The Hills Meets: Dugie Gemmill

As you know from our last ‘The Hills Meets’ article, we have a local business directory that is steadily growing with talented, interesting and all-round fabulous members. This is one of my favourite activities, exploring the local area and getting to know the fantastic people who live and work in our communities, and in return I have the pleasure of sharing their products and expertise with our lovely readers! Today I would like to introduce you to my good friend Dugie Gemmill, our resident vet and pet expert. Dugie accepted my invitation to join The Hills to talk to us about all things pet care and answer the questions you have always wanted to ask about our furry friends!


It’s no secret that we are massive dog lovers here at The Hills, they are even made welcome at our members’ monthly meeting! Last time Dugie myth busted the real reasons our best-friends like the taste of poo, today he’s here to discuss another question that dog owners often ponder – should we be spaying our female dog? It has long been accepted that we should consider spaying or neutering female dogs. However, as it is a choice that we, as pet owners have to make, we should ask ourselves what the reasons for this are.

 Over to Dugie…

Why should we think about spaying our dog?

The simplest answer is population control and the avoidance of unwanted pregnancies. On the other hand, there are social reasons around the prevention of a bitch coming in to heat – vaginal bleeding or being chased around the park by overly enthusiastic male dogs. Also, there are health benefits to your bitch which for some reason, we often forget about. The Royal Veterinary College in London has a detailed disease surveillance programme, involving many veterinary practices and literally thousands of dogs. One of the simplest statistics to come from this is simply that neutered dogs live longer than entire or un-neutered ones. Mature bitches who have never bred or who haven’t had a litter for many years can commonly develop a serious and potentially life-threatening womb infection, called a pyometra. Pyometra can be treated surgically but surely this is best prevented? If a bitch is spayed earlier in her life there is a dramatic reduction in the incidence of mammary carcinomas (breast cancer) in her later years. We see this in practice today – many years ago, surgery for mammary tumours was frequently performed in the surgery, but now, with the majority of older females being spayed, we perform significantly fewer procedures. Spaying your female dog is an important part of preventative health care.

So, we have decided to neuter our lovely female dog. What does this actually entail?

The traditional spay performed in the UK would be an ‘open’ surgical procedure. This means that the surgeon creates a wound in the abdomen, large enough to allow direct access for the fingers, hands and surgical instruments to the contents of the abdomen. The operation usually involves the removal of both ovaries and the uterus. This is called an ovariohysterectomy (OVH). Sometimes surgery involves the removal of only the ovaries (an ovariectomy or OVE). Surgical procedures can involve complications, however rare, but studies have shown no difference between OVH and OVE regarding the incidence of womb infections or incontinence.

Now we know just a little about what the neutering surgery entails do we have any other considerations?

Well, yes! Nowadays the choices available are further broadened by the development of Minimally Invasive Surgery (MIS) or laparoscopic assisted surgical techniques, you might know the more common term ‘keyhole surgery’. The range of surgeries we can perform laparoscopically mirrors that of human surgical practice. Neutering a female dog and removing retained abdominal testicles (which have a high risk of becoming cancerous) in a male dog, are surgeries that lend themselves to MIS. Rather than completely opening the body cavity we place surgical tubes (between 5.5mm and 10mm in diameter) through the abdominal wall to gain surgical access, using special scissors, forceps and sealing devices. The patient’s abdomen in inflated with carbon dioxide gas to create a space in which to perform the surgery. The whole procedure is viewed via a digital camera on a high definition monitor.

Is laparoscopic surgery better than open surgery?

This is a question I am often asked. There is nothing wrong with traditional open surgery. It is safe and surgeons are well practiced with techniques and in fact when performing an MIS laparoscopic procedure we are always prepared to convert to an open procedure. What else could we do if our camera broke for example? However many studies in both human and animal surgery have demonstrated lower complication rates with wound infection or haemorrhage, lower pain levels and a more rapid return to normal activity. A study in 2009 showed that female dogs undergoing spaying by open procedure were 62% less active in the 24 hours after surgery, while those treated laparoscopically were only 25% less active. Typically laparoscopic patients are exercising normally a week after surgery.

Are there any disadvantages to laparoscopic surgery?

Laparoscopic surgery has a steep learning curve but as with all things, with experience the procedure becomes straightforward. It is more expensive because of the high cost of equipment and the extensive training required. However for reasons of reduced post-operative pain and a much reduced return to normal activity, laparoscopic surgery offers a very good alternative to traditional open surgical neutering.

Dugie is the Clinical Director, and principal surgeon in his own practice on the Wirral, with a particular interest in laparoscopic surgery and orthopaedics. He has been performing laparoscopic surgery for over eight years and as well as offering the procedures in his own practice, also operates at practices in North Wales.


Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 17. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats, four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.