When and Why to Spay Your Pet + How It’s done! 

Posted on May 21, 2024

by Becca Johnson, CFVA

Posted May 21, 2024
Cat And Dog 3

There is a lot of controversy out there on when, why and if you should Spay your pet. Most animal professionals will tell you that the benefits far out way the risks. Ultimately, the owner is the decision maker and all we can do is educate people so they can make the best decision for their family. Let’s get into the details on spaying dogs and cats and the procedure itself. 

 

Dogs: 

Benefits of spaying a female dog: 

1.) Reduces risk of mammary cancer. The hormones produced by the ovaries can predispose female dogs to developing cancer in the mammary glands. Spaying your dog before her first heat cycle results in almost zero chance of developing mammary cancer. Spaying after one heat cycle results in a 7% chance of mammary cancer development and spaying after two or more heat cycles results in a 25% chance of cancer development.  

2.) Prevention of Pyometra (Uterine Infections) A Pyometra is a life-threatening infection of the uterus that develops 6-8 weeks (about 2 months) after they have been in a heat cycle. Most cases require emergency surgery which often comes with a high risk of complications and/or death. This surgery is also usually very expensive. But without surgery, your pet will die, so it is best to spay before this can become an issue. 

3.) A spayed dog cannot become pregnant. Having a pregnant female dog leads to increased expense, possible complications with pregnancy, and puppies that will need to find homes. A C-section costs thousands of dollars, which is usually unexpected but unfortunately necessary if complications arise. Otherwise, the mother and pups could pass from the birthing process if it does not go well, and treatment is not sought. Some dogs also do not seem to care for being mothers and will not nurse the pups; you then would have to bottle feed or find a home that can, which is difficult and stressful for everyone. If there is no testing done on the parents, you could be bringing unhealthy dogs into a world that will be difficult for them if they survive. 

4.) Less Mess. A pregnant dog will go into heat about every 6 months. This comes with up to two weeks of bloody vaginal discharge, a moderately offensive odor, and a significant attractiveness to male dogs. Many dogs must wear diapers or be kept in cleanable areas to prevent the mess. They also need to be closely supervised outside, as male dogs can jump fences to be with a female. 

The Spay Procedure: Most dogs that come in for a spay are here just for the day. A spay procedure involves removal of the uterus and both ovaries. This is done through a small incision in your pet’s belly. 

What to Expect After Surgery: Many of our patients are moving around very well by that afternoon or the next day, and it is often harder to keep them quiet than anything! But it is very important to keep them calm as an overactive dog can end up tearing out their stitches and requires a second procedure to fix this. If you are concerned about keeping your pet quiet, we can discuss a mild sedative for recovery. Most dogs will also need a cone (aka e-collar) to prevent them from licking at their incision site as this could also cause infection or torn-out stitches. It’s also common to see a decreased appetite for a few days or some occasional vomiting or soft stool. These symptoms usually resolve in a day or two. If not resolving or the pet is not eating, please reach out for medical assistance as pain meds on an empty stomach can be dangerous, but we do not want your dog to be in pain. 

Long-Term Changes: Most female dogs show very few behavioral changes after a spay. However, we can sometimes see a decreased metabolism so watching your pet’s calorie intake may be needed.  

What Age to Spay Your Dog: There are a lot of factors that go into this question but we’ll try to sum up here so you can make your own informed decision on what’s best for your pet.  

1.) As noted above, mammary cancer increases significantly with every heat cycle that your pet goes through. Even one heat cycle can increase your dog’s risk of mammary cancer. Most dogs’ first heat cycle starts around 6 months of age. 

2.) The older (and larger) a dog is at the time of a spay procedure, the more likely they are to have complications during the procedure. The risk of bleeding complications increases with size, weight, and proximity of a heat cycle. Larger dogs are also more expensive to spay given that our procedure costs are based on weight.  

3.) Some studies have shown an increase in urinary incontinence in certain dog breeds spayed less than 1 year of age. If your pet does develop urinary incontinence, this can usually be controlled with a daily medication.  

4.) One study has shown an increase in joint issues in some large breed dogs (shepherds, retrievers) when spayed before they are done with most of their growing. Follow-up studies have not consistently shown these results but there is still the recommendation to wait until these animals are at least 6 months of age before spaying them. In summary, we would recommend waiting on all dogs until they are at least 6 months of age. If you wish to spay before the first heat cycle, then we would recommend aiming for between 6-8 months of age (which should catch most dogs before they enter the heat cycle depending on size/breed). Otherwise, we would want to wait until at least 2 months after the first heat cycle to decrease the chance of bleeding complications associated with spaying during the cycle. 

 

Cats: 

The removal of a cat’s uterus and ovaries is called a spay. Although this is a major abdominal surgery, it is very commonly performed and usually has few complications.  

Reasons to Spay Your Cat:  

1.) Prevention of mammary cancer. Mammary cancer can be very aggressive in cats and spaying your female cat is one of the best ways we can prevent it. Performing a spay by 6 months of age results in a drastically reduced chance of cancer development.  

2.) Prevention of pregnancy and unwanted kittens. The spay procedure removes the uterus and the ovaries, thus preventing the possibility of pregnancy. There has been no proven benefit to allowing your cat to have kittens prior to spaying her.  

3.) Prevention of annoying heat cycles. Female cats have very annoying heat cycles. Most female cats show drastic behavioral changes when in heat, including loud vocalizations, increased rubbing on owners, urine spraying or marking, and rolling around on the floor. And a female cat will stay in heat for long periods and/or go in and out of heat frequently.  

4.) Prevention of ovarian/uterine cancers. Although uncommon, it is possible for female cats to develop ovarian or uterine cancer. A spay procedure removes these organs and prevents cancer formation.  

What Age to Spay: We recommend all cats be spayed by 5 months of age. We will commonly perform the procedure near the last round of vaccines (around 4-5 months of age) but it can be performed anytime your kitten is over 3 lbs.  

Procedure: A spay involves removal of the uterus and both ovaries. This is usually a same-day procedure, and most cats will go home the afternoon after the procedure. Many cats will be tired for a day or two but bounce back from this procedure quickly. Sometimes too quickly! Since being too active after a procedure can result in stitches being torn out, we recommend that you keep your cat confined to a small room for at least a week after the procedure. Some cats may also need an e-collar (e.g., cone) to prevent them from licking their incision, causing an infection or tearing their stitches out. All our stitches are buried under the skin so you will not need to bring your cat back for them to be removed.  

What to Expect Long Term: Most cats usually show very few changes after being spayed. If your cat was in heat, those symptoms usually resolve over a couple of weeks after the procedure. Spaying your pet can reduce your pet’s metabolism, predisposing them to weight gain. However, managing your cat’s calorie intake and encouraging exercise can go a long way towards preventing this. 

By Becca Johnson, CFVA

My name is Becca but I go by any form of Rebecca (Becky, Bex, or Rebecky just to name a few). I have been with Ankeny Animal and Avian Clinic since 2016. I enjoy my many roles here which include, Nutrition Coach, CSR, Compliance Coach and a member of the Fear Free Committee. Outside of work, I enjoy playing Sims 4 and hanging out with my husband and "fur kids" which include her dog (Asuna) and two cats (Kirito aka "Kitty Toes" & Natsu).
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