“Happiness is a warm puppy” – Charles M. Schulz (creator of Peanuts)

Often thought of as loyal companions, dogs have been our companions since the first documented case of domesticated wolves appearing about 15,000 years ago in the Middle East. There is now new evidence that canine domestication may have first occurred around 27,000 to 40,000 years ago. The myth goes that wolves were attracted to our human camps to scavenge, and then they started travelling with us… the rest as they say, is history!

We’ve gathered some useful information about dogs, and as always, feel free to give us a call if you have any concerns or questions about your doggie friend.

Useful Info about Dogs

Auckland City Council has a comprehensive site that has information on things such as

  • How to register a new dog.
  • How many dogs you can have on one property.
  • How to reduce the cost of registration.
  • The law with respect to microchipping.

Council information pertaining to dogs and information on everything from registering your dog to where you can exercise your dog.

These forms and the ability to register online are available here.

Click here to find all the dog-friendly exercise areas in Auckland.

Breeding from your bitch and raising her puppies can be an extremely rewarding experience or it may produce frustration and failure. Pet bitches are often torn between their instinctive desire to be with their puppies and the routines they have acquired with their owners. This can lead to problems and should be borne in mind before breeding is contemplated. Also raising a litter of puppies is an extremely time-consuming exercise and one which should not be embarked upon without due consideration. The following information is provided in order to increase your chances of success.

How often does a bitch come into heat?

The bitch comes into heat about every 6 months, although very large breeds of dogs may cycle anything up to once in 15 months. In most giant breeds (Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, St Bernards etc.) a yearly heat is normal. Normally most dogs are on heat for about 3 weeks.

What are the signs of heat?

The most notable sign of heat is vaginal bleeding. This begins about the end of the first week and lasts for about 9-14 days. Another consistent sign is swelling of the vulva. During this period male dogs will be attracted to her.

What should I do to be sure that mating is accomplished successfully?

Male dogs are more successful when the environment is familiar. Therefore, it is preferable to take the female to the male’s home for breeding. The timing for mating is critical. The most fertile time is considered the 10th through the 14th days of the heat period. However, some dogs will be fertile as early as the 3rd day and as late as the 18th day.

Are there tests to determine when to mate my bitch?

There are two tests that are used for this purpose:

The first is a microscopic examination of vaginal cells to detect changes in cell appearance and numbers. This has been used for many years and is reasonably reliable. A more recent test determines changes in the progesterone level in the blood. This test is very sensitive and can often be carried out in-house by the veterinary practice. It gives a very good indication of when mating is most likely to be successful. It is used for dogs that have a history of unsuccessful mating or for very valuable bitches.

What should I expect during my dog’s pregnancy?

Pregnancy, also called the gestation period, normally ranges from 60 to 67 days, the average being 63 days. Most dogs deliver (whelp) between days 63 and 65. The only way to accurately determine the stage of pregnancy is to count days from the time of mating. With all planned matings the date should be recorded and the bitch then examined approximately 3 weeks from the date of mating to detect the signs of pregnancy. Ultrasound scans can be carried out at around the 28th day and radiographs from around day 38.


It is important that a bitch is in good condition before she is mated, neither too fat nor too thin. Her food intake should not be altered during the first two-thirds of her pregnancy, and if a complete formula is being fed there is no need to use additional vitamin or mineral supplements. After the 6th-week food intake should be gradually increased and high energy, low bulk foods may be useful in ensuring the bitch is adequately nourished. As abdominal pressure increases with the size of the foetuses, smaller meals fed more frequently may be helpful. During the last three weeks food intake will often increase by up to one and a half times the normal level and at the height of lactation, approximately three weeks after whelping, food intake is often two and a half to three times normal, particularly if she is feeding a large litter.

What should I do to prepare for whelping?

From the time of mating, many dogs show behavioural changes. Most develop an unusually sweet and loving disposition and demand more affection and attention. However, some may become uncharacteristically irritable. Some experience a few days of vomiting (“morning sickness”), followed by the development of a ravenous appetite which persists throughout the pregnancy.

During the last week or so of pregnancy, the bitch often starts to look for a secure place for delivery. Pet bitches often become confused, wanting to be with their owners and at the same time wanting to prepare for the forthcoming event. It is, therefore, a good idea to get the bitch used to the place where you want her to have her puppies well in advance of whelping but even then some bitches insist on having their pups in close proximity to the owner. Under these circumstances, it is better to let the bitch have her way and then when she has finished, gently try moving her to the place that she should have already been introduced to some days or weeks previously. However some bitches are very determined and under these circumstances, less trauma is caused if, within reason, her demands are met or at least some compromise is achieved, e.g. the bitch that wants to nurse the puppies on your bed is quietly moved to a whelping box in a corner of the bedroom. Ideally, you may prefer her to use the whelping box you had prepared for her in a quiet corner of the kitchen. Similarly, some bitches need the owner present during the whole time of delivery and if they are left alone they are likely to endeavour to delay delivery of the puppies which can create subsequent problems – compromise is the name of the game!

Prior to the time of delivery, a whelping box should be selected and placed in a secluded place, such as a closet or a dark corner. The box should be large enough for the dog to move around freely, but have low enough sides so that she can see out and you can reach inside to give assistance if needed. The bottom of the box should be lined with several layers of newspapers. These provide disposable, absorbent bedding which the bitch can tear up and reorganise according to her own requirements. At the same time, they will absorb the fluids which are always more copious than you would ever expect at the time of whelping. If sufficient thickness of newspaper is laid at the outset, the upper, soiled layers may be removed with minimal interruption to the mother and her newborn puppies.

What happens during parturition?

Most dogs experience delivery without complications; however, first-time mothers should be attended by their owners until at least one or two puppies are born. If these are born quickly and without assistance, further attendance may not be necessary. However, with a bitch having puppies for the first time a careful watch should be kept upon her until she has finished, just in case any complications develop. If the owner elects to leave, care should be taken so that the dog does not try to follow and leave the whelping box.

Signs of impending whelping

These generally include nervousness and panting. The bitch will often stop eating during the last 24 hours before labour although with some breeds this does not apply. All the textbooks tell you that rectal temperature will drop below 100ºF (37.8ºC) but this again may only occur an hour or two before she starts producing.

Delivery times will vary. Dogs having slim heads, such as Shelties, Collies, and Dobermans may complete delivery in one to two hours. Dogs having large, round heads generally require longer delivery times. English Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, and Pekingese puppies tend to have sizeable heads that make delivery more difficult. It is not unusual for these breeds to rest an hour or more between each puppy. Rarely, a dog may deliver one or two puppies, then have labour stop for as long as twenty-four hours before the remainder of the litter is born. However, if the bitch does not start to strain in two hours and you think there are further puppies veterinary advice should be sought without delay.

The normal birth position

Puppies are usually born headfirst; with the head and forelegs extended. This is called an anterior presentation. Posterior presentation is also normal in the bitch. The puppy is born with tail and hindlegs coming first. Breech presentation in which the hindlegs are forward and the tail and rump are presented is abnormal. However, it does occur and can result in a normal birth although breech presentations frequently present problems. If a puppy’s rump is presented and the bitch is straining continuously without making any progress, veterinary attention should be sought without delay. Each puppy is enclosed in a sac that is part of the placenta (“afterbirth”). These usually pass after the puppies are born. However, any that do not pass usually disintegrate and are passed within 24-48 hours after delivery. If the bitch develops a blood-stained vagina or smelly discharge, consult your veterinary surgeon. Note that it is normal for the mother to eat the placentas.

If the delivery proceeds normally, a few contractions will discharge the puppy; it should exit the birth canal within ten minutes of being visible. Following delivery, the mother should lick the newborn’s face. She will then proceed to wash it and toss it about. Her tongue is used to tear the sac and expose the mouth and nose. This vigorous washing stimulates circulation, causing the puppy to cry and begin breathing; it also dries the newborn’s fur. The mother will sever the umbilical cord by chewing it about to 1 inch (1.9 to 2.5 cm) from the body. Next, she will eat the placenta.

If the puppy or a fluid-filled bubble is partially visible from the vagina, the owner should assist delivery. A piece of dampened gauze or thin face cloth can be used to break the bubble and grasp the head or feet. When a contraction occurs, firm traction should be applied in a downward (i.e. toward her rear feet) direction. If reasonable traction is applied without being able to remove the puppy, or if the mother cries intensely during this process, the puppy is wedged. Veterinary help may be needed.

It is normal for the mother to remove the placental sac and clean the puppies; however, first-time mothers may be bewildered by the experience and hesitate to do so. If the sac is not removed within a few minutes after delivery, the puppy will suffocate, so you should be prepared to intervene. The puppy’s face should be wiped with a damp face cloth or gauze to remove the sac and allow breathing. Vigorous rubbing with a warm, soft towel will stimulate circulation and dry the hair. If the puppy does not start to take a breath, gentle blowing down the throat after gently opening the mouth with the fingers also helps to assist respiration. The umbilical cord should be tied using sewing thread or dental floss and cut with clean scissors. The cord should be tied snugly and cut about half an inch (1.3 cm) from the body so it is unlikely to be pulled off as the puppy moves around the whelping box.

Newborn puppies may aspirate fluid into the lungs, as evidenced by a raspy noise during respiration. This fluid can be removed by the following procedure. First, the puppy should be held in the palm of your hand. The puppy’s face should be cradled between the first two fingers. The head should be held firmly with this hand, and the body should be held firmly with the other. Next, a downward swing motion with the hands should make the puppy gasp. Gravity will help the fluid and mucus to flow out of the lungs. This process may be tried several times until the lungs sound clear. The tongue is a reliable indicator of successful respiration. If the puppy is getting adequate oxygen, it will appear pink to red. A bluish coloured tongue indicates insufficient oxygen to the lungs, signalling that the swinging procedure should be repeated.

It is helpful to have a smaller, clean, dry box lined with a warm towel for the newborn puppies. After the puppy is stable and the cord has been tied, it should be placed in the incubator box while the mother is completing the delivery. Warmth is essential so a heating pad or hot water bottle should be placed in the box, or a heat lamp may be placed nearby. If a heating pad is used, it should be placed on the low setting and covered with a towel to prevent overheating. A hot water bottle should be covered with a towel. Remember, the newborn puppies may be unable to move away from the heat source. Likewise, caution should also be exercised when using a heat lamp.

Once delivery is completed, the soiled newspapers should be removed from the whelping box. The box should be lined with soft acrylic type bedding, prior to the puppies’ return. The mother should accept the puppies readily and settle down to feed them.

The mother and her litter should be examined by a veterinary surgeon within 24 hours after the delivery is completed. This visit is to check the mother for complete delivery and to check the new-born puppies. The mother may receive an injection to contract the uterus and stimulate milk production. Sometimes antibiotics may be prescribed if it is thought there is an infection present.

The mother may have a bloody vaginal discharge for 3-7 days following delivery. If it continues for longer than one week, she should be examined by a veterinary surgeon for possible problems.

What happens if my dog has trouble delivering her puppies?

Although most dogs deliver without the need for assistance, problems do arise which require the attention of a veterinarian. Professional assistance should be sought if any of the following occur:

  1. Twenty minutes of intense labour occurs without a puppy being delivered.
  2. Ten minutes of intense labour occurs when a puppy or a fluid-filled bubble is visible in the birth canal.
  3. The mother experiences sudden depression or marked lethargy.
  4. The mother’s body temperature exceeds 39.4° C (via a rectal thermometer).
  5. Fresh blood discharges from the vagina for more than 10 minutes.
  6. If a green discharge is seen without any puppies having been born.

Difficulty delivering (dystocia) may be managed with or without surgery. The condition of the mother, size of the litter, and size of the puppies are factors used in making that decision.

Is premature delivery a likely problem?

Occasionally, a mother will deliver a litter several days premature. The puppies may be small, thin, and have little or no hair. It is possible for them to survive, but they require an enormous amount of care since they are subject to chilling and are frequently very weak and unable to swallow. Some may be able to nurse but are so weak that they must be held next to the teat. Puppies that do not nurse can be fed with a small syringe, bottle, or via stomach tube. The equipment and instructions for these procedures are available from your veterinary surgeon. Premature puppies must be kept warm. The mother can provide sufficient radiant heat from her body if she will stay close to them. If she refuses, heat can be provided with a heat lamp, heating pad, or hot water bottle. Excessive heat can be just as harmful as chilling, so any form of artificial heat must be controlled. The temperature in the box should be maintained at around 30° C but the box should be large enough so the puppies can move away from the heat if it becomes uncomfortable. In addition, the warmth provided by the mother is moist warmth: she is licking and cleaning the puppies and they are suckling; therefore if artificial heat is supplied it is essential to ensure there is sufficient moisture present and a damped towel or wet cotton wool in the whelping box will provide this essential moisture.

Is it likely that one or more puppies will be stillborn?

It is not uncommon for one or two puppies in a litter to be stillborn. Sometimes, a stillborn puppy will disrupt labour, resulting in dystocia. At other times, the dead puppy will be born normally. Although there is always a cause for this occurrence, it is often not easily determined without a full post mortem examination of the puppy including bacteriological examination and submission of tissues to a pathologist. Your veterinary surgeon may in certain circumstances recommend this procedure and it is worthwhile discussing the cost beforehand since sometimes it can be considerable. However, it may prevent future problems.

What do I do to care for the newborn puppies?

The mother will spend most of her time with the puppies during the next few days. The puppies need to be kept warm and to nurse frequently; they should be checked every few hours to make certain that they are warm and well-fed. The mother should be checked to make certain that she is producing adequate milk.

If the mother does not stay in the box, the puppies’ temperatures must be monitored. If the puppies are cold, supplementary heating should be provided. During the first four days of life, the environment for the puppies should be maintained at around 30° C. The temperature may gradually be decreased to 27° C by the seventh to the tenth day and to about 22° C by the end of the fourth week. If the litter is large, the temperature need not be as high. As puppies huddle together, their body heat provides additional warmth. Their behaviour will give a guide to whether they are comfortable. If they are warm and content they will be quiet and gaining weight.

If the mother feels the puppies are in danger or if there is too much light she may become anxious. Placing a sheet or cloth over most of the top of the box to obscure much of the light may resolve the problem. An enclosed box is also a solution. Some dogs, especially first-time mothers, are more anxious than others. Such dogs may attempt to hide their young, even from the owner. If the bitch continues to move her puppies from place to place, some attempt at confinement may be worthwhile. However, if she is still unsettled, veterinary advice should be sought since the puppies will certainly be endangered if they are placed in a cold or draughty location. If the bitch becomes too distressed she could kill her puppies as a means of “protecting” them from danger.

What are the signs that the puppies are not doing well and what should I do?

Puppies should feed and sleep 90% of the time during the first two weeks. Any “mewing” type noises may indicate lack of nourishment or an infection, i.e. they are not thriving. If in doubt consult your veterinary surgeon.

Another good indication of thriving is weight increase. Any available postal scales will usually suffice for this purpose. Puppies may be identified with fibre tipped pen on the abdomen and careful weight records kept.

When the milk supply is inadequate, supplemental feeding one to three times per day is recommended and should be performed on any litter with more than 5 or 6 puppies. There are several very good commercial formulae available. The directions on the container should be carefully followed before feeding, particularly with regard to temperature. One method of testing the temperature of the feed is to drop some of the warm formula on to your forearm. It should be about the same temperature. The commercial products have directions concerning feeding amounts. If the puppies are still nursing from their mother, the amounts recommended will be excessive. Generally, 1/3 to 1/2 of the listed amount should be the daily goal. Supplemental feeding may be continued until the puppies are old enough to eat puppy food.

If the mother does not produce milk or her milk becomes infected, the puppies will also cry. If this occurs, the entire litter could die within 24 to 48 hours. Total replacement feeding, using the mentioned products, or finding a foster mother is usually necessary. The owner of the stud dog, if a breeder, your local veterinary surgeon, or other breeders may be able to help with this. If replacement feeding is chosen, the amounts listed on the product container should be fed. Puppies less than 2 weeks of age should be fed every 3-4 hours. Puppies 2-4 weeks of age do well with feedings every 6-8 hours. Weaning in these circumstances, should begin as early as possible and certainly no later than about 3 weeks of age.

What should I expect during the puppies’ first few weeks of life?

For the first month of life, puppies require very little care from the owner because their mother will feed and care for them. They are born with their eyes closed, but they will open in 7 to 14 days. If swelling or bulging is noted under the eyelids, they should be opened gently. Cotton wool dampened with warm water may be used to assist in opening the lids. If the swelling is due to infection, pus will exit the open eyelids and should be treated as prescribed by a veterinary surgeon. If the eyes have not opened at 14 -16 days of age, or if there is any pus or discharge, consult your veterinary surgeon at once.

Puppies should be observed for their rate of growth. They should double their birth weight in about one week. Use postal scales as described above. The accuracy of the scales is not important since it is weight increases that you are looking for.

At two weeks of age, puppies should be alert and trying to stand. At three weeks, they generally try to climb out of their box. At four weeks, all of the puppies should be able to walk, run, and play.

Puppies should begin eating solid food about three and a half to four and a half weeks of age. As soon as their eyes are open, one of the bitch milk replacers should be placed in a flat saucer. The puppies’ noses can be dipped into this or their noses and mouths wetted with a finger dipped into the formula. Repeat this 2 or 3 times per day until they begin to lap; this usually takes 1-3 days. Next, raw scraped meat can also be smeared around their mouths or alternatively canned puppy food can be placed in the milk until it is soggy. As the puppies lap the milk, they will also ingest the food. The amount of milk should be decreased daily until they are eating the canned food with little or no moisture added; this should occur by 4 to 6 weeks of age. As soon as they are able to eat it is worthwhile weaning them on to one of the complete puppy foods of which there are many today, both dry and canned as well as semi-moist. Most puppies, particularly those of the toy and smaller breeds prefer the canned varieties. Once the puppy is happy with a complete formula there is no need to add any vitamin or mineral supplements.

I have heard of milk fever. What exactly is it?

Eclampsia, or milk fever, is due to a depletion of calcium in the blood of the mother due to heavy milk production. It generally occurs when the puppies are 3-5 weeks old (just before weaning) and most often to mothers with large litters or with an abundance of milk as some bitches naturally have. Good mothers, especially attentive of their puppies, always seem to suffer more severely.

The mother has muscle spasms resulting in rigid legs, spastic movements, and heavy panting. This can be fatal in 30-60 minutes, so a veterinary surgeon should be consulted immediately. This is a major emergency situation.

Do puppies need a special diet?

Diet is extremely important for a growing puppy. There are many commercial foods specially formulated for puppies. These foods meet their unique nutritional requirements and should be fed until 12-18 months of age. Puppy foods are available in dry and canned formulations. Dry foods are less expensive in the long run and can be left in the bowl for the puppy to eat at will. Canned foods offer a change and are just as nutritious.

We recommend that you buy food formulated for puppies. Adult formulations are not recommended since they do not provide the nutrition required for a puppy. Advertisements tend to promote taste rather than nutrition, so be careful that their influence on purchasing habits is not detrimental to your dog. Table food is not recommended; although often more appealing than dog food, balanced nutrition is not easily achieved.

We recommend that you buy food from a reputable brand.

When should vaccinations begin?

Puppies are provided with some immunity to canine diseases from their mother before and shortly after birth. This is particularly true if the dam’s vaccinations are up to date. Some of the mother’s antibodies cross the placenta and enter the puppies’ circulation, but most antibodies are provided in the mother’s milk, particularly the first milk or colostrum. These “maternal antibodies” protect the puppies against the diseases to which the mother is immune. This explains why it is so important to ensure that any booster inoculations are administered prior to mating.

Although very protective, maternal antibodies last for only a few weeks; after this time, the puppy becomes susceptible to disease. The duration of the maternal antibodies is quite variable depending on several factors. In general, vaccinations for the puppy should be started at about 6 weeks of age. Puppies should be vaccinated against distemper, hepatitis, kennel cough and parvovirus. Other vaccines are also available for certain situations and will be discussed at the time of the first visit for vaccinations.

Maternal antibodies are passed in the mother’s milk only during the first 1-3 days after delivery. If for any reason, the puppies do not nurse during this important period of time, their vaccinations should begin about 2 to 4 weeks earlier depending on likely disease exposure although some maternal antibodies are transferred throughout the whole of the suckling period via the milk. Your veterinary surgeon can make specific recommendations for each particular situation.

Do all puppies have worms?

Intestinal parasites (“worms”) are common in puppies. Sometimes no signs are apparent but often poor condition, chronic soft or bloody faeces, loss of appetite, a pot-bellied appearance, loss of lustre of the fur, and weight loss are seen. Some parasites are transmitted from the mother to her offspring and others are carried by fleas. Some are transmitted through the faeces of an infected dog. Very seldom are these parasites visible in the faeces. Their detection depends on the demonstration of their eggs under a microscope. Generally, puppies are wormed from about 2 weeks of age and medication is usually supplied by your veterinary surgeon at the time of the postnatal examination. It is well worth consulting the veterinary surgeon regarding a deworming programme for a litter of puppies rather than purchasing branded products over the counter although these are often effective, although sometimes for types of worms that may not be present in your particular litter.

What is meant by the term “Chronic Kidney Failure”?

The term “chronic kidney failure” suggests that the kidneys have stopped functioning and are, therefore, not making urine. However, by definition, kidney failure is the inability of the kidneys to remove waste products from the blood. This definition can occasionally create confusion because some will equate kidney failure with failure to make urine. Kidney failure is NOT the inability to make urine. Ironically, most dogs in kidney failure are actually producing large quantities of urine, but the body’s wastes are not being effectively eliminated.

When is this likely to happen in my dog?

The typical form of chronic kidney failure is the result of ageing; it is simply a “wearing out” process. The age of onset is related to the size of the dog. For most small dogs, the early signs occur at about 10-14 years of age. However, large dogs have a shorter age span and may go into kidney failure as early as 7 years of age. In some breeds, there is a genetic predisposition to kidney failure.

What changes are likely to occur in my dog?

The kidneys are nothing more than filters. When ageing causes the filtration process to become inefficient and ineffective, blood flow to the kidneys is increased in an attempt to increase filtration. This results in the production of more urine. To keep the dog from becoming dehydrated due to increased fluid loss in the urine, thirst is increased; this results in more water consumption. Thus, the early clinical signs of kidney failure are increased water consumption and increased urine production. The clinical signs of more advanced kidney failure include loss of appetite, depression, vomiting, diarrhoea, and very bad breath. Occasionally, ulcers will be found in the mouth. When kidney failure is accompanied by these clinical signs, it is called uraemia.

How is chronic kidney failure diagnosed?

The diagnosis of kidney failure is made by determining the level of either of two waste products in the blood: blood urea and/or blood creatinine and by confirming a concurrent inability to modify urine concentration.

Although urea and creatinine levels reflect kidney failure, they do not predict it. A dog with marginal kidney function may have normal blood levels. If that dog is stressed with major illness or surgery, the kidneys may fail, sending the urea and creatinine values up quickly.

Since this is basically just a wearing out process, can it be treated with anything other than a kidney transplant?

In some cases, the kidneys are worn out so that they cannot be revived. However, with appropriate treatment, some dogs will live for several more months or years.

Treatment occurs in two phases. The first phase is to “restart” the kidneys. Large quantities of intravenous fluids are given to “flush out” the kidneys. This flushing process, called diuresis, helps to stimulate the kidney cells to function again. If enough functional kidney cells remain, they may be able to adequately meet the body’s needs for waste removal. Fluid therapy includes replacement of various electrolytes, especially potassium. Other important aspects of initial treatment include proper nutrition and drugs to control vomiting and diarrhoea.

What can I expect from this phase of treatment?

There are three possible outcomes from the first phase of treatment:

  1. The kidneys will resume functioning and continue to function for a few weeks to a few years.
  2. The kidneys will resume functioning during treatment but fail again as soon as treatment stops.
  3. Kidney function will not return. Unfortunately, there are no reliable tests that will predict the outcome.

If the first phase of treatment is successful, what happens next?

The second phase of treatment is to keep the kidneys functioning as long as possible.

This is accomplished with one or more of the following, depending on the situation:

  1. A low protein diet. This helps to keep the blood tests as close to normal as possible, which usually makes your dog feel better. Also, once kidney disease is advanced, a decreased protein diet may decrease the workload on the kidneys. There are a variety of commercially prepared foods that have the quantity and quality of protein needed by your dog.
  2. A phosphate binder. Phosphorous is removed from the body by filtering through the kidneys. Once the filtration process is impaired, phosphorous begins to accumulate in the blood. This also contributes to lethargy and poor appetite. Certain drugs will bind excess phosphates in the intestinal tract so they are not absorbed, resulting in lower blood levels of phosphorus.
  3. A drug to regulate the parathyroid gland and calcium levels. Calcium and phosphorus must remain at about a 2:1 ratio in the blood. The increase in blood phosphorus level, as mentioned above, stimulates the parathyroid gland to increase the blood calcium level by removing it from bones. This can be helpful for the sake of the normalising calcium:phosphorus ratio, but it can make the bones brittle and easily broken. Calcitriol can be used to reduce the function of the parathyroid gland and to increase calcium absorption from the intestinal tract. This is recommended if there is evidence of the abnormal function of the parathyroid gland.
  4. A drug to stimulate the bone marrow to produce new red blood cells. The kidneys produce erythropoietin, a hormone that stimulates the bone marrow to make red blood cells. Therefore, many dogs in kidney failure have a low red blood cell count, or anaemia.

How long can I expect my dog to live?

The prognosis is quite variable depending on the response to the initial stage of treatment, your ability to perform the follow-up care and your dog’s willingness to eat the special diet. Treatment can be effective. Many dogs will have a good quality of life for months or even years.

I know that knee injuries are common in people. Do they occur in dogs?

Just as football players frequently suffer knee injuries, the dog may also be prone to knee injuries since the knee joint is one of the weakest in the body.

Why is the knee so likely to be injured?

The knee joint is relatively unstable because there are no interlocking bones in the joint. Instead, the two main bones, the femur and tibia, are joined with several ligaments. When severe twisting of the joint occurs, the most common injury is a rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament which is one of two ligaments which actually cross over within the joint and ensure that it is stable and works in one plane. When it is torn, an instability occurs that allows the bones to move in an abnormal fashion in relation to each other. It is not possible to bear weight on the leg without it becoming unstable.

How is it diagnosed?

One of the most reliable means of diagnosing this injury is to move the femur and tibia in a certain way to demonstrate the instability. This movement is called a “drawer sign”. It can usually be demonstrated with the dog conscious. However, If there is severe pain, the dog has very strong leg muscles, or is uncooperative, it may be necessary to use a sedative or a light anaesthetic in order that the veterinary surgeon may examine the joint thoroughly it is also likely that radiographs will be taken to asses the joint.

How is it treated?

Correction of this problem requires surgery. A skilled surgeon can perform surgery and it is common practice to perform either a TTA or TPLO these are surgeries that focus on altering the level of the tibia and changing how this surface bears weight. 

Any surgery is aimed at improving function and reducing long term damage – in this case reduction in arthritis formation.

I have heard of torn cartilage. Does this also occur?

Occasionally the injury that causes a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament will also result in tearing of one or both of the menisci or “cartilages”. At the time of surgery, these are examined and treated, if necessary.

What happens if surgery is not performed?

Occasionally, the dog that has a ruptured cruciate ligament will become sound (will no longer limp) even if surgery is not performed. However, arthritis will usually begin and result in lameness a few months later. That lameness is usually permanent.

My dog is overweight. Does that relate to this injury?

A special note is appropriate concerning the dog’s weight. Obesity or excessive weight can be a strong contributing factor in cruciate rupture. The ligament may become weakened due to carrying too much weight; this causes it to tear easily. Obesity will make the recovery time much longer, and it will make the other knee very susceptible to cruciate rupture. If your dog is overweight it is worth consulting your veterinary surgeon regarding the problem. Various weight reduction programmes are available and will assist weight reduction.

I have a young dog with a lameness that has been present for several days. Could this be serious?

There are many causes of lameness. Most of these are relatively minor and are within the body’s healing capability. However, there are also causes that are not self-limiting and, if not treated promptly, may result in permanent lameness and/or arthritis. The large breeds of dogs (i.e. those whose adult weight is over 25 kg) have several bone diseases that occur during the period of rapid growth (up to 2 years of age). To minimize the likelihood of permanent lameness, we recommend an accurate diagnosis if a lameness lasts more than 2 weeks.

Although in some cases diagnosis is obvious without x-rays, (radiographs) radiography is necessary in order to ascertain the extent of the problem and decide on the best method of repair. It is usual not only to radiograph the affected limb(s) but also the normal leg. This allows the veterinarian to use the normal leg’s appearance for comparative purposes. Several x-rays are usually necessary in order to build up an accurate picture of the problem and heavy sedation or a short-acting anaesthetic will be necessary in order to obtain radiographs of good diagnostic quality.

What diseases are likely?

The following diseases will be considered as we radiograph your dog:

  1. Hip Dysplasia: an improper formation of the hip joint(s). This is a ball and socket joint. Hip dysplasia results in the ball not being round, the socket not being deep, and the two not fitting together well. Hip dysplasia has several contributing causes, but a primary cause is genetic. A dog of the high-risk breeds for hip dysplasia should not be bred before radiographs of the hips are taken and a score is obtained under an Accredited Hip Dysplasia scheme. This involves your own veterinary surgeon taking the x-rays which have to have the Kennel Club registration number photographed on to the plates and these are then forwarded, together with the appropriate fee, to the appropriate Veterinary Association where a panel of scrutineers examine the x-rays and score them. The lower the score the better the hips. The worst possible score that could be obtained would be 53 for each hip making a total of 106. Since in some hip dysplasia prone breeds it is difficult to select animals that are free from the disease, the aim is to attempt to always breed with an animal with a lower score. There are several choices of treatment depending on the severity. Some involve medication; some require surgery.
  2. Elbow Dysplasia: a lack of fusion of the top of the ulna at the rear point of the elbow. This is more properly termed ununited anconeal process. When this part of the ulna does not fuse, the joint is unstable and is quickly subject to arthritis. Treatment often involves surgery in order to avoid the early onset of arthritic changes within the joint.
  3. Fractured Coronoid Process: the fracture of a small process (protrusion) on the radius within the elbow joint. When this process fractures, pain and joint instability result. Unless surgery is done promptly after the fracture occurs, return to normal use of the leg is unlikely.
  4. Panosteitis: an inflammation on the surface of the long bones. This is also termed “long bone” or “growing pains”. This may occur in more than one bone at a time and may cause lameness in one bone or leg and then another. It is self-limiting but may recur until rapid growth is over. The pain may be relieved with several types of medication.
  5. Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD): a defect in the smooth cartilage surface within one or more of several joints. It may affect the shoulder (most commonly), the elbow, the hip, the knee, or the stifle. Some of these defects may heal with confinement of the dog for several weeks. However, most do not and a few may result in a piece of cartilage breaking off and floating freely in the joint. This disease causes pain which varies in its severity. It is best treated with surgery to remove the defective cartilage.
  6. Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD): an inflammation in the growth plates of the long bones. It usually causes swelling and pain of the bones which may lead to fever and loss of appetite. It is self-limiting in most dogs with no permanent damage. However, some dogs may suffer sufficiently severe damage to the growth plates that leg deformities can occur. Treatment is with medication to relieve the pain and suppress the inflammation.

What is desexing?

Desexing is the process of removing reproductive organs so a dog can no longer produce offspring or hormones associated with sexual behaviours and reproduction.  A general anaesthetic is required and surgery is performed to remove the ovaries and uterus in a female dog (ovariohysterectomy or spay) and testicles in a male dog (castration).

What are the advantages of desexing?

From a medical standpoint there are a variety of advantages.  Female dogs (bitches) are very much less likely to develop malignant mammary cancers later in life if spayed at an early age.  The chance of developing these tumors increases with each successive heat, so spaying at 6 months of age, prior to the first heat provides the best possible protection.  In older unspayed bitches we also commonly see infections of the uterus which quickly cause the dog to become unwell and are very likely to be fatal if left untreated.

Another common condition in older unspayed bitches is pyometra – an infection of the uterus, in which the uterus becomes extremely enlarged and filled with pus.  This necessitates an emergency operation to remove the ovaries and uterus – a much larger and riskier surgery than a routine spay, as it can be fatal if left untreated.

Male dogs will not develop testicular tumors if castrated, and are much less likely do develop prostate enlargement and tumors around the anus.

A desexed animal is also a much easier pet to care for. In the male dog castration removes the sexual urge so that if the dog gets the scent of a bitch in oestrus (heat) he is less likely to show any interest which in certain breeds can be an undoubted advantage.  Castration also removes any testosterone related aggression.  It should be noted that aggression can result from various sources, and that even if testosterone is part of the cause this aggression can become a learned behaviour and castration alone will not resolve it, it may still help, but is much more effective when performed as a preventative at 6-8 months of age.

Desexing the bitch prevents oestrus as well as breeding.  She will not come into heat and therefore will not have to be confined and deprived of her usual exercise and companionship which otherwise will occur usually twice a year when she is in heat (oestrus) for at least 3 weeks each time.

And, to state the obvious, desexing will prevent dogs from breeding.  Allowing your bitch to breed can involve a huge commitment of time, effort and money and is not without risk to the bitch, so should not be undertaken lightly.  Our SPCAs are constantly inundated with unwanted animals, and desexing your dog will make sure you are not contributing to this very sad problem.

What are the disadvantages of desexing?

It is a common fallacy that a desexed dog will become fat and lazy.  Remember that all service animals, Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs and Dogs for the Disabled are routinely desexed.  Desexing may alter your dogs metabolism slightly, making it a little more prone to weight gain, however judicious feeding of a scientifically prepared complete diet without excessive titbits should adequately control any problems of obesity, just as it does in the entire animal.

Another common fallacy is that the desexed dog loses character.  Admittedly desexing is often carried out, both in dogs and bitches, for certain behavioural abnormalities and often dogs will become more gentle but they lose neither their spirit nor their intelligence and provided they are not allowed to become obese are just as active as the entire counterpart.

There may be a slight increased risk of some tumors such as haemangiosarcoma and osteosarcoma, and desexed female dogs are more likely to develop urinary incontinence later in life – however if this occurs it is easily treated with medication.  We feel that the medical benefits of desexing far outweigh these risks.

Desexing for both male and female dogs does involve a general anaesthetic, and as always this does carry a very small element of risk.  However your dog will receive a full clinical examination prior to the procedure, and we will give you the option of a blood test to check their blood cell counts, liver and kidney function prior to the procedure.  We run a full sterile surgery, and have modern heart rate, breathing and blood pressure monitoring equipment with a nurse dedicated solely to monitoring your pet the whole time it is under anaesthetic. We can confidently say the chance of having problems during anaesthetic and surgery of a young healthy animal is extremely small.

In some circumstances, your vet may suggest that you should consider having your pet ‘put to sleep’ (euthanased) such as if your pet has a terminal illness from which it cannot recover or if it has incurable pain. This will enable your pet to die in peace, with dignity and without further suffering. It can be a very hard decision to make, but it is one of the kindest things an owner can do for a suffering pet.

What happens when a pet is ‘put to sleep’?

The vet will often give your pet a sedative first, so there will be less stress and a calm environment is created. When it’s feeling a bit sleepy, the nurse will often be called in to assist the vet. A lethal injection will be given in the vein of the front leg. Loss of consciousness and death will happen very quickly. This is a very controlled and painless method of euthanasia. Your pet’s eyes will remain open afterwards.

Is it usual for the owner to stay with their pet when it is ‘put to sleep’?

It is best to do what you feel comfortable with. It is possible to stay during the whole procedure or only a part of it. Some people like to stay until the sedation has set in, so their last memory can be of their pet while it was alive. Others might not want to be present at all or only after the procedure has finished.

The decision of whether to stay or not is a very personal one, which should preferably be made in advance to avoid further distress.

Can I have my pet ‘put to sleep’ at home or is it better to take him to the surgery?

It is possible for the vet and a nurse to come to your house. This involves a bit more planning since there will be a period of time they will be away from the clinic. If there are difficulties arranging an appropriate time, then it is usually also possible to book an appointment at a quiet time in the clinic to avoid undue stress to both pet and owner.

What can I do with my pet’s remains?

  • home burial
  • cremation
  • Individual cremation with return of the pet’s ashes. This can be arranged via the clinic.

Grieving for your pet

It is very natural to feel upset and emotional when your pet dies. Don’t be afraid to show your feelings in front of your vet, he/she will understand. Feel free to ask all the questions you like and take your time to say goodbye.

It’ll take time to get over your loss and it often helps to talk about it. Counselling is also available. It’s quite normal to feel angry, this is part of the process of coming to terms with your loss. Try not to feel guilty or blame yourself for your pet’s death. Try to focus on remembering the good times and what you loved most about your pet.

Helping children to cope

The death of a pet is often a child’s first experience of death. Tell them the truth and encourage them to talk about their feelings and let them know how you feel yourself. Help them understand that they are not to blame and talk to them about the good times you have had with your pet.

What is hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is defined as a deformity of the coxofemoral (hip) joint that occurs during the growth period. Hip dysplasia is caused by a variety of factors including genetic, overweight in the young puppy and over exercise, all of which contribute to a poorly fitting hip joint. As the dog walks on this joint, arthritis eventually develops, causing pain in the joint. The degree of lameness that occurs is usually dependent upon the extent of arthritic changes in the hip joint.

Is this found in certain breeds of dogs?

Most breeds of dogs can be affected with hip dysplasia although it is predominantly seen in the larger breeds of dogs, such as the German Shepherd, St. Bernard, Labrador Retriever, Old English Sheepdogs, etc. There is equal distribution of the disease between male and female dogs.

What are the clinical signs, and when do they occur?

The typical clinical signs of hip dysplasia are weakness and pain in the hind legs, lack of co-ordination, and a reluctance to rise. Wasting of the large muscle groups in the hind legs may eventually develop. Most owners report that the dog has had difficulty in rising from a lying position for a period of weeks or months; lameness and pain subsequently develop. Again, the severity of signs and progression of the disease usually correlate with the extent of arthritis in the joint. Clinical signs can occur as early as 4-6 weeks of age, but most dogs manifest the disease as a lameness around 1-2 years of age. Dogs with mild hip dysplasia and minimal arthritis may not become painful and lame until 6-10 years of age.

How is it diagnosed?

Tentative diagnosis of hip dysplasia is made on the basis of history, breed, and clinical signs. A large breed dog that has been slow to rise for several months and now is lame is a high suspect for hip dysplasia; a dog which refuses to rise should also be considered a candidate. Because the clinical signs may mimic other diseases, final diagnosis of hip dysplasia can only be made on the basis of specific radiographic (x-ray) findings. To obtain the proper radiographs, dogs must be carefully positioned on the radiographic table. This procedure requires the use of a short-acting anaesthetic or heavy sedation. The radiographs are evaluated for abnormal shape of the hip joint and for degenerative changes (arthritis).

How is it treated?

The degree of clinical signs and arthritic changes in the joints determine the specific approach to therapy. Treatment of hip dysplasia may involve the use of drugs or surgery, or both. The options are as follows:

1.  Anti-inflammatory drugs:

Several drugs will give relief from pain. Early in the course of the disease drugs which protect the cartilage lining of joints may be effective in limiting pain. Also non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may work well in some dogs. In others corticosteroids are used. Most drugs have some side-effects and therefore the most suitable drug for your pet may require close co-operation between you and your veterinary surgeon. Unfortunately, it is not possible to predict which dog will respond to which drug. Therefore, a series of trials may be needed to find the most effective one for your dog.

Extreme caution is advised when these drugs are given to dogs with a history of kidney disease or with impaired kidney function. Many of these drugs have an adverse effect on blood flow to the kidneys and can lead to kidney failure. This does not appear to be a concern if kidney function is normal.


Anti-inflammatory drug therapy is most often used in older dogs, in dogs that did not get good relief from surgery, or in dogs for which surgery is not feasible. Both corticosterioids and NSAIDs may be contra-indicated in dogs with a history of gastric ulceration. However compromise may sometimes be reached by combining the analgesic/anti-arthritic drug with an anti-ulcer compound.

2.  Surgery:

Triple osteotomy is a procedure in which the pelvis is cut in three places around the hip joint. The bone is rotated to create better alignment with the femoral head (the ball). It is reattached so that the joint functions in a more normal fashion without looseness and pain. This should only be performed in a dog with no arthritic changes in the joint and is generally reserved for younger patients.

Total Hip Replacement (THR) is possible, as is done in humans. The hip joint is replaced with an artificial ball and socket often made of plastic and stainless steel attached to the pelvis and femur in place of the abnormal joint. It is another expensive procedure, but it may give many years of pain-free use of the hips. Although the intent is for the transplant to be permanent, the new joint may loosen after a period of time.

I am considering breeding my dog. Can anything be done to prevent hip dysplasia in the puppies?

Research has shown that the cause of hip dysplasia is related to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The disease is known to be an inherited condition and the genetics of hip dysplasia are extremely complicated. In addition, environmental factors such as overfeeding and excessive exercise can predispose a dog (especially growing puppies) to developing hip dysplasia. Because the inheritance of the disease is so complicated, many questions remain regarding eradication of the disease. However there are several practical things you can do to ensure that the incidence of the disease is reduced.

1. The Australian Veterinary Association runs a scheme (The AVA/KC Hip Dysplasia Scheme) and the New Zealand Veterinary Association also runs a scheme (The NZVA Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Scheme) under which your dog’s x-rays will receive a score from an expert. Since in some HD prone breeds it is virtually impossible to find an animal that is hip dysplasia free, the object is to ensure that you breed from a dog whose score is better (lower) than the breed average score. In this way the chances of reducing the incidence of the disease are greatly increased. The procedure is as follows:

(a) The dog must be over one year old and can be radiographed by your own veterinary surgeon.

(b) General anaesthesia is necessary in order that correctly positioned plates are obtained.

(c) The x-rays are then submitted to the Australian Veterinary Association or the New Zealand Veterinary Association together with the appropriate fee and the hips are assessed by a veterinary radiologist and a score awarded and reported to the veterinary surgeon.

(d) The higher the score, the worse the hips.

2. When purchasing a puppy it is always worthwhile ascertaining whether the parents have been radiographed under the AVA/KC or the NZVA scheme and if so, what their respective scores were. Even if you did not do this at the time and are contemplating breeding from your dog, it is still worthwhile contacting the breeder to see if you can obtain this information. However it should be borne in mind that because heredity is not the only factor involved, there is still a chance of parents with normal hips throwing a puppy with hip dysplasia. Once you have obtained the necessary information, including the hip score, do discuss any breeding programme with your veterinary surgeon.

Consider a feeding programme to slow growth

There is a growing body of evidence indicating that dogs that grow very rapidly are more likely to have hip dysplasia. Many authorities recommend feeding an adult-type food to puppies of high risk breeds so their growth is slower. They will still reach their full genetic body size, but just not as rapidly.

Avoid excessive exercise in a growing puppy. Any abnormality in the structure of the hip joint is magnified if excessive running and jumping occur. It is not necessary to treat your puppy as if it were handicapped, but long sessions of running or chasing thrown objects can be detrimental to joints.

What is the thyroid gland, and what does it do?

The thyroid gland is one of the most important glands in the body. It is located in the neck near the trachea (windpipe) and is composed of two lobes, one on each side of the trachea. This gland is controlled by the body’s master gland, the pituitary gland, located at the base of the brain.

The thyroid gland regulates the rate of metabolism (body chemistry). If it is hyperfunctional, metabolism speeds up. If it is less functional than normal, metabolism slows down. The latter is the basis for the clinical signs of hypothyroidism.

What causes hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is almost always caused by one of two diseases: lymphocytic thyroiditis or idiopathic thyroid gland atrophy. The former disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism and is thought to be an immune-mediated disease. This means that the immune system decides that the thyroid is abnormal or foreign and attacks it. It is not known why the immune system does this. Idiopathic thyroid gland atrophy is also poorly understood. Normal thyroid tissue is replaced by fat tissue in what is considered a degenerative disease.

These two causes of hypothyroidism account for more than 95% of the cases. The other five percent are due to uncommon diseases, including cancer of the thyroid gland.

What are the clinical signs?

When the rate of metabolism slows down, virtually every organ in the body is affected in some manner. Most affected dogs have one or more of several “typical” physical and/or chemical abnormalities. These include:

(a) Weight gain without an increase in appetite
(b) Lethargy and lack of desire to exercise
(c) Cold intolerance (gets cold easily)
(d) Dry coat with excessive shedding
(e) Very thin coat to near baldness
(f) Increased pigmentation in the skin
(g) Failure to re-grow hair after clipping or shaving
(h) High blood cholesterol
(i) High blood muscle enzyme levels
(j) Anaemia

Some dogs also have other abnormalities that are not the typical findings. These include:

(a) Thickening of the facial skin so they have a “tragic facial expression”
(b) Abnormal function of nerves causing non-painful lameness, dragging of feet, lack of co-ordination, and a head tilt
(c) Loss of libido and infertility in intact males
(d) Lack of heat periods, infertility, and abortion in females
(e) Fat deposits in the corneas of the eyes
(f) Keratoconjunctivitis sicca or so-called “dry eye” due to lack of proper tear production.

How is it diagnosed?

The most common test is for the T4 level. This is a measurement of the main thyroid hormone in a blood sample. However, testing for the T4 level can be misleading because some dogs that are not hypothyroid may have subnormal levels. This happens when another disease is present or when certain drugs are given. Generally confirmation requires giving a drug that stimulates the gland and measuring the T4 level before and after. A subnormal response confirms hypothyroidism.

If hypothyroidism is suspected but the T4 is normal, other tests can be performed. These are more expensive so they are not used as first line tests.

Can it be treated?

Hypothyroidism is treatable but not curable. It is treated with oral administration of a thyroid replacement hormone. This drug must be given for the rest of the dog’s life.

How is the proper dose determined?

There is a standard dose that is used initially; it is based on the dog’s weight. However, after about one month of treatment, further testing is done to verify that the thyroid hormone levels are normal. In some dogs, the dose will need to be further adjusted every 6-12 months. Close liaison with your veterinary surgeon is necessary in order to ensure that the dog is neither overdosed nor underdosed.

What happens if the medication is overdosed?

Although overdosing is difficult, excess medication may produce signs of hyperthyroidism. These include hyperactivity, lack of sleep, weight loss, and an increase in water consumption. If any of these occur, please let us know immediately.

Dog training

The Professional Dog Obedience School
Located in Remuera, they are there to help you with all of your dog training needs. Please contact Pete on 09 846 9702

All Breeds Dog Training Club
Located at 140 Captain Springs Road Onehunga – established in 1955 it is New Zealand’s oldest obedience club. They run club nights on Mondays starting at 6.15 PM for more information please contact Ann on 09 5768 700 or 021 866603 or visit their website.

Flip’s Top Dog Ltd Dog Training Centre
Located at the Ellerslie racecourse stables; contact Flip on 09 522 1228.

Pet Chiropractic

Dr Tim Cooper
A human chiropractor, he also provides excellent care for our patients as well and we have had some very good results. Tim’s approach is gentle and caring. He is located at 136 Pah Road, Royal Oak, Auckland. Phone 09 624 4300 or visit his website.

Pet Cremation

Pets at Rest
The family team at Pets at Rest are caring, compassionate and dedicated. They provide a caring service for the animals that they collect and are always extremely professional and efficient. This helps a great deal at such a difficult time in the grieving process. They can also provide collection from your home.

We recommend all dogs are vaccinated against a number of diseases that have the potential to be very serious or fatal if contracted.  Below are the vaccines we recommend all dogs have, and the additional “optional” vaccinations we use when they are required.  Our vaccine protocols are based on recommendations by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association and The New Zealand Veterinary Association, and in accordance with what is recommended by Massey University, the Guide Dog Foundation, and the manufacturers of the vaccines.

Core Vaccinations

PUPPIES:  Distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus vaccination at 6 weeks (if possible), 9 weeks and 12 weeks & 16 weeks of age.  Leptospirosis vaccination at 9 weeks and 12 weeks of age. (If older than 9 weeks puppies will still require 2 vaccinations for distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus and leptospirosis given 3 weeks apart). Kennel Cough at 12 weeks of age.

ADULT DOGS:  Vaccinate for distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus and leptospirosis and kennel cough at 1 year after last puppy vaccination.  Continue vaccinating for leptospirosis and kennel cough every year and distemper/hepatitis/parvovirus every 2-3 years after this.

What are these vaccinations protecting my dog against?

Parvo – a highly contagious virus causing sudden bloody vomiting and diarrhoea. The disease can range from mild to fatal (particularly in young animals). Parvo is still prevalent particularly in some parts of Auckland and can be transmitted even without direct contact with an affected dog.

Distemper -a virus which thanks to widespread vaccination is now uncommon.  Distemper can cause a variety of signs including respiratory disease, gastrointestinal and neurological signs and death.

Hepatitis – A serious often fatal disease, causing fever, signs of liver disease, inflammation, gastrointestinal, ocular and neurological signs. Distemper is thankfully now also uncommon thanks to vaccination.

Leptospirosis – an infection with leptospira bacteria which damages particularly the liver and kidneys and is often fatal.  Leptospirosis is spread by contact with infected animals urine. It may be spread by rodents and less frequently also other animals. Leptospirosis is generally seen north of Taupo in New Zealand, has been diagnosed in Auckland, and can also be spread to people.  For these reasons, vaccination is particularly important!

How do the vaccinations work and why is the timing, particularly of the puppy vaccinations so important?

Distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus – We use a very effective “modified live” vaccine for this.  This means the vaccine consists of live viruses that have been modified so they don’t make your dog sick, but your dog’s immune system will still make antibodies against them, and if they subsequently come in contact with the diseases they will already have antibodies present to fight them off before they cause any problems.  These vaccines are very effective and provide a long-lasting immunity.  A properly vaccinated dog has next to no chance of catching any of these diseases.

One of the only times that the vaccines may not work well is in very young animals who have some immunity to disease passed on from their mothers (maternal antibodies) – obtained in milk or before birth.  These antibodies inactivate the vaccination before the pups own immune system has a chance to react to it.  The time it takes for these to disappear varies from dog to dog.

We recommend vaccinating puppies ideally three times – at 6 weeks, 9 weeks and 12 weeks.  There is a chance the maternal antibodies may cause some interference with the earlier vaccinations – hence why it is particularly important that puppies are at least 12 weeks old at the last vaccination (we know the chance of any maternal antibody interference by this time is very small). The six and 9-week vaccinations are still important, as the majority of pups will not still have maternal antibodies present and will be susceptible to disease at this time.

Leptospirosis – The vaccination against this disease is made of an inactivated bacteria which also simulates antibody development, however, the immunity generated is not nearly as long-lasting as for the live virus vaccinations.  To receive adequate protection, dogs require an initial series of 2 vaccinations three weeks apart (no matter what age they are when they receive the first vaccination) and a vaccination once a year thereafter. When given according to the correct schedule the vaccination for leptospirosis is very effective.

Kennel Cough 

The name “Kennel Cough” refers to a group of diseases causing an infectious cough transmitted from dogs to other dogs.  A vaccine is available against the most common bacterial cause (a bacteria similar to the one that causes whooping cough in people) and one of the more common viral causes.

These vaccinations are not 100% preventative – vaccinated dogs can still catch kennel cough but are less likely to, and if they do the disease is not likely to be as severe and they are likely to recover quicker.

We recommend the vaccinations for dogs going into boarding kennels, doggy daycare or a dog that is walked regularly with other dogs, or areas where they mix closely with many different dogs on a regular basis. There are two ways to give the vaccination.

Intranasal Vaccination – Rather than an injection this is a “squirt up the nose.”  Dogs immune systems respond quickly to one vaccination, and the vaccination lasts one year.  The vaccine should be done at least 72 hours before boarding (some kennels will require it to be done at least 2 weeks before boarding).  Occasionally dogs can experience mild coughing/sneezing after the vaccination.

Injectable Vaccination – This is an injectable vaccine given under the skin like the main vaccinations. It does not stimulate the immune system as strongly so requires an initial course of two vaccinations three weeks apart and then must continue to be given once yearly.  (If the yearly dose is missed an initial course of two vaccinations should be given again).

We hope this has been useful to you, please do not hesitate to discuss any questions you may have with one of our veterinarians.  Information last updated March 2018