Female Dog Matters – life with an unspayed female dog

Probably the first question a female puppy’s owner will need to answer, myself included, is: to spay or not to spay…

I’ve never owned a neutered dog or cat so I fully acknowledge I am fairly biased with my views but before considering what route to take with Jazz, I have tried to educate myself to the best of my current abilities and will continue to do so.

Each time I took Jazz for puppy health check ups, vaccinations and de-worming, the question number one I was asked at both veterinary practices I registered her with (one near one of my work places and one near home) was “when did I want to book her for the spay”. Having worked with animals for a couple of decades I am always suspicious when I am not asked whether I would want a procedure done in the first place and what are pros and cons of either option. I felt I was being “scared” into booking the spay by being given worst case scenarios and one sided views. The number one scare was of course the mention of pyometra as well as mammary glands cancer.

I know Veterinary practices are strongly guided by long standing rules and regulations as well as connections with Pharmaceutical companies. Perhaps for this reason, many professionals laugh at inquisitive owners and joke about them seeking answers to their questions with Dr Google. Personally, I believe strongly in self-education and while 25 years ago I would have gone to libraries and sought answers to my questions in various books and magazines, nowadays I do indeed “google” information. Having said that, in the same way as I don’t take a standard advice from any professional without critically assessing it, neither do I do that with “information found on the Internet”.

It took me about a year of educating myself on the subject to make a decision not to spay Jazz. I have no plans to breed her so my decision is based simply on wanting healthier life for my dog.

I’m in two minds about listing my reasons in detail because I have no intention of trying to convince anyone to either option but in short my decision was mostly based on the fact that neutering has a significant and irreversible impact on the dog’s entire endocrine system. They clearly need that system in the same way as we do. Whilst not yet acknowledged by all veterinarians (some indeed do!), playing with hormones this way can and does have catastrophic effects on the health of many dogs. There are of course millions or neutered dogs living a good life but there is no way of proving if they were healthier should they remained entire.

Cancer is of course one of my biggest worry but from what I learnt a huge amount of canine cancers are related to hormonal imbalances and diet. Majority of those cancers are in most cases lethal and there is no medical cure for them.

Illnesses I was being introduced to as main reason for spaying turned out to be highly treatable if caught early.

To this day I am still dismayed at how seemingly routine spaying is. As if I took my dog to clip her nails rather than remove vital organs that support a huge number of processes in her body that help her thrive.

As a side note, a well documented studies have now been made that prove castrating male dogs contributes to aggression problems yet many Vets still suggest neutering as a way to control those. It’s sad.

I fully understand the need for neutering dogs of both sexes where controlling of the dog population is a serious welfare issue but I can’t turn my head around the fact we do it so routinely in all other situations as well. I feel that many a time it is simply a matter of convenience, an easy way out from training the dog to be a well behaved family member and a solution to avoid the responsibility of looking after a female dog in season twice a year.

Despite my strong views on the subject, it is not my mission to convert anyone into keeping their dogs entire, but I do hope more and more owners become self-educated, more into “why should I do it and what are the alternatives” approach rather than be scared into decisions by cleverly formulated half-thruths…

The Seasons

Jazzy’s first heat was very uneventful. Her behaviour changed but in a nicest way. From an independent little tomboy she became much more cuddly, seeking close connection all the time, a little choosey with her dog friends and…smelled of a fish (!).

I ordered her a dog shorts from Equafleece  because I knew from experience with my previous female dogs that using children’s shorts and cutting a hole in them is a big faff and they are often too soft to stay well on a silky coat. The Equafleece shorts have strong velcro attachments, are soft but durable and stay on perfectly protecting the house from the discharge.

Her 2nd and 3rd season brought bigger changes….she never “lost her brain” as some female dogs reportedly do and her training and general behaviour was very much the same. However, she became very anxious the moment it was her “rest time” or at times when she would otherwise just quietly waited for me to finish working. She was very vocal, whiney and needy for attention for a week or so before her seasons started, throughout them and a week or so afterwards. Her glands swell significantly although she didn’t produce any milk, she displayed many nesting behaviours digging in her bed, blankets, duvet, carpet. She carried chosen toys ever so carefully around the house all the time.

All the nesting behaviours ceased if I took her out or gave her attention. Little training sessions engaging her brain worked best but the time this winter heat came, I knew I wanted to be prepared a bit more and see what I could do to help with her hormonal storms.

Natural solutions

I didn’t want to put Jazz on any medication but instead started researching more natural and holistic methods of dealing with phantom pregnancy – like behaviours and/or hormonal imbalances. One of the most frequently mentioned advice was to re-think the dog’s diet so after trying several different options I finally decided to cut all dry food from her diet (I have still been using some good quality kibble for treats in training from time to time but cut if out as far as meals go). I put her on wet Forthglade gourmet meals (grain free, 75% meat) and she absolutely loved it. I also introduced some raw foods as treats.

Her 4th season in June this year was already much better but she was still unsettled at home, digging/nesting. I hid all the toys she mothered to in previous seasons and any toys with high pitched squeak and that definitely decreased the crying/whining incidents and carrying toys to bed behaviour.

I wanted to improve all this further so next thing I searched for was non-chemical flea and ticks control and a natural hormonal balancing supplement and settled for Dr Mercola Full Body Glandular Support for Female Dogs.

It arrived in September and I knew she was due around mid December for her next season so put her on the supplement in October to give it good couple of month to work itself into her system.

Her 5th season was remarkably uneventful. I knew it would be different straight away because she was very settled in her usual self at the end of November/beginning of December whereas she would have been showing signs of anxiety before previous seasons. She was cuddly but confident, loved being close but would also go to her own bed when too hot as she usually does and showed no signs of any interest in any nesting or mothering to any toys.

I know technically a phantom pregnancy is a condition that follows the female dog’s season if she isn’t bred. Therefore I called Jazz’s symptoms phantom-like as they are unlikely to be the actual phantom, especially not the pre and during season behaviours.

I decided however, to wait until end of January with this post to make sure I wasn’t making wrong assumptions and observations. Right now I can say with confidence that the combination of eliminating various foods, chemicals and introducing the hormone balancing supplements have changed Jazzy’s seasonal health tremendously. Her glands enlarged only slightly soon after her bleeding ceased and almost returned to normal 4 weeks post bleeding. I couldn’t be happier for her! Long may this continue 🙂

The walks and the boys!

As far as walks and male dogs interest go, I personally don’t struggle with this too much. Having always had entire female dogs I am used to managing their time outside accordingly twice a year and simply plan for focusing on slightly different things than when Jazz has a full roam of the world. As her love for training games never stops, I play with her more at home and on one to one walks in places where it’s easy for me to control the surroundings sufficiently (like large open spaces where other dogs are easy to spot from far away so I can either re-direct or turn around back to the car).

Jazz spends more time on the lead at work with me or stays in the car whilst I teach. She loves her rests during her seasons so she actually doesn’t mind to stay in a bit more and sometimes she will ask to get in the car by herself for a snooze 🙂

I stop all the busier walks more from the respect to entire male dog owners than out of worry about her recall as she has shown no interest in any kind of galavanting on her own! Her recall is the same as it is outside of her seasons and it’s pretty solid now with 100% reliable recall from other dogs. I have more problems with male dogs on the loose marking everything around the house than with Jazzy escaping to them!

Until next time 🙂

Photos of Jazzy copyright Rebecca Bunce Photography

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