try to normalize brain chemistry, generally utilizing SAMe. Some vets/guardians have reported improvement through the administration of antidepressant medications, however due to the side effects of these drugs we prefer to try SAMe first.
8. Why do my dog’s favorite treats show something that seems to be nutritious (e.g., chicken breast) as the only ingredient-but they also have the following disclaimer on the label…“Unfit for human consumption”?
We used to buy these types of treats for our doggy pals. We felt “safe” because they were sourced from a smokehouse in the USA whose primary products were smoked meats for people. We stopped buying them some time ago when we noticed “unfit for human consumption” on the label. Following the guiding principles of our “Canine-Human Connection Model“ (discussed in detail throughout this site), we concluded that if we humans can’t eat it safely, why in Dog’s name would we feed it to our best friends? But the question remained, “Why on earth would dietary staples such as chicken breast – the types of “healthy” foods we eat on a routine basis – suddenly not be safe for human consumption?” Our research led us to something that was not only disturbing on many levels, but it completely brings into question the integrity and efficacy of our government food supply watchdogs (e.g., the FDA, AAFCO), not to mention the entire pet food industry. What we uncovered was the food industry’s callous, unconscionable and shameless reference to what they call, “The 4 D’s”. WOW! Now we get it! Simply put, “The 4 D’s” is industry nomenclature which signifies that the primary/exclusive food source for the underlying off the shelf product was either Dead, Dying, Diseased or Disabled. We, the consumer, generally describe this as “road kill”. In this case, the law requires the disclaimer, “unfit for human consumption”. This also applies to dog food that contains animal parts which have been “rendered”–this means the parts have been ground up and cooked for a period of time to kill bacteria, etc.
There is a very helpful, detailed explanation of all of this in an interesting article on PETMD.
FYI: Not having the heart or desire to deny our best friend his chicken treats, we invested in a smoker (designed to cook human food) and we smoke/roast thin slices of locally sourced chicken breast, and then dehydrate them by turning the smoker temp down. Bon Appetit!
9. Is there a connection between seizures and hormones?
Yes, sex hormones can influence the excitability of nerve cells in the brain and thus influence seizure control. Research on humans must guide the treatment for canines. From the Veterinary Journal:
“Epilepsy is the most common chronic neurological disorder in both humans and dogs. The effect of sex hormones on seizures is well documented in human medicine…estradiol increases seizure activity and progesterone is believed to exhibit a protective effect…No systematic research has been conducted to determine the influence of sex hormones on epilepsy in dogs.”120
However, if your spayed or neutered dog has seizures, please consider the following:
First, we would suggest testing for sex hormone levels. In general, there appears to be an over-representation of male dogs with idiopathic epilepsy but no explanation for this difference in prevalence between sexes has been reported.120 We believe that the increasing number of neutered male dogs with high estradiol levels may explain the over-representation of epilepsy in male dogs. Hormone rebalancing for male and female dogs may or may not eliminate the seizures, but it certainly will do no harm.
Next, have your dog’s thyroid function checked. We have discussed on this site that normalization of sex hormones should be completed first as it may normalize thyroid levels without medication. If the thyroid levels are still abnormal, they should be normalized through medication, according to several experts:
“Thyroid dysfunction can precipitate or aggravate existing seizure disorders. The mechanism is unknown, but may relate to the vital role of thyroid hormones in cellular metabolism of the central nervous system. In some cases the seizures are related to thyroid dysfunction and when placed on appropriate thyroid medication the seizures may no longer occur or are reduced in severity or frequency.”
Lastly, consider traditional anticonvulsant therapy. According to VCA Animal Hospitals regarding seizures:
“Once anticonvulsant medication is started, it must be given for life. There is evidence that, if anticonvulsant medication is started and then discontinued, the dog may have a greater risk of developing more severe seizures in the future. Even normal dogs without a history of seizures or epilepsy may be induced to seizure if placed on anticonvulsant medication and then abruptly withdrawn from it.
“The two most commonly used medications to treat seizures in dogs are phenobarbital and potassium bromide. Research into the use of other anticonvulsants is ongoing, and combination therapy is often used for dogs that are poorly responsive to standard treatments. If anticonvulsant medication must be discontinued or changed for some reason, your veterinarian will give you specific instructions for doing this.”
10. How can you identify a dog that has had an ovary sparing spay (OSS), tubal ligation or vasectomy?
Clearly, greater use of marking is required to prevent unnecessary repeat surgeries. However, lack of standardization has been a barrier to greater use. After review of common identification methods for owned dogs and methods being used currently by veterinarians, as well as consultation with theriogenologist Michelle Kutzler who has advocated for hormone-sparing dog sterilization, the Parsemus Foundation recommends a simple tattoo in the inguinal area as the standard for hormone-preserving sterilization methods:
- Hysterectomy: Green “X” slightly lateral to midline near umbilicus
- Vasectomy: Green “V” lateral and cranial to scrotal region
- Tubal Ligation: No standard exists at this time
The simplicity of the marks does not require dedicated tattoo equipment or special skill, so that most veterinarians could provide the identification. Tattoos can be created using a needle or scalpel to apply the tattoo ink to the dermis. The procedure is completed while the dog is sedated for a sterilization procedure, and no additional input from the owner is required and no additional equipment is needed for detection. Although clarity of a tattoo may decrease over time, in this case it is not necessary that it is legible, but just visible enough to inform a practitioner that a sterilization procedure had already been completed.