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Ask Dr. Michael Salkin Your Own Question
Dr. Michael Salkin
Dr. Michael Salkin, Veterinarian
Category: Dog
Satisfied Customers: 33288
Experience:  University of California at Davis graduate veterinarian with 45 years of experience.
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We have a 10 year old labrador who has never been spayed

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We have a 10 year old bitch labrador who has never been spayed and still has her seasons. She has always had a habit of whining, unless she is on her own with me and my basset hound, at which time she hardly whines at all.
The last few days she has started digging holes in the garden and whining even more. Although having worked as a dog warden and animal welfare officer, I am at a loss to know what course of action to take. I am wondering whether she would be better if she was spayed. She has had phantom pregnancies in the past but is not doing so at the moment.
Your advice and recommendations would be appreciated.
Aloha! You're speaking to Dr. Michael Salkin
I'm sorry that your question wasn't answered in a timely manner. To answer your question directly, spaying Honey might be the answer if her whining and digging were related to a disorder in her genital tract but at 10 years of age we need to consider her other body systems as well. Her digging has many possible etiologies and please find below a synopsis of my notes** that I use when lecturing about digging behavior.

I would be most comfortable performing a thorough physcial examination on Honey including diagnostic testing in the form of blood and urine tests. I'm particularly concerned with the degenerative disorders found in an elderly Lab such as osteoarthritis, hepatic and renal insufficiencies. If her last heat period were 1-3 months ago, another phantom pregnancy might be present at this time. The symptoms of that disorder vary between simple whining and full-blown milk production and "nursing" toys. Spaying, then, would be curative but I wouldn't perform such a surgery without diagnostic testing performed beforehand.

** "Digging may be a nuisance but it is an innate trait for many dogs. Some breeds may dig holes that provide a cool place for them to lie. Some dogs use digging as a way to escape confinement or the digging represents an activity similar to destructive chewing that occurs when young dogs are left alone without sufficient stimulation. When dogs become house pets, they often need to leave natural tendencies behind, such as digging, if they are to be good home companions. Most dogs have little problem with this compromise as long as they have sufficient stimulation elsewhere in their lives. Some dogs, however, may continue to dig despite other adequate stimulation, to escape or simply because digging is fun. Understimulated and underexercised dogs may dig as a recreational event. The prognosis varies considerably with the underlying cause. A young dog or intact male with a strong motivation to roam may see digging as providing freedom; these dogs are very frustrating to control. For these cases, keeping the dog indoors in a safe, destruction-proof area or providing a confinement area where the dog is unable to dig to escape may be the only viable alternative. Environmental enrichment is most indicated for those dogs that dig because they have no acceptable alternative. Whenever the pet is left outdoors unsupervised, it is important to attempt to provide an appealing alternative activity to distract and occupy it. This distraction may include large balls to push around or wooden boxes and ramps on which to crawl and explore. Large rubber toys can be stuffed with treats, tied to ropes and suspended from tree limbs for some dogs. The success in enriching the environment is variable and may be negligible for some pets. Increased activity, such as vigorous physical exercise (fetch, jogging, speed walking) provided two or more times daily, may help reduce the amount of time digging. Another option is to provide a sand/soil digging pit with partially buried toys and "chews" to encourage digging in one area instead of many. Adding another pet may be helpful but you might end up with two pets that dig and therefore twice the damage. When dogs are digging to create a cool respite, they may stop if given a cool, shaded area or a wading pool is provided where they can cool off. Dogs that are digging as a response to fearful stimuli may enjoy the comfort and security of a doghouse or other forms of shelter. For some dogs, confinement in a secure pen or run may be the best treatment plan. Not all of the above will apply to your dog, of course, but perhaps you'll be able to glean a few pearls of wisdom that will be helpful in correcting your dog's behavior."

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Thank you for your kind accept. I appreciate it.

I'm going to check back with you in a few weeks for an update. Feel free to return to our conversation - even after rating - prior to my contacting you if you wish.

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