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Bitch-to-Bitch aggression. A Veterinarians view.

Whenever owners witness a change in one of their two bitches becoming so determined to kill the other, this is understandably very upsetting. This they also find difficult to comprehend when previously, both had been the best of friends.

What makes it more distressing is that my first question is to ask if they spayed them before or after their first season. The usual answer is after, because that was their vetís recommendation. I then tell them that many vets prefer to spay them before their first season because there are medical benefits. It also sounds as if some vets are behind the times, but this is not the case. It is more to do with risk assessment.

Last week I had the opportunity to bring this subject up on the Mary Harboe show on REM fm in order to discuss this with Nasli from the Pointer Clinic in Marbella. I hoped this would give the opportunity to shed some light on this particular problem for owners, behaviourists, and veterinarians.

First, we must recognise that not all bitches react the same way following their first season. There are degrees of aggression from seemingly no change at all, to a full-blown hatred of the other bitch.

There does seem some correlation between this type of aggression and its occurrence after the first season. Knowing many British vets prefer to spay bitches before their first season, I felt this was solving the problem completely. As I wrote last week, it is not as easy as this.

From my previous understanding, spaying will stop a bitch coming into season every six months along with the associated mess, the unwanted attention of males and the possibility of unwanted puppies. Other problems are mammary tumours, pyometra, which is an infection of the uterus, along with ovarian cancer; all of which rarely appear in bitches spayed before their first season.

Previously I only knew of two disadvantages. First, owners must take care about their dogís diet as spayed bitches do have a tendency to put on weight. Knowing about this, at least owners can cope. Another was that vets say the dog will never mature properly. Most owners always want their dogs to retain the young puppy character, so I never thought this was a concern.

Having explained the problem, Nasli then put her point of view in perspective with all the other associated problems of spaying.

The main problem in neutering before the first season is that the bitch does not mature. As a result, her vulva can remain very small. As the bitch grows, a fold of skin can sometimes partially cover this, which can lead to urine spaying onto her legs. Along with this, the muscles remain weakened, as she never becomes a full bitch, so there can remain a lifetime of incontinence.

There are indeed significant benefits to spaying prior to the first season. On the other hand, allowing her to become fully mature, the risk of the medical problems only increases by 0.25%. However, as subsequent seasons do increase the risk, many vets prefer to spay following the first one. Without considering the aggression problem, then spaying once the bitch is mature enough, would seem the better choice.

I have not found any statistics to show the percentage of pairs of bitches that live together, where one of them develops this problem. In addition, once the bitch does become aggressive, subsequent spaying has no remedial effects.

We males do have a tendency to attribute hormone problems when confronted by odd female actions we do not understand. Fortunately, Mary Harboe was already thinking along the same lines and asked Nasli if she could do anything medically, like hormone treatment. Nasli replied that, as hormones could be causing the problem, then meddling with them, could be disastrous. Possibly increasing or decreasing the male hormone in a bitch may have possibilities; but she doubted it would have much success. She also felt using tranquilizers, would only be postponing the problem.

Mary asked me if some sorts of separation, like time outs or kennelling, would help. Certainly, we have tried this, but once reintroduced to each other, the fights only seem worse.

I have tried swapping beds and rubbing both dogs with the same towel so each bitch carried the others scent. I hoped this might calm the more aggressive one as she could smell the other, even when she was not there.

One thing that is most common, the fights usually start when the owners return. This is because where there is more than one dog in the household they greet them in the order of their hierarchy.

Some owners, who have not wished parting from either dog, have designed their house with lockable internal doors. They even split the gardens with fences, along with locking gates, just to keep both dogs permanently separated. This is a difficult way to live, as accidents are always possible.

As there is no way of knowing which bitches are susceptible, Mary asked Nasli, what she would do in such circumstances. She said that in light of this problem, if two bitches were going to live together, then her advice would be for the owners to consider spaying before their first season. As there is no guarantee one would even become aggressive, they must also consider the greater risk of incontinence.

No method currently used has had any success, so I can only wish that there would be more research into why this happens. Is it an excessive hormone because we allow a bitch to mature first that is the cause, or is this in fact only a coincidence?

If you have ever kept two bitches together and whether you have or have not had this problem, then please do send me your story. If I can review these, they may direct us towards some new method of training or medical treatment that could solve such cases in the future.

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