Elective Veterinary Surgeries & How to Help Avoid a Pet Pregnancy Crisis

The following are some explanations for some of the changes we have made during these unprecedented times and some advice on how you can help a new problem from arising. One major change is that all elective surgeries have been postponed at this time. Elective surgery is any surgery that is not necessary on an emergency basis, i.e. the patient will not die, be disfigured or suffer undue distress if the surgery is delayed.

Why have we decided to postpone elective surgeries?

The reasoning is two-fold:

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  1. To reduce staffing at the clinic.
    • In order to reduce the risk to our staff, we have decided to reduce the number of people in the clinic to the minimum needed for vital services. This is critical to doing our part to reduce transmission.
    • It also means that in the event we do have a staff member fall ill, they and all in-contact staff can go into self-quarantine and we will have staff members who weren’t in contact with them who will be able to continue to provide care.
    • To provide high-quality surgical monitoring requires either additional staff to be on-site or a compromise in the level of care we provide, neither of which are acceptable options at this time.
  2. To conserve medical supplies for the human medical professionals.
    • If you turn on the news you will hear a lot of concern about a shortage of supplies such as masks, gloves, and gowns. All sterile surgeries here at Abbey also require surgical masks and sterile gloves, so if we continue to perform surgeries, as usual, we would essentially be competing with the human hospitals for these limited supplies (we have reusable, sterilizable cloth gowns).
    • There would be two outcomes to this: either we use up our current supply and are unable to get more, and in the future, we are unable to perform a life-saving surgery such as foreign body removal because we used up all our supplies on spays and neuters; or, more concerning, if clinics continue to acquire and use these supplies instead of them going to hospitals, medical workers fall ill and die because they were unable to access proper personal protective equipment.
    • Both of these potential outcomes are just not acceptable to us at Abbey.

We will be continually re-evaluating our ability to safely and responsibly provide surgical services. Certain types of surgery require less sterile equipment than others (feline neuters for example), so we may be able to resume some types of procedures sooner than others. We will keep you updated as events progress.

Preventing a pet population crisis

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This brings me to part two of this discussion: how YOU can help to prevent a pet population crisis from arising out of the existing human medical crisis. One of the most widely accepted reasons for spaying and neutering our pets is to avoid unwanted pregnancies. I will talk a little bit about dogs later, but my main emphasis will be on cats because, unfortunately, we are right at the start of cat breeding season.

Cats are seasonal breeders

Cats cycle and can become pregnant during ‘long light’ days, meaning from late winter/early spring until late summer. Most cats do not become sexually mature until after 6 months of age; depending on their date of birth some cats can breed at early as 4-5 months of age. The latter is most common in cats born in late summer who are reaching 4-5 months at the start of the next breeding season.COVID calico cat

Female cats (Queens) are induced ovulators; the eggs are not released until she mates with a male (a Tom). The result is a very high conception rate after mating because the eggs are released only when there is a high chance sperm are also present. Queens in estrus (heat) are highly motivated to find a Tom. There are plenty of reports of indoor cats who normally won’t leave the house. Some cats will run outdoors or even escape through windows, in an attempt to follow their hormones. Queens who do not breed go into heat every 2-3 weeks, giving plenty of chances to become pregnant if not successful on previous heats.

Signs of heat in a queen

If you own a female cat the most important thing you can do as a responsible pet owner is recognize the signs of estrus; do not allow any interaction between your cat and a male cat during this time.

  • Increased affection – rubbing on humans or objects more than normal
  • Increased vocalization, often at night
  • Lordosis is when the hind end is raised, and the front end is crouched. Often with the tail held off to one side. This posture may be spontaneous or maybe a reaction to petting the cat along its back
  • Treading on the hind feet, especially when in the above posture
  • Rolling on the ground frequently
  • Urine marking on objects, often without assuming the normal urination posture

Estrus usually lasts several days, with a range of 3-16 days. If you see your cat displaying any of these behaviours I implore you to take extra precautions against escapes from the house. Ensure no doors are left open for any period of time. If you have double doors in your entrance-ways ensure one set is always closed before the other is open. Keep windows closed, even if screened; a cat can make short work of window screens. If your cat is particularly sneaky, consider isolating her to a room or part of the house with no doors that lead directly outside.

Male cats

Cat owners with males aren’t off the hook! Male cats do not show obvious signs of sexual maturity. Do not let an un-neutered male cat over the age of 6 months outside as you can assume he is fertile. If there is a female in estrus in your neighbourhood your Tom will know long before you do and likely to do whatever it takes to find her. It takes all cat owners to be responsible to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

Shelters end up overflowing during ‘kitten season’ from kittens born every spring and summer to abandoned and feral cats, or cats whose owners choose to let them out despite not being spayed/neutered. This is when decisions are made about who gets adopted and lives or who doesn’t. Please don’t make animal shelters have to make even more of these decisions than usual this year; be a responsible and informed cat owner and keep your cat from breeding.

A brief word on dogs:

Female dogs can go into estrus/heat at any age after 6 months. The exact age is quite variable between individuals. Some dogs, estrus does not occur until almost 2 years of age. There is no seasonal pattern for dog breeding. Most female dogs will only go into estrus every 6 months.
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Before being receptive to a male dog, the female goes through proestrus. During this time males will be interested in the female but she is not interested/tolerant of attempts to breed. Her vulva will swell and there is usually blood-tinged fluid. The amount of fluid varies between dogs. Some dogs will clean themselves well enough that the discharge is not obvious. This period usually lasts several days, but can last 3-17 days

This is followed by estrus, which is when the female is interested in mating with the male. If you pet your dog near the tail, she may move her tail off to one side, exposing the vulva (“Flagging”). The vulvar discharge usually becomes more watery or golden in colour, and the vulva tends to appear less swollen. This phase also lasts several days and can range from 3-21 days.

During estrus, you should not allow your female dog off-leash; even a well-trained dog will be prone to running off in search of a mate. Do not go to dog parks. It would be wise to supervise all bathroom breaks depending on how secure your yard is fenced. It only takes a moment for your dog or a neighbour’s dog to go under or over a fence.

Male dog owners: my advice is similar to male cat owners. There is no obvious external marker for sexual maturity, so keep your male dog supervised and on-leash.

Let’s all do our part and be responsible pet owners!

**Please contact us for advice if you are in a situation in which you have unaltered (not spayed/neutered) cats of opposite genders in your home.  Even if your cats are litter-mates/related because trust me, this DOES NOT stop them from trying to breed**