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Theriogenology

Theriogenology is a term used in veterinary medicine to discuss topics related to reproduction and reproductive health. This encompasses a wide variety of areas at Polo Springs Veterinary Hospital. We offer counseling on the benefits and risks of sterilization of pets, pre-breeding examinations, infectious disease testing prior to breeding, hormone and cytologic analysis to predict optimal breeding and whelping time, artificial and surgical insemination, and neonatal care post-whelping and post-queening. Time and again we hear clients explain how fun it will be for their family to raise a litter of puppies from the family dog. While this can of course be true, most pet owners underestimate the work, responsibility and risks attached to breeding their pet and raising a litter of puppies or kittens. Certainly having a litter of pups is not a quick and easy way to make money. It is our job to inform pet owners of all the steps involved.

Client education on reproductive health starts at the very first puppy or kitten visit. We will explain the benefits and why we recommend spaying or neutering most pets. A spay surgery (ovariohysterectomy), involves removing both ovaries and the uterus of a female patient. Male pets undergoing a neuter (orchiectomy) have their testicles removed. Years ago it was commonly recommended to let a female go through her first heat cycle prior to having her spayed. This has been proven to have negative health consequences on the pet however, as each heat cycle a female experiences up until her fourth one will dramatically increase her risk of mammary cancer (similar to breast cancer in woman). Unfortunately, fifty percent of the time a female develops mammary cancer, the cancer is malignant. We now recommend having patients spayed prior to their first heat cycle, typically around 4-6 months of age. The spay surgery will also protect your pet from potentially life threatening uterine infections and ovarian/uterine cancer. Male pets benefit from being neutered as well. It will decrease their desire to roam in search of females with which to mate, and will protect them from certain types of cancer and prostate diseases. Sterilization also prevents the symptoms associated with a heat cycle, in addition to helping to eliminate the undesirable behaviors commonly seen in unneutered male pets. Sterilization procedures may make pets prone to weight gain, but this can be easily managed with a high quality diet and portion control.

If you are however interested in breeding you pet, the first step will be to set up a pre-breeding consultation. You will sit down with one of our veterinarians to discuss your goals and determine if breeding is something you wish to pursue. Subsequently, we will perform a pre-breeding examination of your pet. This physical examination will focus on identifying inherited defects that should not be passed on by responsible breeding. For example, a male with only one descended testicle should not be reproduced. The same holds true for pets with orthopedic problems such as hip dyplasia or luxating patellas. During this examination, female patients will receive a sterile digital vaginal exam. This allows us to evaluate her for anatomic abnormalities that may inhibit natural breeding and/or labor and delivery. We also offer testing to rule out sexually transmitted diseases such as Brucellosis.

Once your pet has been deemed healthy, we will discuss breeding options such as live coverage versus artificial insemination. There is a lot of timing involved to make sure the female is at the most receptive portion of her heat cycle to increase the chance of pregnancy. The veterinarians at Polo Springs Veterinary Hospital have the knowledge and expertise to serially monitor your pet’s hormones and vaginal cytologies to help determine the best days for mating or insemination. This advanced testing is usually performed in cases where the female will be shipped for breeding, or where we will be artificially or surgically inseminating her. Some very valuable females will also have this testing done in order to make sure breeding is done at an optimal time to increase her litter size. If previously bred females have not successfully conceived in the past, we may also perform these tests to identify her exact hormone cycle in order to detect if there is a fertility problem. Once a female has been bred, pregnancy is best confirmed with ultrasound, preferably around 28 days from the last breeding. By about 55 days (in dogs), abdominal radiographs are recommended in order to count the number of fetuses. Since whelping and queening ideally occur in the home environment, it is extremely important to know how many newborns to expect. This information is critical should a problem arise during labor. These radiographs are not harmful to the fetuses. Some animals that are having trouble during delivery will require an emergency C-section. Certain breeds, such as English Bulldogs, are notorious for having complications during labor due to a narrow pelvic canal. To prevent struggle and possible harm to the bitch and her pups, a C-section can be carefully planned out ahead of time. The timing of this procedure is crucial though as the pups will not survive if taken too early.

Once the litter has arrived, we schedule an examination of the mother and newborns within the first 24 hours of delivery. We assess everyone’s health and look for severe congenital abnormalities in the neonates. We will also discuss post-whelping/queening and neonatal care at length. There is a lot to know to ensure the health of the new litter. Additionally, we offer tail docking and dewclaw removal between three and five days of age.

Reproductive work is exciting and very rewarding. It is however a tremendous undertaking and one for which we wish to make you fully prepared. There are many steps from the initial consultation to conception, delivery, and neonatal growth. The veterinarians at Polo Springs Veterinary Hospital have the expertise to help you and your pet through the entire process.