The reproductive biology of female dogs is quite different to female humans. Dogs are only sexually receptive once or twice a year. The most common time between ‘seasons’ is 7 months, but some individuals have shorter or longer intervals. Dogs can have their first season from 6-18 months of age.

Dogs are not ready to mate when their season starts, which allows owners to plan mating, or plan on how to prevent mating! When your dog is in season you must avoid exercising her where there may be male dogs off lead and she should never be left unsupervised. If your dog is mated accidentally, call your vet for advice.


Your dog may show changes in behaviour before her season. She may become clingy or aloof, more friendly with other dogs or less tolerant of them. Other dogs might start to show more interest in her.

The first day of her season is when you first see a pink or red discharge at the vulva. The vulva then swells significantly. Some bitches show abdominal discomfort in the first week of their season.

After 7-10 days the discharge becomes more straw coloured and the vulva less swollen. This is when your dog is approaching her fertile period. Mating at this point usually results in pregnancy because healthy dog sperm can survive up to 7 days in the female.

After 3-4 weeks your dogs will no longer be of interest to males and her vulva will reduce in size. If it is her first season her vulva will not return to its prepubertal size.


Dates and Behaviour

Most dogs will conceive if mated between day 10 and 14 from the first day of their season. If she allows the dog to mate she is probably in her fertile window. Experienced stud dogs will also show less interest in a female dog if she is not around ovulation.

However, using these methods gives little indication of when puppies will be born. Pregnancy, if counted from mating, can appear to be as short as 58 days or as long as 69 days.

Ovulation Prediction

A test that can predict when a dog ovulates gives the breeder more information on when to mate the dog, but also when to expect puppies. The eggs are not ready to be fertilised until 2 days after ovulation and stay ready for up to 48hours. Dogs are pregnant for 63 days from ovulation (plus or minus one day).

Ovulation tests offered to breeders include blood progesterone testing, vaginal cytology, ovulation pads, and ferning.

Vaginal cytology can be accurate if it is performed by an experience person and repeated every 2 days from the start of the season until after mating.

Progesterone testing requires a blood sample to be taken by a vet (fertility clinics can run tests but only vets can take blood by law). The most accurate results are gained by testeing every 2 days from day 8 or 9 of the season until ovulation occurs. Single tests can be difficult to interpret in some cases.

Saliva ferning gives an indication of oestrogen levels but is not accurate enough on its own.

Other tests such as ovulation pads, vaginal pH, and electric conductivity are not scientifically validated and should be avoided.

Puppy Prediction

Puppies should arrive 62-64 days after ovulation, regardless of mating date. Large litters tend to arrive early, and small litters slightly later. If puppies have not arrive by day 65 from ovulation seek veterinary advice.

If the date of ovulation is unknown and a breeder is worried the puppies are late, or where a caesarian may be needed because there is only one big puppy, progesterone tests can be used to predict when it is safe to remove the puppies.

Progesterone drops sharply just before birth so progesterone is low the puppies need to be delivered. If it is still high the puppies can stay inside a bit longer. In very rare cases the drop doesn’t happen which is why knowing the true due date is so important.


Chosing to breed a litter of puppies should not be done lightly. Breeding and raising puppies correctly is expensive, time consuming, and it can be both a joyful time and a time of heartbreak. Speak to your vet and to experienced mentors before deciding to breed your dog.


The views of the hips and elbows required for the KC/BVA schemes (image shows radiographs of a dog’s hips and elbows)


Breeders of many dog breeds choose to use the Kennel Club/ British Veterinary Association Hip and Elbow schemes to try and select the parents least likely to produce puppies with hip or elbow dysplasia. But is the scheme working? Some think not.


Research shows that years of hip scoring has increased the percentage of dogs with the lowest scores, but it hasn’t made much impact on the numbers with mild hip dysplasia or worse. So is there any point? The problem with these studies is that they are based on the results from images submitted to the scheme and these are not representative of the state of any breed as a whole. Firstly only a small percentage of dogs are selected as potential breeding dogs, in some breeds not all potential breeding dogs are tested, only sound dogs over a year are usually tested, and (despite the scheme rules) some vets don’t send in images of hips they think will get a poor score. The published results only reflect the better end of the spectrum and give very little data on the worst hips, or dogs which are diagnosed before 12months of age. As a GP vet I believe I see far fewer dogs that are lame with hip dysplasia at 6-12months, and less dogs needing treatment for hip arthritis before they reach 8-10 years old than I did as a young vet so I think hip scoring is doing a lot of good… but you can’t publish a paper without data.


Researchers only consider hips with a total score under 5 as ‘normal’. Most dogs with scores of 6-10 will have no changes in their hips over time, and even dogs scoring up to 20 will probably suffer only manageable arthritic pain in old age. Whilst it may be the Holy Grail to produce only puppies with normal hips, it must always be remebered that a dog is more than their health tests. If we select too strongly for excellent hip scores we might lose temperament, type, working ability, and we will definitley shrink the gene pool which can lead to other genetic probems cropping up.


Hip scores could be reduced in UK dogs by adopting one or more of the following methods;

Score later

Taking images for hip scoring at 12months, as we do in the UK, could miss up to 30% of dogs which will go on to develop hip dysplasia in later life. Waiting until dogs are over 2 years old (as for the American OFFA scheme) reduces this to under 10%.

Score differently

The standard ventro-dorsal extended leg view used by most hip schemes makes the joint look tighter than it is in the standing dog. As joint laxity is the most heritable and most significant driver of hip dysplasia using a test that measure joint laxity allows us to predict whether a dog will get hip dysplasia more accurately. The PennHIP test can be done in young dogs (from 16 weeks) so is a useful screening test for breeders choosing which dogs to keep. It is less used than the BVA scheme as vets need extra training and certification, and positioning for the 3 images is more complicated and time consuming (in the USA dogs are often held for the films, in the UK holding dogs for non-emergency x-rays is forbidden).

Use genetic tests

So far we only have one genetic test for hip dysplasia. The Dysgen test looks at several markers which may reflect a higher predisposition to hip dysplasia. As yet the test is only validated for Labrador Retrievers, and there is little guidance on how it can be used to make breeding decisions.

Use estimate breeding values and vertical pedigrees

By looking at the scores of a dog’s relatives and offspring it is possible to get an indea whether they will produce puppies with scores similar to, better, or worse than their own. The Kennel Club publishes EBVs for dogs in some of the more common breeds but where a dog has few tested relatives the accuracy reduces.

Move the goalposts

At the moment the recommendation is to breed from dogs with a score equal to or less than the 5 year median (middle score) for the breed. Though logical to breed from average or better than average dogs, this does have challenges and limitations. As previously mentioned, the median score is calculated only from submitted images, so if there are lots of young lame dogs that aren’t scored the median could be artificially low. Alternatively, if a breed generally has poor hips the average may still be unacceptably high.

Research suggests that if we chose only to breed from the lowest 25 or 30% of dogs hip scores would come down more quickly. However, this could lead to a reduction in overall genetic diversity and selection for other issues. Alternatively we could look at the scores regardless of breed and suggest only breeding from ‘excellent’, ‘good’, and maybe ‘fair’ scores, putting ‘fair’ to ‘excellent’ (this grading is more similar to that used in Europe and America than our numbers based system). But again, if we focus in too much on hips, we risk creating new problems. And in some breeds there would be almost no dogs left to breed!


The aim of a breeding programme won’t be the same for every breeder. For working animals, such as Guide Dogs or Police Dogs, it may be important to produce as many dogs as possible with ‘normal’ hips to ensure a long working life. Here it may make sense to use PennHIP to screen potential breeding dogs at an early stage, and if using the BVA scheme to choose animals with a score of 10 or less. If a dog has other good characteristics but a slighty higher score (up to 14) they could be paired with a lower scoring mate, especially if they have a good EBV.

For pet dogs a good temperament is the most important thing, and buyers may be more accepting of a dog needing medical support for arthritis as they hit double figures. Using breeding dogs with scores under 15 and excellent temperaments is probably sufficient, and there shouldn’t be a temptation to use a very low scoring dog if they aren’t of sound temperament!

In a breed with a high average hip score or low numbers the aim might be to reduce the score of puppies more gradually. This may mean pairing above average scores with below average scores.

Some vets take a huge interest in breeding better dogs and are happy to discuss the results of your dog’s tests, or the result of teh parents of a puppy you are considering. Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care can’t take radiographs for the BVA scheme, though our vet also works at Companion Care Vets in Eastbourne (01323 649325) who can. We can offer telephone consultations to discuss results.


A snarling red dog.


Probably not.

‘Rage syndrome’ is a label applied to dogs who are described as biting their humans out of the blue and with no warning. The attacks are often described as frenzied and the dog is often said to have been acting normally seconds before the attack. ‘Rage syndrome’ is most often described in solid coloured Cocker Spaniels, especially red ones, but has also been described in other spaniels and non-spaniel breeds.

There is little good scientific research on ‘Rage syndrome’ and what there is points to this most often being a problem behaviour related to rescource guarding rather than a mysterious tendancy to attack for no reason. In their 1996 paper Podberscek and Serpell (1) did find increased aggression in solid colour cockers, but attributed most of it to ‘social dominance’ and protection of territory and possessions. They suggested there was a genetic component to the behaviour, which is not surprising as we accept that many personality traits have a genetic basis. It may have been that by paying more attention to the colours of dogs than to temperament breeders were creating pups with traits unsuitable for familiy life.

In their book ‘EMRA Intelligence’ Falconer-Taylor, Neville, and Strong (2) describe a typical case presented to the behaviourist as ‘Cocker Rage’. What they found was not a dog with an incurable genetic predisposition to unpredictable aggression, but a rather bored and frustrated dog . He was trying to communicate to his people when he was unhappy through his body language, and if they ignored that by growling, but sometimes they just didn’t hear his communication and he was pushed to snap at them. By teaching his owners how to meet his needs and listen to him, Bracken the Cocker becaome a content and safe family pet.

When someone tells me that a dog has ‘rage syndrome’ there are three key questions I ask. Could the dog be in pain? Where was the dog when the aggression occured? Was there anything of value to the dog around when the aggression occured?

Pain affects sleep, mobility, can be chronic but with acute flare-ups, it can affect mood and we appreciate in humans that it will make us short-tempered, so why not dogs? If the aggression is related to grooming and handling a through vet check to look for pain is advisable. Even aggression related to being stroked can be because the person accidentally touched a sore area.

Often the aggression is related to objects such as a bed or sofa, toys, and found items or to food and treats. It can even be connected to a particular person. This is termed ‘resource guarding’ and is understandable when you thing that without shelter, food, and protection a dog could die! Puppies need to be taught early on that humans (and other pets) are not going to steal their food. They need to be taught good cues to get off beds and furniture for a reward, and they need to be taught to give up toys or found objects on cue for a reward. Sleeping dogs should be gently roused so they aren’t startled into biting and dogs should be controlled around flash points like the front door as this area causes a complicated mix of strong emptions in so many dogs!


“Yes,” you say, “but the dog I’m talking about just bit out of the blue with no warning!”

This is rarely true, at least not to begin with. Dogs are very good at communicating how they feel, but humans are not very good at listening to dogs. I say ‘listening’ but I should say ‘watching’ as most dog communication is non verbal. Early signs that a dog is not comfortable can be trying to withdrawn from contact, stiffness, a slow stiff tail wag, showing the whites of the eyes, and pining the ears back. If we ignore those the dog might try showing their teeth, standing over an object, or growling. At this point people tend to notice and might punish the dog by shouting or even hitting the dog. This works to stop the dog snarling or growling, but it doesn’t stop the dog feeling very unhappy about the situation. The dog learns not to growl, because they get punished so goes straight from subtle body language into an air snap. If you watch dogs together they are veyr good at dodging warning air snaps… people less so, and we get bitten. At this point most dogs who have been taught that biting people is not acceptable retreat and ‘look guilty’, they don’t show the frenzied attack of the ‘rage’ dog. But, if their bite is met with screaming, shouting, or hitting the dog may be so afraid that they attack as a form of self-defence. Sadly this can result in severe injuries to anyone who is in the way and could even be fatal to a child.


I have encountered a very small number of dogs who I believe have something pathological behind their aggression which we might call ‘rage’. In The Behavioural Biology of Dogs, Hedhammar and Hultin-Jäderlund (3) note that abnormal EEGs have been found in some dogs displaying ‘rage’ which point towards the idea that it is a form of epilepsy. I know people who live with hallucinatory forms of epilepsy which can be frightening until they get a diagnosis. I can imagine that seeing a frightening or confusing image could cause the symptoms of my ‘rage’ cases, namely dilated pupils (described by owners as trhe eyes going red as they see the retina) suggesting their ‘flight or flight’ system is triggered, and growling at thin air. People get bitten when they try to comfort the dog, or move into the field of vision and the bites are deep and multiple as when dogs are in self-defence mode.

I have not had great success with these pathological cases. Other vets and behaviourists have found anti-epileptic drugs to help some dogs, but many are euthanased as their atacks cannot be predicted or managed.


  1. Sit down and identify when your dog growls and snaps. Often ‘random’ aggression is not so random when you really think about it. This can give you and your behaviourist clues as to why your dog isn’t happy.
  2. Book a vet check. Your behaviourist will want this before engaging in anything other than an emergency management plan. Make sure your vet knows why you are asking and does a thorough examination including the mouth, eyes, ears, abdomen, and musculoskeletal system. If your dog is aggressive when handled this may require pre-visit medication and a muzzle. Your vet may want to do blood tests, especially in older animals where medical conditions can make them less tolerant.
  3. Engage with a behaviourist who understands the emotional basis of problem behaviours such as those with COAPE qualifications and/or CAPBT members.


I don’t usually do references, but here are two articles you can read, and a book you can buy or find in a library that I used in writing this piece.



There is a shortage of vets

I’m struggling.

Every visit I go on, every training class I take or attend, every dog event I go to I am hearing the same thing. Pet owners can’t get an appointment with their vet. It sucks.

It sucks to call up to book your dog’s vaccination in only to be told they can’t book a routine appointment until December. It sucks to call up hoping to book a consultation on Friday afternoon when you finish early for something that isn’t life threatening, but is worrying you only to be told you will have to ring at 8.30 on the morning to see if there is space. It sucks to have to drive to a clinic 20 miles away in an Emergency because your local emergency clinic has shut down. It sucks to be the receptionist telling you this stuff too.

So what’s going on?

Brexit? Brexit carries some blame. Some of our European vets went home and it has become more expensive to employ a European vet now.

Covid? Another possible factor. Some vets from Europe and further afield went home when they realised that at any point they could be trapped in the UK, unable to get home to visit family. Long covid has also forced some vets out of the job, and still others struggle to work full time.

The job? Some older vets are retiring because they feel left behind by new drugs and new technology, some just deserve a break after 40 odd years in practice. Young vets aren’t finding the job fits their expectations; some find the routine work of a GP vet unfulfilling, others are so scared of complaints that they won’t push themselves to try new surgeries or to treat more complex medical cases. The job should be less stressful than it was when I graduated over 20 years ago… most small animal clinics have less or no out of hours and there is a huge network of referral centres for the complicated stuff. And yet… clients expect more and more and a blame culture has crept in which has us all on edge.

Big bad corporates? Full disclosure; I work for one part time and have worked for others in the past. Maybe in some the focus is on vets making money for shareholders, but that hasn’t been my experience. These companies buy practices because nobody else will. They buy them because they are a safe investment and they accept that they are high turnover, yet low profit businesses.

Money? Vets are well paid, right? Yes and no. If you have a 15minute consultation and get a bill for £100 how much do you think the vet gets? About £5. Vet practices are expensive to run so a surprisingly small percentage of your bill goes to the vet. It isn’t a badly paid job, but there are easier ways to make a living!

More pets? I don’t know if there are more pets now than a few years ago. Certainly we were warned that pet ownership was in decline and vets would need to find ways to keep clients! Covid might have changed that with people getting dogs and cats instead of going on holidays. A concern is that we might not be seeing all these new pets to advise their owners on good healthcare and this may be storing up a problem for the future.

What’s going to happen?

Sadly being a holistic vet doesn’t give me the power to see the future. We can’t whip up new vets fast, and applications to the vet schools are dropping. Paying veterinary staff more might keep some people in their jobs, but that would mean rising prices for pet owners at a time when their living costs (and the cost of running a veterinary practice!) are climbing fast. And if the job is too stressful no amount of money makes it worth staying.

How can I help my vet?

Plan ahead for routine appointments like vaccinations and medication reviews. Allow at least 2 working days when putting in a repeat prescription request. Keep up your pet’s preventative healthcare. And try to be kind, even when we can’t give you the appointment you hoped for. We are doing our best.


You’ve taken your puppy to the vets for their final puppy vaccination. The vet hands over the completed vaccination card, gives your puppy a treat and the says, “the next big thing is neutering, shall we get them booked in?” Yikes!


Vets want to get a lot of information across to new puppy owners in a short space of time. Vets want you to think about your dog becoming fertile well before they do. Vets want to avoid accidental mating, unwanted litters, roaming dogs, and avoidable diseases associated with ‘entire’ dogs.

I like to introduce the dog reproduction question by asking, “are you planning to neuter your dog?” as this allows my client to guide the rest of the conversation. If they answer, “we are hoping to breed” I can discuss health testing, mate selection, all the scary negatives, and all the lovely positives. If they answer, “yes, when should we book the surgery” I can discuss the optimal time based on their individual circumstances. If they answer, “we don’t know” again, this opens up a different discussion on the pros and cons which take their circumstances into account.


Most female dogs will experience their first fertile period (called a ‘season’ or ‘heat’ between the age of 6 and 18months. Larger breeds tend to have their first season later than small breeds, and the pattern often follows that of their mother. The average time between seasons is 7 months, though some bitches will only have one season a year.

During her season your bitch will have swelling of her vulva, a bloody discharge from the vulva, and she will become attractive to male dogs. The season lasts 21-28 days for most bitches with a fertile window from day 10 in the average bitch. With rapid hormonal changes you may seem changes in your dog’s temperament. During her season your dog should not be walked where other dogs might be off lead and she should not attend training classes or competitions. If you own both male and female dogs they should be kept apart during her season. Neutered male dogs can mate and tie with a bitch and if this happens when they aren’t supervised injuries can occur to both dogs.

Around 2months after her season your bitch may show signs of pseudocyesis (false, or phantom pregnancy) because she has very similar hormone levels after her season if she is pregnant and if she is not! False pregnancy usually shows as swollen mammary glands with some milk production, but it can cause a swollen belly, false labour, and behavioural changes.


No seasons. This is useful for mixed groups of dogs and working/ sporting dogs where being out of action for two months of the year is undesirable.

No pregnancy. Although it should be simple to prevent unwanted mating, and despite there being drugs available to stop a pregnancy after a mismating, removing the risk of accidental puppies is a key factor in many owners choosing to neuter their female dog. This is also the prime reason rescue centres will neuter, or rehome on a neutering contract.

Reduced risk of mammary cancers. The studies on mammary (breast) cancer risk in dogs are old, but it is probably still valid to warn that the risk of mammary tumours increases exponentially after the first season. Neutering at any stage is believed to halt the risk (but not reduce it further).

Prevention of uterine disease. Pyometra is a life threatening infection of the womb which might affect as many as 1 in 4 bitches over 8 years (based on insurance company data from a country where routine neutering is banned). Uterine cancers are less common.

Other cancers. The risk of some other cancers is reduced by neutering. The research is breed specific and should be discussed with your vet.


Surgical risk. All surgical procedures carry a risk of incidents, including death. The bitch spay is the most dangerous operation that vets do on a daily basis. Very young, very old, overweight, and sick animals are at higher risk.

Behaviour change. Most bitches have the same temperament after spaying as they did between seasons. In rare cases a bitch can become more aggressive after neutering, but these are usually slightly aggressive before and it is thought they have been masculinised in the womb by their male siblings.

Musculoskeletal problems. Several joint problems may be more likely in neutered bitches. There isn’t a clear causal link in all cases and the link could be due to higher rates of obesity in neutered dogs, different exercise patterns, or other environmental factors. Neutering before bone growth has stopped can alter the lengths of the leg bones and this could be a factor in joint problems.

Other cancers. The risk of some cancers is increased by neutering. The research is breed specific and should be discussed with your vet.

Urinary incontinence. Urine leaking is more likely in spayed bitches and may occur earlier than in entire bitches. It can be controlled with medication.

Weight and coat changes. Neutered females are at a higher risk of weight gain and long coated breeds may develop a fluffy coat. These effects can be managed!


Traditional Ovariohysterectomy (spay). This option is still the most common in the UK. The vet makes an incision (from a few cm’s to the full length of the belly) and removed the ovaries and uterus. This operation takes 30-60minutes and dogs go home the same day. This option is suitable for all dogs, including older dogs who may have uterine disease. Exercise should be restricted for 4-6weeks.

Ovariectomy. This is a popular option in Europe where the ovaries are removed but the uterus is left. There is no risk of pyometra if the ovaries are fully removed. This option is most suited to young botches where there is a low risk of uterine disease. Ovariectomy can be performed through a traditional incision or by laparoscopic surgery. Recovery is still 4-6 weeks.

Laparoscopic spay. Increasingly popular as initial recovery may be faster and the incisions might be smaller, but the set up and anaesthetic time can be longer. Usually the ovaries are removed, but the uterus left, so this is more suitable for younger bitches. Full recovery still takes 4-6 weeks!

Medical options. An injection can be given to delay or prevent seasons. It can only be used after the first season and can increase the risk of pyometra and future infertility.

Hysterectomy. Also called ‘ovary sparing spay’ this is one which I do not believe has a place in UK dog care. The uterus is removed but the ovaries are left so the risks and benefits are the same as for an entire bitch (other than pregnancy), except that you have added surgical risk.

Tubal ligation. Useful in humans, but again, this leaves you with all the problems of an entire female apart from pregnancy.


Peadiatric spay 12-16weeks. This is not common in the UK, but is requested by some breeders prior to sale, and may be done by rescue centres. The advantage is population control pure and simple and avoids having to follow up on neutering contracts. Many vets have concerns about the effects of puppies not having a normal hormonal influence as they develop, both on behavioural and physical health. Luckily, these are usually small breed dogs with lower overall risk of joint problems and where juvenile behaviour may be preferred.

Pre-pubertal spay 6-7months. This has been the preferred option of many vets and assistance dog charities for some time. The surgery is easier as the dogs are slim , and there is no complication about timing around seasons and no loss of training time at a critical stage for working dogs. Neutering at this age keeps mammary tumour risk to a minimum. These surgeries can be booked in at the last vaccination which avoids clients forgetting to book. More recently, studies have suggested that neutering larger breeds prior to puberty and the end of bone growth could increase the chance of joint problems and some cancers. Now I would recommend spaying at this age only for toy and small breed dogs or where circumstances mean that a season would be very difficult to manage.

Post- puberty. This is my preferred option in most cases where a dog is not required for breeding or showing. For most breeds of dog neutering 3-4 months after their first or second season at 18-24 months gives the best balance of risks and benefits. It is vital that there is no sign of phantom pregnancy when the bitch is spayed.

Post- puppies/ end of career. I work with a lot of working dog clients and clients who wish to breed their dogs. For these dogs I advise neutering once the breeding or competition career is over. At 7-8 years old the bitch is still fit and well enough for routine surgery, but we can remove the risk of pyometra as she gets older. I often see uterine disease in older bitches, and owners report they are ‘happier’ and ‘act younger’ after surgery so I can only imagine some have been suffering uterine pain.

No neutering. Of course, there is the option to not neuter at all. If you chose this option make sure you check regularly for mammary lumps and keep notes on the dates and duration of your dogs seasons. If you notice heavier bleeding, bleeding between her normal seasons, or symptoms of pyometra contact your vet for advice urgently.


Most of this blog concerns female dogs as the options, risk, and benefits are more complicated. Most clients want to neuter their male dogs because they are worried about aggression, but male hormone related aggression is really not very common. More dogs come to me with variations of fear aggression, and neutering these dogs could make them worse. Neutering male dogs will reduce urine marking, searching for females, male aggression, and distress over in-season females. It won’t calm him down or make him easier to train!

Puberty in male dogs happens from 6 months old, and will happen later in larger dogs. There will be behaviour changes as testosterone surges and falls and your dog may show mild aggression to other dogs at times. I prefer to manage male dogs through puberty and neuter them when their behaviour is stable if required.


Reduces ‘male’ behaviours including roaming, marking, and male aggression.

Removes the risk of testicular cancer and reduces the risk of perianal adenoma and perineal hernia.

Prevents benign prostate enlargement, but not prostate cancer.

Prevents pregnancy. Does not always prevent mating!


Surgical risk. Although castration is less dangerous than spaying there are still anaesthetic risks and potential for complications.

Behaviour change. Nervous dogs may become more fearful after neutering.

Musculoskeletal problems. A higher risk of joint disease is found in neutered male dogs, but, as with females, there could be factors such as obesity and exercise at play as well as direct effects from neutering. As with females, neutering before growth plate closure can alter the length of bones.

Cancers. The risk of some cancers increases with neutering. These risks are breed specific and should be discussed with your vet.

Weight gain and coat changes. As with female dogs, neutered males are prone to weight gain and long coated breed can become fluffy.


Castration. The testicles are removed, the scrotum is usually left unless diseased. This is the most common form of neutering for male dogs in the UK. Fertility declines very rapidly (days) but male behaviours related to testosterone will take a few weeks to decrease.

Medical castration. An implant is available which stops testosterone production. The testicles shrink, but most dogs will become fertile again when the implant wears off, and it can be removed. There is a risk of increased aggression in the first 4 weeks after treatment. A shorter acting injection can also be given but this can give different behavioural results to castration.

Vasectomy. Removing a section of the vas deferens makes a dog infertile but otherwise he will behave as an entire dog. It is an uncommon procedure in the UK for dogs.


Neutering is less time dependant in males than in females.

Paediatric neutering 12-16weeks. This is carried out by a few breeders and rescue centres before rehoming to prevent breeding. The effects on growth and behaviour are not well studied but many vets have concerns about removing hormones at such a young age.

Pre-pubertal 6-7months. This is most suitable for toy and small breeds who have finished growing but care should be taken to avoid neutering when a dog is entering puberty and has an unstable temperament.

Post-pubertal neutering. Recommended for most dogs which need to be neutered. The appropriate age will depend on the breed and also how long the effects of puberty last. Medium breeds can be neutered from 12-18months of age, but large and giant breed dogs may benefit from later neutering. There is no upper age limit for neutering, but in mature dogs may require the removal of the scrotum to reduce the risk of post-op complications such as swelling and haematoma development.


Pet guardians and vets would like a simple answer, but the truth is there isn’t a one size fits all recommendation. Review studies have assessed all the current data to try and suggest minimum neutering ages for common breeds that take into account all the positives and negatives, but environment and lifestyle are important factors too. The bets advice is to discuss neutering with a vet your trust in order to make a plan to suit you and your dog.


A healthy breakfast?


A recently published study shows that dogs fed a raw diet shed more anti-microbial resistant Salmonella and E. coli than dogs fed on other diets.

Anti-microbial resistant bacteria present a real threat to human and animal health. The study made no suggestion that dogs were more likely to become ill from these bacteria if raw fed, but it does raise concerns that these bacteria could cause difficult to treat infections in people, particularly those with weakened immune systems.


The risks to human health from raw feeding dogs are two-fold.

  1. Contamination when preparing raw dog food.
  2. Ingestion of bacteria from dog faeces.


Raw dog food should be stored and prepared separately to human food.

Different, clearly marked utensils should be used for pets and people.

Raw food should be obtained from reputable sources.

Pet owners should consider wearing gloves when preparing raw food.

Pet bowls should be cleaned after each meal with hot water and detergent. Pet safe disinfectant may be useful for chopping boards and utensils.


Most dogs are able to eat raw food. Dogs are less likely to suffer from digestive upsets from raw food than humans due to their short digestive transit time and a robustness immune system.

The current study does not suggest that raw fed dogs are more likely to suffer from anti-microbial resistant bacteria than dogs fed other diets.

Raw diets must be carefully formulated to avoid nutritional excesses and deficiencies.

Feeding whole bones carries a risk of dental damage and obstructions of the throat and digestive tract.

Raw feeding should be avoided in dogs with a weakened immune system. This may include elderly pets and those on certain medications. If you prefer to feed a fresh diet, a home cooked one may be safer for these pets. If you are unsure if a raw diet is suitable for your dog please seek advice from a holistic vet.


Families with immune compromised members should avoid raw feeding their dogs.

Families with raw fed dogs should practise very good hygiene. Hands should be sanitised after picking up faeces and washed after handling dogs as microscopic particles of faeces can contaminate the coat. Allowing dogs to lick hands and faces should also be discouraged. However, these hygiene rules should be followed by all pet owning households!

Charities that take dogs into schools and hospitals may not allow raw fed dogs to take part.

Veterinary practices may employ barrier nursing for raw fed pets (and may charge additional fees for this).


We continue to support pet owners in a variety of feeding plans including raw, home cooked, and commercial wet and kibble food. We do not believe that one diet suits all pets or pet families.

This study does not change our advice significantly, but we are always happy to talk to pet owners about a suitable diet.

If you wish to read the study follow this link:



Lots of people bought pets during lockdown, and they have brought untold benefits in terms of companionship and exercise during these very difficult times. Unfortunately the aftermath of Covid-19 along with Brexit and the invasion of Ukraine, is that there is a huge cost of living crisis looming… and it affects pet care as much as everything else.


  • BUY IN BULK. If you can afford to buy larger amounts of pet food this will usually be less expensive. Choosing a cheaper brand may not be cost effective as you often need to feed more per meal so look at the per meal cost as well as the price per bag. Only buy as much as you will use before the food goes out of date.
  • KEEP ON TOP OF VACCINATIONS AND PARASITE CONTROL. Cutting corners on preventative healthcare often costs more in the long run. Some owners chose cheaper flea treatments to save money when furloughed then faced an uphill struggle to control a flea infestation. Unless your pet is at high risk of adverse reactions to vaccines it will be less expensive to follow the vets programme than using titre tests to check protection.
  • ASK ABOUT A PRESCRIPTION. Written prescriptions allow your to buy medications on-line from pharmacies. You will be charged for the prescription but will still be able to make savings on some parasite prevention products and medications. Vets will have individual policies on how many times you can use a prescription and how often your pet will need a meds check.
  • INSURE YOUR PET. Insurance is a monthly bill you may think about dropping, but can you afford to care for your pet in an emergency without it? Ask if there are any areas of cover that can be removed to reduce the premium, or offer to pay a higher excess. Make sure you have the excess available, and remember that some specialist centres require payment at the time. A credit card is useful for this as you can pay it off as soon as the insurance pays out. Alternatives to insurance including making a pet savings account, but this may not have enough in if your young pet becomes ill.
  • JOIN A PET HEALTH CLUB. Many veterinary practices have pet health clubs where a monthly fee pays for reduced cost parasite control and vaccines and unlocks other freebies and discounts.
  • DON’T DIY. If you are concerned about your pet’s health, even if you are also on a tight budget, please seek veterinary advice. Although there is good information on the internet vets also see too many pets who have been damaged through the use of human medicines or delayed treatment.

Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care is a referral only service and we can only offer advice to registered and referred clients. We are a very small business and are not able to offer any credit on our services.



A review of our pricing structure has shown that some services have essentially been subsiding others. This, coupled with the recent fuel price rises (over 20% in one week!) means that our home visit services have increased in price with immediate effect. Behaviour Assessment and Treatment prices are exclusive of the visit fee as some will be assessed in my training field.


To reward our loyal long term clients and to ensure our current patients do not lose access to services rises for these patients will be limited. There are also discounts for multiple animals in the same household.


Currently there is no plan to increase the cost of our herbal medicines, though this will remain under review and may change if stock prices rise.


Acupuncture at Home – Initial Course of 3 Sessions (up to 15miles) £260

Acupuncture at Home – Repeat Sessions (up to 15miles) £70

Behaviour Assessment and Treatment Plan (3 sessions) -£350 PLUS visit fee if required

Behaviour Assessment and Treatment Plan (single session) – £150 PLUS visit fee if required

Holistic Consultation at Home (up to 15miles) £120



We will not be taking on any new clients or patients until 15th February 2022. We are busy in January with existing clients, covering at Companion Care Vets in Eastbourne, and making time for our own dogs. We will be closed completely between January 29th and February 13th for a well earned break.

No apologies… we can’t pour from an empty cup.


We only treat animals on referral from your primary care vet. Although most owners contact us directly, your vet will be asked to complete the referral form, and to email all relevant clinical history. Your pet must be a registered and active client of a veterinary practice which offers 24hour emergency care (on or off site) in order to use the services of Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care.

We offer home visits in the Hastings, Bexhill, Battle, and Eastbourne areas. We do not have a practice building!

Our vet Vicky has a regular clinic at Companion Care Vets in Eastbourne.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and all that jazz…



There are no miracle cures. Your vet is telling you everything they know based on the latest research they have read.

Pets aren’t dying young because of vaccines, or processed foods, or conventional medications.

More vets than ever are training in complementary therapies such as acupuncture and herbal medicine and using these alongside cutting edge medicines, surgeries, and vaccines.

You vet doesn’t know everything, because new research comes out at an alarming rate. But find an open minded vet and they will always be learning something new.

If someone is offering you something that seems too good to be true, or a cure all that seems too simple to be so effective… it probably is.

Don’t go chasing Unicorns. Choose a holistic vet instead.

Is there anybody out there?

I’m fed up of writing content that nobody seems to read. If you’ve read this, please drop me a comment.