Surgery FAQs

Click on each question in the list below to read the answer.

My dog was recently spayed. Will she still need to get her anal sacs expressed?

My dog Pita recently had a double-mastectomy to remove two benign lumps and was spayed at the same time. She is healing very nicely. My question is: When she was in heat before, her scent sacs would get backed up and had to be expressed. Will that still be the case now that she has been spayed?

Spaying won't cure an anal sac problem.

The fact that Pita's "scent sacs," or anal sacs, filled up and had to be expressed was probably not because she was in heat. We don't completely understand at this time why anal sacs become overfilled and sometimes go on to develop into an impaction or abscess.

The anal sacs are located at approximately four and eight o'clock within the anus. These sacs act as reservoirs for the secretions produced by the anal glands. Some dogs, especially small breed dogs, do tend to have problems with their anal sacs accumulating secretions from these glands, becoming inflamed, impacted, and sometimes even forming an abscess.

However, the accumulation of fluids may be due to allergies or periodic soft stools or diarrhea, which Pita may have been experiencing when she entered her heat cycle. Now that she is spayed, you should have her sacs checked by your veterinarian in about three months to see if they are full. If she starts to scoot or lick the anal area, have her checked by your veterinarian sooner.

It may very well be that your dog's anal sacs will still have to be expressed every few months, depending on how quickly they fill up. Your veterinarian will be able to guide you on how often the sacs will need to be expressed.
How do I brush my dog's teeth?
I've heard that it is good to brush your dog's teeth. How do I do this and how often should it be done?

Use veterinary toothpaste.

Brushing your dog's teeth, combined with professional dental cleanings by a veterinarian, is a very important part of maintaining the animal's health. A dog with healthy teeth and gums is more likely to keep its teeth for life, continue to eat hard food, and have less breath odor.  In addition, dogs that have a consistent dental health regimen are less likely to develop bacterial infections of the bloodstream. Bacteria from the teeth are known to colonize the valves of the heart, causing a type of heart disease called bacterial endocarditis.

Dogs, especially the smaller breeds, actually require the same kind of care for their teeth as people do for theirs. Smaller breeds tend to acquire a tremendous amount of plaque and tartar on their teeth. This is most likely because they often do not chew on bones and other hard items that help with the mechanical breakdown of plaque and tartar, or eat soft, canned food rather than the hard varieties.

It is important to start brushing your dog's teeth as early in life as possible. Never use human toothpaste, since it contains foaming agents that can cause the dog to vomit if swallowed. Veterinary toothpaste does not contain these foaming agents, so a dog may safely swallow it. Most dogs love the taste of the veterinary toothpaste, which comes in a variety of flavors, including chicken, beef, and malt. (Most pets will try to lick it off the brush before their teeth have been cleaned!) Also available are fluoride sprays and gels that can be applied to the teeth after brushing in order to help prevent tooth decay.

There are many different types of toothbrushes designed for dogs. Some fit over the finger and are called "finger brushes," while others are very long and angled, with a wide brush head. These can be purchased from a veterinarian or a pet store. Some people use a human toothbrush with soft bristles that will not damage the gums.

Use the toothbrush on all the surfaces of your dog's teeth -- especially the back molars -- at least one to two times a day. You'll quickly see results in the dog's breath odor. The long-term benefits to its teeth, gums, and general health, will be rewarding to both you and your pet.

Can my cat get heartworms?

Yes, cats can get heartworms.

Yes, cats can be infected by heartworms. But they do have a lesser incidence of the disease compared with dogs in the same geographical location. Female cats seem to have an even stronger resistance to heartworms than males. Unlike dogs, cats can remain asymptomatic throughout the course of the disease; eventually, heartworms in cats may die off without causing any serious harm to the lungs or other organs.

If you live in a region with a heavy heartworm incidence, it is recommended that your cat be put on heartworm prevention. This medication is safely formulated for felines and should be given orally once a month to prevent new heartworm infections. Currently, there is no safe method for killing heartworms in cats. For more in-depth information about feline heartworm disease, see the article Feline Heartworm Disease in our encyclopedia.

How can I remove ticks from my dog and cat without harming the pets?

Apply tweezers to the tick's head and pull gently.

Animals easily pick up ticks in their fur from the outdoors. Ticks will attach themselves to the skin for several days, until they are full of blood sucked from their host. During this period, they can transmit serious diseases to cats and dogs and should be removed as soon as they are detected on the animal. Some diseases can be prevented by early tick removal, since the transfer of the infectious agent can take up to 72 hours.

Ticks should be removed with tweezers applied to the portion of the tick's head closest to the skin. Pull gently and with steady pressure. Examine the tick to be sure the entire head was removed. Afterwards, the bite wound should be cleaned with antibacterial soap and rinsed well.

Several options are currently available to prevent ticks from attaching themselves to your pet, and to kill the ones that do. Frontline® is a safe and effective topical flea and tick control product that is applied to the animal's skin once a month. A Preventic® tick collar, although not a flea deterrent, is an effective method of preventing and killing ticks for up to three months. There are many shampoos, dips, and sprays that can be used to kill ticks in certain animals. However, kittens, puppies, and some adult cats can be sensitive to these products. Consult your veterinarian about which products are appropriate for your pets.

My dog was vaccinated as a puppy. Does he need ongoing vaccinations?
I made sure my dog got all of the necessary booster shots when he was a puppy.  Do I still need to take him in for vaccinations now that he's older?

Dogs need yearly protection.

Every puppy that was properly vaccinated needs a yearly vaccine booster for DHLP-P, and, depending on the state laws, a rabies vaccine either yearly or every two to three years. DHLP-P is a multi vaccine that combines protection from several viruses into one.

Most vaccines need to be repeated on a yearly basis because the immunity that the vaccine stimulates declines over time. A vaccine usually contains altered viral antigen that stimulates the dog's immune system to produce antibodies against the virus. The viral antigen is altered in the vaccine so that it does not cause the actual disease, but it stimulates the immune system to develop defenses against the virus in case of exposure to the disease at a later time.

Some typical ongoing vaccinations for dogs include the following:

  1. DA2LP-P vaccine- this contains a combination of Distemper, Adenovirus- type 2 that causes Infectious Canine Hepatitis (liver disease), Leptospirosis, Parainfluenza, and Parvovirus.
  2. Rabies vaccine - every year to three years depending on the state laws.
  3. Lyme vaccine - usually given yearly, this vaccine is recommended for dogs at high risk of tick exposure. Deer ticks or "hard ticks" can transmit bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, which cause Lyme disease. There is some controversy as to the use and effectiveness of this vaccine. Consult with your veterinarian about vaccinating your dog for Lyme disease.
  4. Coronavirus - this is given to dogs at risk of developing coronavirus and is used when owners want all possible protection against viral diarrhea.
  5. Bordetella vaccine - This vaccine is either given intranasally (drops into the nose) or as an injection under the skin. The intranasal form has been found to provide better immunity. The vaccine helps protect against infectious tracheobronchitis, or kennel cough.

Consult with your veterinarian about your dog's risk and need for vaccines such as the Lyme, coronavirus, and Bordetella vaccines. The DA2LP-P and Rabies vaccines need to be repeated in all dogs and usually are not optional.

Although some breeders opt to give vaccines themselves, veterinarians do not advocate unlicensed individuals vaccinating animals. Nevertheless, if you are giving vaccines, please be sure that you know how to do so properly. If vaccines are given accidentally into a blood vessel, there can be a severe shock reaction and the dog can die. Also, if vaccines are left out on the shipping dock, not properly refrigerated, or not given correctly, the dog will be inadequately protected from potentially life threatening diseases.

Remember that vaccines are not the entire reason that an animal needs to go the veterinarian annually. A physical exam is critical, because this allows the veterinarian to detect any problems or diseases before it is too late to do anything about them.

What normal maintenance care does my cat need?
What's the best way to keep my cat healthy?  What kind of maintenance care does she need?

Visit the veterinarian regularly.

All kittens should go through examinations, deworming, multiple vaccinations, and neutering. After these are completed, your trips to the veterinarian will be much less frequent. Most healthy adult cats need to visit the veterinarian only once a year.

Vaccinations are continued throughout a cat's life. Most vaccinations are given once a year, although a rabies shot may be given as little as every three years based on the laws in your region. Outdoor cats are at a higher risk of contracting a fatal feline virus, and so require more vaccinations than those that stay indoors. We recommend that you keep your cat inside.

It is a good idea to have a sample of your cat's feces evaluated for parasites at least every one to two years. Outdoor cats are at increased risk of being exposed to parasites and should probably have this test done twice a year.

Heartworm medication is recommended to prevent heartworm infections in indoor and outdoor cats. Since mosquitoes can get inside the house, indoor cats are at risk of heartworm infection. This flavored medication is given once a month and is available from your veterinarian.

Monitor your cat's skin and haircoat for any signs of parasites or hair loss. Fleas and ticks not only are nuisances for cats that go outside, but also may cause diseases in your pet. Contact your veterinarian for safe and effective treatment and prevention products.

Routine brushing significantly reduces the incidence of hairballs and provides bonding time between you and your cat. This is especially important for heavy shedders, longhaired cats, and geriatric animals that may have trouble grooming themselves. A hairball remedy or treat may be used to help ingested fur move through the digestive tract and reduce the number of hairballs your cat vomits.

Maintain that perfect pedicure. Cats should have their toenails trimmed periodically to keep them from damaging your house, furniture, and skin. If this practice is started at a young age, the cat will tolerate it more easily throughout its life. Have an experienced person help you the first few times that you attempt to trim your cat's toenails.

Feel like brushing your cat's teeth? Some cats will tolerate brushing if it is started gradually and made a pleasant experience. Veterinary toothpaste must be used to prevent stomach upset. Most of these toothpastes are available in a chicken or tuna flavor that  cats find appealing. Consult your veterinarian about brushing techniques and supplies.

Feed your cat a good quality adult maintenance cat food. It is not necessary to feed canned or semi-soft food or to provide a variety of food types, as feeding variation can lead to the creation of a finicky eater, not to mention stomach upset or diarrhea from abrupt changes in the diet. Dry kibble may help keep your cat's teeth and gums in better condition.

Be sure to provide plenty of fresh water daily. Some cats do not like to drink standing water. Drinking fountains, which have become widely available, may be a better idea for these felines.

Scoop the cat litter daily. Most cats are very picky about bathroom facilities, including the brand of litter that you use. Once you find a brand that you both find acceptable, stick with it for the long haul. This will cut down on the possibility of "mistakes" that you could find around the house.

Finally, be sure to give your cat plenty of tender loving attention and play time. Playing games will help keep that indoor cat from becoming overweight. Plus, those fun times together are what build a strong bond between pet and owner.