Up until recently, I used the terms “spaying” and “neutering” interchangeably to describe the process of sterilization for male and female dogs. The truth is, “neutering” can be used to refer to the removal of reproductive organs in both male and female dogs. Spaying, however, is generally reserved for females. To be honest, it really doesn’t matter what you call it because the veterinarian will know exactly what you’re asking for when you call to book the surgery.
SO, WHAT’S INVOLVED IN FEMALE DOG NEUTERING/SPAYING?
Spaying your female dog (bitch), clinically known as ovariohysterectomy, is a surgical procedure that involves the removal of:
- the uterus
- fallopian tubes
- and the ovaries.
It’s a generally safe procedure frequently performed by licensed veterinarians, leaving you little to worry about.
DON’T FORGET IMPORTANT HEALTH BENEFITS!
- Reduced Risk of Mammary Gland Tumors (Breast Cancer)
More than a quarter of un-spayed female dogs will develop a mammary tumor during their lifetime. The risk is much lower for a spayed, female dog. In female dogs, 50% of mammary tumors are benign and 50% are malignant.
The risk of a dog developing a mammary tumor is 0.5% if spayed before their first heat (approximately 6 months of age), 8% after their first heat, and 26% after their second heat.
In addition, mammary gland tumors are:
- usually slow-growing
- moveable (implying a benign tumor)
- affixed to skin or body wall, which implies malignancy
Clinical Signs of Mammary Tumors:
- Pus or discharge oozing from one of the nipples
- Lumps around the mammary glands/nipples.
- Pain when the mammary gland is manipulated.
The problem is the difficulty or unlikelihood of noticing the subtle changes leading to tumors.
- Reduced Risk of Pyometra
Pyometra occurs most commonly in older dogs and is a result of continuous heat cycles where hormonal changes keep white blood cells (which normally fight infection) from entering the uterus. These hormones remained elevated for up to 2 months after the heat cycle and cause a thickening in the lining of the uterus. Over time, the uterus continues to thicken. Cysts begin to form, creating a breeding ground for bacteria. Years go by and this process continues to intensify until the serious, often fatal infection known as pyometra occurs…about two to eight weeks after her last heat cycle.
CLINICAL SIGNS THAT OCCUR IF THE CERVIX IS OPEN:
- Pus or abnormal discharge under the tail
CLINICAL SIGNS THAT OCCUR IF THE CERVIX REMAINS CLOSED:
- Severe onset
- Increased urine output
The success rate for treating open-cervix pyometra is approximately 75-90%
The success rate for treating closed-cervix pyometra is only about 25-40%.
The rate of recurrence of the disease in a treated dog could be be as high as 50-75%.
Helps Cut Overpopulation
In addition to the health concerns noted above, another important consideration is overpopulation. Let’s not forget the huge number of dogs that can’t find homes each day and have to be put down. Trust me, I thought of that when we were handing out puppies to families who’d passed our screening efforts. There are so many dogs out there who’ve been abandoned, abused, and simply not wanted, that need to be rescued.
Spaying your female dog helps to combat this problem. Unlike humans, dogs will not go into menopause. They will literally produce puppies throughout their lives and, inevitably, many of those puppies will end up in a shelter somewhere.
After the Surgery
Depending on the clinic where the operation was performed, you may be allowed to take your dog home the same day.
You can expect your dog to be sleepy post-surgery. This is normal. Her appetite might be lower but will improve within a day or two. The veterinarian will advise against strenuous exercise until the stitches either dissolve or are removed. Excessive movement could cause fluid to build up at the site of the operation.
The veterinarian might send you home with an Elizabethan collar to keep your dog from licking her abdomen. I’ve never had a dog that would keep one of those collars on, unfortunately. Some people (depending on the size of the dog) put a t-shirt on the dog. As long as it’s not too big or too small, this works. Make sure to watch whether the wound is healing as it should. If you notice swelling or discharge, give the veterinarian a call. Within a few days, you’ll notice your dog’s energy and playfulness come back.
Common Misconceptions About Spaying Your Female Dog
- WEIGHT GAIN
Obesity in dogs only happens when they take in more calories than they expend. Just like you or I, the older we get, the fewer calories we need. It seems as if spaying your dog causes weight gain because we don’t adjust their caloric intake accordingly. I’ll admit, my Emma is kind of a fatty. It’s my fault. I know I give her too many treats and she doesn’t get as much exercise as she should. I’m working on changing these things for the sake of her health because I love her, and I want her to have a long, healthy life.
- BEHAVIORAL CHANGES
Spaying does nothing to change the personality of your pet. Negative behaviors are seen in dogs that have not been spayed or neutered. Urinating in the house, howling, and restless, destructive behavior are signs that a dog has not been spayed. When female dogs go into heat (clinically known as estrus), she’s vulnerable to every intact male dog in the neighborhood. In addition, waiting too long to have your dog spayed or neutered can result in unnecessary health problems which I’ve listed below.
Cost of the Procedure
For many people opting to spay their female dogs, the cost of the procedure is often a concern. Prices range widely depending on location and clinic. They may go as low as $45 to as high as $300 or more. Plan ahead and contact the clinic for the exact price before booking the surgery. If you’re lucky enough to live in an urban area, you might be able to shop around to get the best price.
4. Avoids the Risk Associated with Pregnancy
Dogs, like humans, can face any number of challenges related to pregnancy. Most people I know allow their dogs to give birth in a warm place in the home or a designated spot in the shed or garage. What if something goes wrong? The reality is that your dog could die giving birth. We don’t get ultrasounds for them or prenatal care. Giving birth takes a lot out of your dog. I remember watching Emma on the floor, spread out so her puppies could feed. She was warm and panting, very thin from constantly feeding her pups, and generally looking distraught. I felt badly for her.
No matter what you choose, there are always going to be health risks inherent in your dog. Genetics, the age of the dog when it’s spayed, and the clinical risks associated with spaying and neutering all come into play. There’s no perfect answer, but in this day and age, the general consensus is that spaying or neutering your dog leads to the best overall outcome.