Posted By: Gudi - Vet

Managing Nellie through her spay surgery as she found herself in a race against time to go under the knife!

Nellie the 3-year-old French Bulldog is always great fun when she visits our Wells practice. We recently had the pleasure of managing her through her spay surgery as she found herself in a race against time to go under the knife!


Nellie was rehomed last autumn as a rescue and she flourished in the care of her new owners, well and truly settled into her new home. But there was one problem - Nellie was not neutered and was now living in a home with three entire male dogs. The clock was ticking before she came into season and her owners were worried that this would upset the harmony between their dogs, and they certainly didn't want any puppies to add to the mix! Nellie's owners were keen to book her in for her spay procedure.


We recommend scheduling a spay surgery mid-way between seasons in bitches as the reproductive tract tends to be less vascular and the reproductive hormones are relatively inactive at that time. On average, most bitches have a season roughly every 6 months, which means we aim to book them in for their spay around 3 months after a season. As Nellie's owners knew that she was in season just as she arrived with them, they were very organised and booked her in for her spay in January.


As with all our bitch spay patients, Nellie was booked in for a pre-spay check with the nurse a few days prior to her procedure. This appointment is an invaluable part of the spay process in several ways. Firstly, it allows time for the nurse to fully explain the procedure and answer any questions in advance of the surgery itself. We can discuss the estimated costs of the surgery and any other procedures that we might be doing at the same time. Finally, it means that we can assess the patient to ensure there are no signs of any current health issues, and in particular check that they are not undergoing a false lactation.


Nellie was seen by Nurse Nat for her pre-spay check the day before her scheduled procedure and all was going well until Nat found that she had mammary gland development and was producing milk in all her teats. Nellie wasn't pregnant but was having a false lactation. The features of a bitch's reproductive cycle mean that they can experience a similar hormonal pattern after a season regardless of whether they are pregnant or not, so that they can go on to produce the same hormones that prepare the body for birth and to produce milk. The problem for Nellie was that this meant we needed to delay her surgery - if we were to operate while she was in a false lactation we would be interrupting her reproductive cycle at this point, risking her remaining in this state persistently, or recurrently for the rest of her life.


Nat discussed the options with Nellie's owners. We could wait for Nellie to naturally come out of her false lactation and then rebook her surgery. As Nellie was producing quite a lot of milk it might take some time for it to run its course, but she would hopefully be back to normal within 2-4 weeks. This would mean a waiting game until we could be sure we could reschedule her surgery. We did have the option of a very effective medication to bring her milk production to a stop, which would allow us to reschedule her surgery much sooner, but this medication can be costly, and Nellie may have required two courses before it worked fully.


Nellie's owners had a dilemma. They were aware that time was running out for them to schedule Nellie's surgery before she next came into season, which they really wanted to avoid, but they were also keen to limit costs. Nellie's owners had opted for her to have the keyhole, or laparoscopic, spay surgery because of the advantages it would offer to Nellie. We had already discussed with them that our experience with this procedure, over the ten years we have been offering it within the practice, has shown us that this minimally invasive technique results in a quicker and more comfortable recovery for the patient, so they were keen for Nellie to have the keyhole spay rather than a traditional surgery. As Nellie is a brachycephalic (flat-faced) breed which can be prone to certain anaesthetic complications, we also discussed that there are some extra medications and protocols we can use to help reduce the risk of those complications, which they were keen for her to have. So, we already had discussed the likely costs for Nellie's procedure, and they had carefully budgeted, and suddenly there was the possibility that they would also need the additional medication to address her false lactation.


I caught up with Nellie's owner by phone to discuss the situation. We calculated the likely dates of Nellie's next season, assuming she had an average inter-season interval, and allowed for the chance that she might naturally come into season more often than this, and decided we really should try to get her spay done by the end of February. We wanted to get a date in the diary - we routinely offer keyhole spays several days a week in our Shepton surgery, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays in our Wells branch, and there was still some availability, but slots were getting booked. So, we decided to take a chance and book a date in 4 weeks, towards the end of February, while we waited to see if Nellie's milk would dry up on its own, saving the cost of the medication. We booked Nellie's second pre-spay check 10 days prior to her new surgery date, so that we would still have time to use the medication to stop her milk production if we needed to. We had a plan.


When the day of Nellie's pre-spay check came around, we were all anxious to see what was happening, and to everyone's relief Nellie's false lactation had finished - there was no sign of any milk! She was also showing no sign of coming into season any time soon, so we were happy to proceed with her surgery. Nellie was back ten days later for her surgery - her owner was understandably anxious and emotional when she handed Nellie to Nat that morning, but there was also a real sense of relief that the day had finally arrived. Nellie thoroughly enjoyed her stay with us that day, her anaesthesia went well with no sign of the reflux issues or airway problems that can be a concern with the breed, and her surgery went very smoothly. She was back in bed in no time bright and alert and enjoying a late breakfast. We were all delighted to send her home at the end of the day - we got there in the end!

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