What to Know and Expect for Your Dog
Spaying an intact female dog is one of the most common surgeries veterinarians perform on a routine basis. In fact, if you have rescued your dog from an animal shelter, it is likely that the surgery has already been performed or that you have signed a contract promising to spay her shortly after adoption. However, if you have purchased your puppy from a breeder, your dog has probably not been spayed nor have you been required to do so. Therefore, in this type of situation, it is important to get clarification on what a spay surgery is and how it can help your furry friend.
This procedure can have many benefits for your pet and is highly sought after, however, it is important to be informed on this surgery to ensure a successful surgery and recovery.
What Is Spaying?
- Ovariohysterectomy: This is the most common type of a spay surgery in which both the ovaries and uterus (both uterine horns and the uterine body) is removed.
- Ovariectomy: While less, common in the United States, this is a popular approach in Europe. In this surgery, both ovaries are removed, while the uterus is left in place.
When scheduling your puppy or dog’s surgery, you can discuss these options with your veterinarian, to see which approach they typically use. They will most likely recommend one approach to you based on what they are most comfortable with and your dog’s age.
Spaying Vs. Neutering
If you are looking into spay surgery online, you’ve probably run into the term “neuter” as well. So, what is the difference between these two terms? In short, the term neutering refers to a similar surgery as spay surgery, but is for male animals. Males are neutered and females are spayed. However, “intact” (not neutered or spayed) can is used in relationship to both male and female dogs and cats. Both of these surgeries remove hormone-producing organs that can alter a pet’s behavior and eliminate the chance of an unwanted litter.
When to Spay Your Dog
While the recommendation for spay surgery is typically six months, spaying an older, adult dog is often still recommended as it eliminates the potential for a pyometra (uterine infection) from forming in the future. This is a serious condition that can quickly turn deadly if not identified and treated immediately.
Dogs can also be spayed while they are in heat. However, this does often lengthen the duration of the surgery, so your dog may be under anesthesia for a little longer, which can increase the risk of complications. While a dog is in heat, there is increased blood flow to the uterus and ovaries, which are typically both removed during a spay procedure. Therefore, some veterinarians prefer to opt for rescheduling the spay, unless it is an emergency. Other veterinarians will charge an additional fee as it does complicate the procedure and extend its duration. Discuss with your veterinarian what they feel comfortable with and what is in your dog’s best interest when scheduling your appointment.
Additionally, if your dog was recently in heat, and may now be pregnant, she can still get spayed! Spaying a pregnant dog will terminate the pregnancy. If you are anticipating an unexpected litter and would like to opt for spaying your dog instead – contact your veterinarian immediately, as the procedure does increase in complication and risk as the fetuses develop. The anesthetic drugs used to sedate and anesthetize the mother, will cross the blood-placenta barrier. This is especially important when spaying a dog in the third (and final) trimester of her pregnancy – when the fetuses are most developed.
Benefits of Spaying a Dog
Spaying your intact female dog can have many benefits. By getting your dog spayed, you can:
- Prevent unwanted litters and ensure your dog doesn’t pass down any health conditions to unplanned puppies.
- Decrease the rate at which she will get mammary cancer (especially if spayed prior to her first heat). This also eliminates the potential of ovarian and uterine cancers from developing. These could result in costly emergency vet visits and surgery to save your dog’s life.
- Avoid the mess in your house and go about your schedules as usual without worrying about her coming into heat. As a result, she can freely attend puppy care or training classes.
Spaying your dog can also help correct some undesirable behaviors. An unfixed dog is more likely to run away and roam, especially while she is in heat, to look for a male dog to mate. This increases her chance of being lost, stolen, and hit by a car.
Spaying will not affect your dog’s play-drive or activity level once they are recovered from the procedure. However, for 10 days following surgery, they should be kept quiet with their activity limited to leashed walks in order to ensure a successful recovery.
How to Prepare for Spaying Your Dog
- No food after midnight – this means that she should not receive breakfast or any snacks on the morning of her surgery. The drugs used often makes pets feel nauseous, so having an empty stomach prevents her from vomiting. If your dog typically takes medication in the morning, please consult with your veterinarian.
- Keep an eye on your dog’s belly! The veterinarian will make their incision in the middle of your dog’s abdomen, where there are the fewest blood vessels. Make sure that this area is clean of any dirt or debris, and that she doesn’t have a skin infection! If her skin appears to be red and itchy, talk with your veterinarian, as they may want to treat her skin first, prior to spaying her.
- Your dog will need to stay dry for 10 days following surgery. Therefore, plan ahead if you would have desired your pup to get a bath or go to the groomer during this timeframe.
Spaying Recovery and Healing
When you pick your pup up from the veterinary clinic the day of her surgery, she may be sleepy, tired, and wobbly. This is a normal side- effect from the anesthesia drugs, which can take 24-48 hours to fully wear off.
Your female dog will have an incision, midline along their abdomen. This incision may be further forward or backwards depending on her age. Additionally, the length of the incision will vary based on your dog’s size, stage of her estrous cycle or if she is pregnant.
Your veterinarian will give you specific instructions for your dog, but she should typically be restricted to leashed walks for 7-10 days following surgery. Running, jumping, or playing with other dogs could tear her internal sutures and open her incision. If this happens please bring your dog back to the vet! Additionally, during this time the incision needs to be kept dry – so this means no swimming or baths.
Be sure to listen to your veterinarian’s instructions after surgery, as these will be most applicable to your dog’s procedure. However, it is common for dissolvable sutures to be used internally, then closing the top layer of skin with medical glue. If this is the case, there are no sutures that need to be removed following surgery.
How often are there complications with spaying?
Spaying your dog is a common, and relatively safe procedure with minimal risk. However, it is invasive and does require general anesthesia. Undergoing anesthesia does have some risk, however the anesthesia drugs are safer than they use to be, and your dog should be closely monitored while under anesthesia.
Furthermore, spaying a dog is more complex than a neuter surgery, as the veterinarian will need to open the abdomen. Possible surgical complications can include:
- Nicking another structure with the scalpel blade, causing bleeding: Depending on the severity of this, your veterinarian will most likely be able to stop the bleeding through applying some medical glue. However, if the bleeding is not noticed during surgery, this may continue to bleed, causing your dog’s abdomen to fill with blood. This is an emergency and often requires corrective surgery to stop the bleeding.
- Leaving some ovarian tissue behind: This is possible if your dog’s ovaries are cystic, and therefore sticking to the surrounding tissue. If this occurs, your dog may continue to show behavioral signs of going into estrus due to hormone changes. Consult with your veterinarian if you observe these signs, and additional surgery may be required.
- Urinary incontinence: While not a surgical complication, some middle-aged and older dogs do have urinary incontinence years after surgery.
What should you watch out for after spay surgery?
- Immediately following your dog’s spay, monitor their incision site for redness, bruising, and any oozing. When picking your dog up from the vet’s office, look at the incision site with the veterinarian or a nurse – they will be able to give you specific information for your dog and what you can expect.
- Monitor your dog’s gum color! Typically, your dog’s tongue and gums should be a nice, healthy pink color (note some dogs have dark pigmentation, especially on their gums – this is normal, but does prevent owners from using this monitoring technique). Gums that are pale or blue in appearance are considered an emergency, that your dog may be bleeding internally. This causes a decrease in circulating blood volume, leading to the pale color.
- You can access your dog’s capillary refill time by gently lifting their upper lip, pressing a finger into their upper gums (where they are pink vs dark pigmentation), then releasing. Where your finger was located will originally be pale, but then should return to the surrounding pink color within 2 seconds. If it takes longer than this time, your dog may have low blood perfusion.
- Limited vomiting and diarrhea can be a normal side effect of the anesthesia drugs. However, excessive vomiting and diarrhea can be signs of a problem, so should be discussed with your veterinarian. Similarly, if your dog is unable to urinate or is not interested in eating, consult with your veterinarian.
How to Monitor Your Dog After Spaying
- Respiration Rate: Your dog’s breathing rate can tell you a lot about how they are feeling but does require some interpretation. A panting dog may be hot, stressed, excited, or in pain. You can typically see your dog’s chest or abdomen/flank rise and fall. Count your dog’s respiration rate for one minute (or for fifteen seconds and multiply by four) to determine their respiration rate.
- Pulse Rate: Your dog’s pulse rate can typically be palpated (felt) best on the left side of their chest wall, between their third and fifth rib. A rule of thumb is to move their left elbow backward, as far as it will comfortably/easily move, and feel the chest wall in this area. Checking pulse is a skill that takes time to learn, therefore, if you are new to this action, do not be concerned if you do not feel your dog’s pulse right away. It is typically easiest to palpate on thin/ health weight dogs with a narrow chest – and is more difficult on chunky dogs.
- Gum Color/ Capillary Refill Time: Typically a dog’s gums are a healthy pink color. If a dog is experiencing low oxygen levels in their blood (hypoxia), their gums will become pale or blue in appearance. This is a sign of an emergency and your dog should see a veterinarian immediately. To judge the capillary refill time, gently lift up your dog’s lip and press one finger into the pink of your dog’s upper gums, release, and see how long it takes for the depressed area to return to its normal pink color. Normal capillary refill time is under two seconds. Note – some dogs have gums with dark pigmentation. In this case, this evaluation method is not applicable.
Other Things to Know
Do spayed dogs still bleed?
So spayed dogs still go into heat?
How long after spaying can my dog play?<br />
How long is spaying recovery?
How long should my dog wear a cone after surgery?
How long will my dog be in pain?
Signs that your dog may be in pain include:
- Yelping, growling, or snapping when examining the incision site
- Being more aggressive with other pets or people in the household
- Acting lethargic
If you believe your pet needs additional pain medication, consult with your veterinarian before offering more than the prescribed dose. Additionally, never give your dog ibuprofen as it is toxic to dogs.