Spaying a Dog: Everything You Need to Know

Written by Small Door's medical experts

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.

In This Article

What is spaying a dog?

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.

What does a spay surgery involve in dogs?

A spay operation requires full anaesthesia. One your dog has been placed under anaesthesia, a breathing tube will be used to help deliver oxygen to your dog's lungs during the surgery. Your veterinarian will then make an incision in your dog’s abdomen that’s long enough for them to locate the reproductive organs. They will remove the ovaries and uterus through this incision (or just the ovaries depending on if your veterinarian is performing an ovariectomy or ovariohysterectomy) and suture your dog back up. 

Once complete, your dog will no longer be able to have puppies, and the procedure is not reversible.

When to spay a 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.

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

For large breed dogs, veterinarians often recommend waiting to spay until they have had one heat cycle, but no more. As shown by a number of recent studies, 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). A single heat cycle allows the sex hormones to be present for a period of maturation. However, 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.

How old can a dog get fixed?

It’s best to spay a dog when they’re young, but older dogs can still be spayed, provided they’re healthy enough to undergo anesthesia. Your veterinarian will conduct a pre-operative exam to make sure they’re suitable for surgery. 

Benefits of spaying a 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 a dog

Most of the side effects of spaying are positive, like reduced risk of disease. Contrary to certain myths, spaying does not alter your dog’s personality or playfulness. However, it may decrease their metabolism slightly, so it’s important to keep an eye on their weight as they grow older.

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.

Are there any potential risks of spaying a dog?

Healthy young dogs have the lowest likelihood of risks and health complications, which is why most veterinarians recommend the surgery at this age, whereas older dogs or dogs in heat are more likely to have complications. 

Common post-surgery complications can include inflammation, hemorrhage, herniation, or infection at the incision site; tearing of the incision (if your dog is active after surgery); or swelling under the incision site. Because of this, it’s important to keep your dog resting and quiet after surgery to prevent any damage or infection to the incision site and help them make a faster recovery. You can also 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 or surgical suit 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.

Additional long term risks of spaying a dog are rare but can occur if a large dog is spayed too young, before reaching maturity. These can include an increased risk of knee injuries — if the operation takes place before a dog’s bone growth is complete — and more minor risks like urinary incontinence in middle to older aged dogs.  

​​Does spaying cause a dog to gain weight?

Spaying a dog may result in a metabolism slowdown where many dogs will experience weight gain. Because your dog’s metabolism will slow down, it’s important to regulate the amount of food she eats and make sure she gets plenty of exercise to prevent obesity. 

Can you spay a dog in heat?

Dogs can be spayed while in heat although some veterinarians will recommend waiting until your dog has finished her estrus cycle due to potential surgical complications. Operating while a dog is in heat can lead to increased bleeding as their reproductive and surrounding organs swell up, making it more prone to injury during the procedure.  

How to tell if a dog is 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.

Preparing a dog for surgery

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.) This is to help prevent your dog from vomiting during the operation. 

Additionally, you should prepare your home for post-operative care to make sure your dog can make a quick recovery. This includes keeping your dog confined to a place where it will be quiet, comfortable, and easily accessible for them, limiting exercise, and giving them small amounts of food and water for the first 12 hours after surgery.  

Spay procedure for dogs: 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.

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.

How much does it cost to spay a dog

The cost to spay a dog depends on the size of your dog, location, veterinarian, whether they have any pre-existing health conditions, and whether they’re in heat. However there are animal clinics that offer low cost spay clinics to help make the procedure accessible to those in need.

Spay home recovery kit for a dog

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) or surgical suit

  • 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 has 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. Surgical suits, while slightly more expensive, also prevent your dog from licking her stitches, without the inconvenience of an e-collar.

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 for a dog

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.

Summary of spaying a dog

While spaying your dog is a big decision, in most cases, it’s the right choice unless you plan to breed your dog responsibly. While surgery can be emotional for owners, your dog will not be sad that she cannot have puppies, and the health benefits of spaying almost always outweigh any potential risks.

Spaying your dog is a rather quick and uncomplicated surgery and your dog will typically make a fast recovery with proper after care. If you have any questions about if spaying your dog is the right choice, our veterinary team is here to help.

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