Spaying Dogs: Everything You Need to Know

Concerned about spaying your dog? Wondering what you need to do to prepare for your dog’s spaying? In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of spaying, as well as what you need to know before spaying your dog.

What is a Spay?

Spaying, or “fixing,” a dog is a surgical procedure that removes all or some of the reproductive organs in a female dog. There are two types of sterilization procedures in dogs: ovariectomy and ovariohysterectomy. An ovariectomy removes only the ovaries. An ovariohysterectomy, commonly known as a spay, removes both the uterus and ovaries. Both procedures eliminate a female dog’s ability to go into heat and to reproduce. In the US and Canada, an ovariohysterectomy is traditionally performed.

A spay operation requires full anaesthesia. Your veterinarian will make an incision in your dog’s abdomen that’s long enough for them to locate the reproductive organs. They will remove the organs through this incision and suture your dog back up. Once complete, your dog will no longer be able to have puppies, and the procedure is not reversible.

Advantages of Spaying Your Dog

Spaying your dog has two main advantages: eliminating unwanted pregnancies and reducing your dog’s risk of certain diseases. Spaying also prevents heat cycles and has positive behavioral benefits.

Pregnancy, especially unplanned pregnancy, can be risky for dogs, costly for you, and contribute to the number of puppies and dogs in shelters. Pregnant dogs require appropriate veterinary care to produce healthy puppies without compromising the mother’s health. This is why veterinarians recommend spaying all female dogs unless owners plan to breed them responsibly.

There are numerous health benefits to spaying your dog. It reduces her risk of ovarian and mammary cancer and eliminates uterine infections, which can lead to a pyometra — an infected uterus that can be fatal if not treated. Spays performed before six months of age almost completely eliminate the risk of mammary gland tumors (i.e. breast cancer).

An intact uterus and ovaries expose your dog to the risk of uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, metritis, torsion of the uterus, cystic changes, prolapse, and even complications with endocrine disorders like diabetes mellitus. The easiest way to reduce or eliminate the risk of these diseases and conditions is to spay your dog.

Health isn’t the only consideration. Heat cycles can be messy and tedious for owners. They require diapers and careful considerations to prevent accidental pregnancy, and can also cause unwanted behavioral changes in dogs. Spaying prevents these issues from cropping up.

Side-Effects of Spaying Your Dog

There is no such thing as a routine surgery. While many of the side effects of spaying are positive, like reduced risk of disease, there is always a risk of complications.

Some possible complications include inflammation, hemorrhage, herniation, and infection. You can help reduce the risk of infection by keeping an eye on your dog after surgery to prevent licking at the suture site. (A plastic collar will help!) Hemorrhaging is more common in obese dogs and dogs that are in heat at the time of surgery, so keeping your dog at a healthy weight will improve her chances of a complication-free surgery.

Keep in mind that the benefits of spaying far outweigh the potential risks.

Spaying your dog has many benefits; it helps with population control by eliminating unwanted pregnancies, it reduces your dog’s risk of certain diseases, prevents heat cycles and has positive behavioral benefits.

When Should I Spay My Dog?

“How long should I wait to spay my dog?” is a common question, and the internet and dog breeders are full of conflicting information. The best person to ask about the appropriate time to spay is your veterinarian. They have access to the most up-to-date veterinary research and are best positioned to address concerns and answer questions you may have about your specific dog.

Most dog spays are performed between 6 and 9 months of age. However, some recent studies have shown that spaying large breed dogs at too young an age may remove critical sex hormones that are important for development and growth, and that may potentially prevent certain cancers (specifically, splenic and bone cancers).

For small breed dogs, the typical recommendation is to spay at around 6 months of age.

For large breed dogs, veterinarians often recommend allowing them to have one heat cycle before spaying, but no more. A single heat cycle allows for sex hormones to be present for a period of maturation. But you should spay after the first heat cycle, as additional heat cycles may exponentially contribute to the risk of developing mammary cancer later in life.

If your dog is older, your veterinarian may recommend spaying immediately to help reduce the risk of disease, treat a disease like an infected uterus, or to terminate a pregnancy. In pregnant dogs, spaying can also be performed during a cesarean procedure.

Is My Dog Already Spayed?

Adopting a dog is a great way to bring a new family member into your home. But not all dogs come with a veterinary history, which means you and your vet may need to get her up to date on vaccines and determine whether she has already been spayed.

Your veterinarian will check for a scar or a tattoo left by the surgeon as proof of spaying. In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend an ultrasound or blood test if there is uncertainty about your dog’s spay status or concern that a previous spay procedure may have been incomplete.

Spaying: What to Expect

Before your dog is spayed, you will need to make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss the procedure and to evaluate your dog’s health. Your vet will perform a physical examination of your dog and will most likely recommend running some blood work to make sure your dog is healthy enough for surgery. If your dog has any preexisting conditions, further testing may be necessary.

Your veterinarian may ask you to withhold food and/or water the night before or morning of your dog’s spay—it depends on the type of anesthesia that will be used during the surgery. (Your vet will go over the pre-spay requirements with you prior to the procedure.)

Depending on your specific veterinarian’s practice, you will most likely drop your dog off in the morning and leave her at the hospital until the procedure is finished and your dog has recovered from anesthesia. Make sure your contact information is up to date with the front desk so that your vet can contact you when your dog is out of surgery or reach you in case of an emergency.

Spay Home Recovery Kit

There are things you can do to prepare for your dog’s spay, like creating a spay home recovery kit. You will need:

  • Crate with clean, dry bedding

  • Elizabethan collar (if one is not provided by the veterinary clinic)

  • Toys

  • Leash

Your dog will need a calm, quiet environment for her recovery. You can provide this by giving her a kennel or a room where she cannot run and jump. It is important that she also have clean, dry bedding for her recovery. Lying in dirty or damp bedding can increase her risk of developing an infection.

E-collars prevent your dog from licking, chewing, or irritating the surgery site. While your dog may not enjoy wearing it—and you may not enjoy her e-collar bumping into things—it will reduce the risk of injury to the surgery site. You can keep her entertained with appropriate toys, like chew toys that do not pose any risk of obstruction.

To prevent running and jumping, you’ll need to use a leash when taking your dog outside; abstain from long walks or exercise until she is fully healed.

Post-Spay Care

Most dogs come home from the hospital the same day as their spay. Dogs at risk of bleeding, or with underlying uterine disease, may need to be hospitalized longer for monitoring and medical management.

Once she’s back home, your dog needs to be kept calm and quiet for 10 to 14 days. (Your veterinarian may recommend a longer rest period depending on your dog.) Of course, keeping a puppy calm is not always easy! Leash-walking for potty breaks and time in her crate will help prevent complications, like reopening the surgery site.

Your veterinarian will likely provide you with an Elizabethan collar (also known as an e-collar) to prevent your dog from irritating her sutures. You can also purchase your own collar from a pet supply company, but make sure it fits—not too tight, not too loose. Keep the e-collar on your dog at all times when you’re not around to keep an eye on her.

Pain medication will be sent home with your dog, and in some cases your veterinarian can also provide you with medication to help keep your dog calm during recovery. Notify your veterinarian if you notice any swelling, persistent oozing, or bleeding from the incision site, or if your dog seems unusually pained.

Your dog may need a follow-up recheck appointment after her spay, depending on her health and the sutures used. Sutures that need to be removed will require an appointment, whereas absorbable sutures will not. Talk to your veterinarian about the best course of action for your dog.

Spaying your dog is a big decision. After all, surgeries come with risks, and we can sometimes imbue our animals with human emotions. However, your dog will not be sad that she cannot have puppies, and the health benefits of spaying almost always outweigh any potential risks.

Our medical experts

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