Deciding to neuter or spay your dog can be a nerve-racking moment for both experienced and new dog owners.
Questions like – Will my fur baby be OK? What if she wants to have puppies? Will my neutered dog get fat? are just a few of the concerns about the decision to spay or neuter your dog.
Actually, neutering and spaying are routine procedures which will benefit both you, your dog and will help reduce the population of homeless and unwanted dogs.
While there are risks just like with any other surgical intervention, the benefits of neutering or spaying your dog are definitely worth making this important choice for your pup.
So, to answer all of the questions which anxious dog parents have, here is a complete guide to neutering and spaying, and everything you need to know about the procedures, the recovery, the results as well as the benefits and risks.
What exactly is neutering, and how is it different from spaying?
Neutering is a surgical procedure which prevents pets from reproducing. The males are castrated and the females are spayed.
In male dogs, the surgery involves the removal of the testicles which are the main source of testosterone and are the reproductive organs of the dog. The penis and the sac which holds the testes remain intact. The other terms for the procedure are castration and orchiectomy.
With female dogs, the spaying involves the removal of the ovaries and in most cases the uterus which makes it impossible for the pup to get pregnant. Spaying is called either an ovariohysterectomy or an ovariectomy, depending on whether both the ovaries and the uterus or only the ovaries are removed.
Both are routine procedures which rarely result in complications. They can be performed at any age and at any time, but most vets recommend that the females are spayed before they are 6 months old and before their first heat cycle. Spaying can be performed as early as 8 weeks, but it can be done at an older age as well.
Of course, other factors such as the size and weight of the dog are taken into consideration when deciding when the best time for sterilizing it is.
Once the procedure is done, the female dogs become sterile immediately, while in male dogs, the reproductive function will terminate 2 to 4 weeks later, so newly neutered dogs should be kept away from females in heat for another month after they have been castrated to eliminate the chance of impregnating them.
Neutered dogs usually recover faster and easier than spayed females because the surgical procedure for removing the testes is much less invasive and require only tiny incisions to be made.
In a perfect scenario, neutering the male dog will result in no or less humping and other breeding instincts, and will eliminate the heat cycles in females, but there are cases when the dogs will continue having these episodes.
There are some alternative procedures such as vasectomy for male dogs where the tubes conducting the sperm are severed or chemical castration is done, but these are quite rare, and may not be as effective.
There are also tablets and injections available for preventing the dog from reproducing but they need to be repeated on a regular basis in order to effective.
How is neutering performed
Both castration and spaying are done under general anesthetic and in sterile conditions.
Your dog will be asleep and will have a breathing tube in his throat during the procedure. Prior to the surgery, the dog is given a shot of pain relief medication which will make it sleepy and help it recuperate after the procedure faster and easier.
The vets will monitor your pet’s breathing and heart rate during the surgery to make sure everything is alright with the dog.
The female dogs will have an incision made below the belly button, through which the surgeon will remove both ovaries and in most cases the uterus. After the removal of the reproductive organs, and tying or litigating the tubes connecting the reproductive organs, the incision will be sutured with two layers of stitches on the inside of the body and the skin on top will be closed up with stitches, staples or glue.
The internal stitches will dissolve themselves over time and will be absorbed by the body. The external stitches or staples will be removed about 2 weeks later.
In male dogs, the procedure is much less invasive, and in healthy and normal dogs, it does not require an incision of the abdomen.
A tiny incision will be made on the skin that holds the testes (the scrotum), and both testicles will be removed through it. The tubes which carry the sperm will be tied or litigated.
The incision which is under the skin will be stitched and the outer skin will be stitched, stapled or glued. Once again, the internal stitches will dissolve and be absorbed by the body of the dog over time, and if there are outer stitches and staples, they will be removed about 2 weeks after the procedure.
Removing the stitches in both cases is completely painless and doesn’t require anesthesia.
The surgery on males can take as little as just 2 minutes, but in most cases, the procedure lasts for about 5 to 20 minutes.
In females, the procedure is longer and is usually 20 to 90 minutes long.
The length of the surgery depends on the size, weight, age of the dog, and in females – whether the dog is in heat or not. Spaying dogs in heat can take longer because during that period the reproductive organs are filled with blood and are much more fragile.
As with all surgeries, there are risks involved, but both procedures are pretty routine, and with modern veterinary medicine, the risks of complications during and after surgery are minimal.
Of course, after the surgery, there will be some discomfort for the dog, but with mild pain control medicaments, the dog will be back on its feet and back to normal just hours after the procedure.
What are the risks of neutering a dog?
With healthy and young dogs, the risks during or after the castration or spaying are minimal.
Still, any procedure performed under general anesthesia does come with some risks for the animal. This is why dog parents should inform the veterinary team about any sensitive the dog has to medicaments or anesthesia.
In order to make sure that the pup will pull through the surgery without a problem, it will be thoroughly examined prior to the procedure.
The vets will make sure that the animal is healthy and doesn’t have any underlying conditions which could cause complications such as kidney, liver or heart conditions.
The most common complications from neutering include anesthesia-related problems, bleeding, or swelling or infection of the incision after the surgery.
Complications after castration are usually much less serious than those that can arise after spaying a female dog.
Some post-operative complications from spaying can include the opening of the stitches, inflammation of the incision, diarrhea, vomiting, or incontinence of urine which is more common among large dogs.
Many of the complications which arise after the neutering are due to the fact that it is hard to keep an active animal from running, playing and jumping around, which can cause the opening of the incision.
With female dogs, the dog parent will be told to keep the dog quiet and dry for a week, which is often quite a hassle, especially when you have an active young pup.
Other problems can arise if the dog is constantly licking or biting on the incision, which is why you may be advised to place a pet collar (cone) on the dog’s neck to prevent it from reaching the area.
Older pets or those which are operated during a heat cycle are at higher risk of complications during or after neutering.
It is always important to speak to the vets prior to the surgery and inform them of any health issues and concerns you have about your fur baby.
The other side effect of the neutering or spaying procedure is the discomfort or pain which the animal will feel. This though can be managed with pain relief medications which are administered right before the operation and can be given after it, depending on the need and condition of the dog.
What are the benefits of spaying or neutering your dog?
If you are facing a dilemma whether to fix your dog or not, you should definitely consider all of the pros and cons, but should also keep in mind the numerous benefits of neutering the pup.
Here are the benefits of neutering or spaying your dog:
You will help reduce the population of unwanted and stray dogs
Did you know that in the USA only, about 6.5 million animals are entering the rescue system or the shelters per year? Of those 6.5 million animals, less than half (3.2 million) find homes or another way out of the shelter. Millions end up being put to sleep or dying in the streets or in the shelters.
These shocking numbers should be enough to convince any dog lover that spaying or neutering is the best way to solve the huge and tragic problem with unwanted and homeless dogs and cats in the country, and around the world.
Neutering the dog will prevent genetic diseases being passed on
If your dog has an inherited disease, by neutering or spaying it, you will prevent the mutated genes to be passed on to other pups.
Responsible breeders and responsible dog parents should make sure that dogs with genetic health problems do not reproduce in order to stop the genes from getting passed on to next generations.
You will help prevent the dilution of the dog breed
Breed standards require that only the best and the healthiest dogs from the breed are used for reproduction. This is how the standard can be kept and improved.
Breeding dogs which are not perfect according to the standards set by the breed clubs and the kennel clubs can lead to a dilution of the dog breed, with many characteristics and abilities of the dogs being lost somewhere in the genetic pool.
This is why dog parents, even though they think that their pup is the best ever should consider neutering it unless it is a dog with clearance by the breed club allowing it to reproduce and continue the breed.
If you are a fancier of your dog’s breed, you will be doing the best for its continuation and improvement if you decide to not allow imperfect dogs to reproduce.
The health benefits of neutering male dogs are pretty significant
There are multiple benefits of fixing a male dog in regard to its health, wellbeing, and longevity.
Here are the main health benefits of castrating your dog:
- It reduces the risk of prostate disease and the development of certain types of cancers significantly
- It eliminates the risk of developing testicular cancer altogether
- The dog will be at low risk of developing hyperplasia of the prostate gland, perineal hernias or prostatitis
Benefits of neutering for male dog behavior
By removing the testicles of your dog, the main source of testosterone will be removed as well, which can have a positive effect on the dog’s behavior.
Here are the benefits of fixing a male dog when it comes to behavioral issues:
- It eliminates the incidents of territory marking with strong smelling urine
- It will reduce the hormonally induced aggression towards other males without affecting the protective instincts of your dog
- It will reduce the risk of the dog running away in search of a mating partner, which can often lead to losing the dog, or it getting into trouble or accidents
- The neutered dog is much less likely to hump or mount people or furniture
- It will eliminate those sexual frustrations and will make the dog more likely to be focused on living a happy life with its family rather than only thinking about mating
The health benefits of spaying a female dog
The benefits of getting your female dog spayed are even more significant than those in male dogs. Here is how you will be helping your pup if you decide to go through the procedure:
- Spaying reduces the risk of mammary (breast) cancer significantly (about 10 times)
- It eliminates the risk of developing uterine, cervical or ovarian cancers
- It completely eliminates the risk of the dog developing pyometra which is a dangerous infection of the womb
- It eliminates the risk of the dog going through a false pregnancy which can lead to both psychological and medical problems
- It eradicates the risk of complications during pregnancy and whelping
- It excludes the risk of unwanted pregnancy
- It eliminates the sex drive which can cause dogs to stray away in search of a mating partner
The benefits for you as a dog parent
Of course, you want what is best for your pup but think about the benefits for you from neutering or spaying it too.
Here is what to look forward to after the procedure is over:
- You will have much less humping and mounting at home or outdoors, and much more fun time with your neutered pup
- You won’t have a bunch of male dogs surrounding your house when your dog is in heat, making going out on a walk impossible
- You will be free of the responsibility to take care of your dog if she gets pregnant by accident, as well as free of responsibility for caring for the resulting puppies and finding them homes
- You won’t have to pay half the price for the veterinary care for the pregnant dog, the delivery and for her puppies if your male dog impregnates a female dog
- You will save money for vets and for baby formula, food, and care for the mother and the puppies if your dog gets pregnant
- The risk for your pup when giving birth will be eliminated
- You won’t have to deal with the mess at home when your dog is in heat
- You don’t have to worry about your dog running off and straying away in search of a mating partner
- You will be helping improve the breed if your dog doesn’t have clearance to reproduce
- Your male dog will become less aggressive to other males, and the risk of biting another pup or person will decrease
- Your pup will be happier and much less frustrated when the sex drive is gone
- You won’t need to make the difficult decision of putting the unwanted puppies in a shelter
The cons of neutering or spaying your dog
In order to be completely objective when making the decision whether or not to neuter your dog, you should consider some of the downsides of the procedure.
Here are the cons of neutering a dog:
- There isn’t a 100% guarantee that the aggression or other unwanted behavior will disappear
- The procedure can cause urinary incontinence or leakage if it is done when the dog is too young and the urinary bladder is still underdeveloped
- Due to the hormonal changes after the procedure, the coat of the dog may change – both in texture and patterns
- The maturing of the dog can be inhibited if neutered at a very young age
- The risk of osteosarcoma is higher if the dog is neutered before the age of 1
- There are also risks of hypothyroidism, orthopedic disorders, cognitive impairments as well as of adverse reactions to vaccines
- It does stop the breeding process, which is not good if your dog has clearance for the reproduction of the breed
When is the best time to neuter or spay the dog?
There is no clear-cut answer to the question when the best time to neuter a dog is.
The appropriate time for the procedure depends on your dog’s size, breed, and health.
Some vets will advise do parent to wait until the female dog has had at least one season, while others recommend that the spaying is performed before the dog has had a heat period.
For large and giant breed male dogs, the procedure may be delayed until the pup has matured fully, which is usually when the dog is 1 year old or older.
Overall, the traditional age for neutering or spaying a dog is when it is 4 to 6 months old.
Some shelters safely neuter and spay dogs at a very early age of just 2 months too.
You should speak to your vet about the best time to do the procedure depending on your specific dog and the living conditions.
If you have more than one dogs at home from different sexes, you will most probably be advised to spay the female before she is in heat, or the pup should be neutered before that, to avoid unwanted pregnancy or inbreeding if the dogs are siblings.
The majority of the vets will recommend spaying the female dog before her first heat cycle. This usually occurs when female dogs are 5 to 10 months old. Spaying the dog before she goes into heat reduces the risk of developing mammary cancer tenfold.
Of course, the vet must do a complete physical checkup of the dog in order to determine whether it is healthy enough to go through the procedure.
You should tell the vet about any health issues or about any medications which your pup is being given so that a full assessment of the dog’s condition can be made, and so that the neutering or spaying procedure can be approved.
Recovery from the neuter or spay procedure
Apart from worrying about the possible behavioral changes and the chances of the dog becoming fat, dog parents also worry about how the pet will recover from the surgery after being sterilized.
First of all, you don’t need to worry about your dog being in pain, because it will be given pain relief medication right before the surgery, and the vet will most probably give you some of the pain relief drugs for home use in case the dog needs it.
Since the procedure does not require the dog to be put under general anesthesia for very long, it will most likely wake up pretty soon after the operation and will be acting pretty normally after 6-7 hours after the surgery.
A vet will monitor the dog right after the surgery to ensure that it is well and that it wakes up appropriately.
You will be allowed to bring your pet back home a few hours later. Do not give your dog a treat because anesthesia can cause nausea and your dog may get sick on its way home.
Of course, your dog may be a bit groggy or may look like it has discomfort, but this is pretty normal after general anesthesia and after a surgical procedure.
Since the dog must have fasted before the surgery, you can feed it a small meal when it gets home, and provide it with fresh water to drink.
Situate the dog in a warm, dry and comfortable place in your home and let it rest. You should take the dog outside for a few minutes so that it can go to the toilet, but do not go on long walks during the first 24 hours after the operation.
Usually, the dog will back to its normal self when it wakes up the next morning. Take it on a normal walk but do not let it go down or up the stairs or jump on and off the furniture.
If you have other dogs in your home, you should keep them away if they tend to like playing and roughhousing together.
You should check the incision several times a day and watch for any signs of a fluid buildup, an inflammation or damaged or open stitches.
If your dog is constantly licking or biting the incision, you may want to put on a soft collar or cone to prevent it from damaging the sutures.
During the first 2 weeks, you should avoid wetting the incisions completely.
The recovery time for female dogs is longer than that for male ones because the spaying procedure is much more invasive than the neutering.
The complete recovery can be expected up to 10-14 days after the surgery.
After the neutering or spaying procedure, you should monitor your dog for any post-operative adverse effects such as a lack of appetite, a lowered activity level, a strange or stilted gait, vomiting or diarrhea, or an inflammation of the incision such as swelling, redness, a discharge or a bad smell.
If you see any of these symptoms, call the vet for advice.
If everything is alright, the sutures or staples will come off in 10-14 days, and your neutered dog will be as good as new!
Will neutering or spaying my dog make it fat?
After the procedure, the calorie needs of your dog will drop by about 20%, so you should reduce its caloric intake as compared to before the procedure.
The actual procedure of spaying or neutering will not make your dog gain weight, but it can add an extra pound or two if you continue feeding it with the same amount of food as before.
There are specialized dog foods formulated for neutered dogs which you should consider buying.
So, if you reduce the calories you feed your dog by 20%, ensure that it gets the exercise it needs, and monitor its weight after the procedure, there is no risk of it gaining weight or becoming fatter than before.
What are some of the myths and misconceptions of spaying and neutering?
There are various reasons why dog parents are refusing to neuter or spay their pets.
Here are some of the common beliefs which they often share:
I want a dog exactly like this one
Wanting your dog to have puppies just to replicate the parent is definitely not right. There is no way to reproduce a dog exactly except if you somehow find a way to clone it.
Spaying or neutering the dog will make it fat
No. It is not the procedure which makes the dog fat, but the fact that after it, your dog will need fewer calories, and if you continue feeding it with the same type and amount of food as before it will gain weight. With a proper diet and the right amount of exercise, your dog will be in perfect shape neutered or not.
I could make a profit from breeding my dog and selling the puppies
Breeding is usually a pricey and time-consuming endeavor which most responsible breeders do for the good of the breed, rather than for making money.
Proper breeding involves paying stud fees, supplements, medical care for the mom and the puppies, accommodation as well as advertising fees. In case of a complication during pregnancy or whelping, it can actually make you lose money.
My pet’s personality will change after the procedure
Behavioral change after neutering or spaying is usually for the better if there is change at all. In the case of aggressive male dogs, neutering can help reduce testosterone-driven aggression and will make it calmer. Also, it can help curb roaming and hardheaded behavior in male dogs.
So, if there is a change at all – you will be thankful for it.
My pup deserves to be a parent
Becoming a parent for us humans is not the same for dogs or other animals. While we bond with your children for life, dogs usually are programmed to take care of their young until they are ready to move on and survive on their own.
It is all about the survival of the genes, rather than the desire to have babies when it comes to animals mating and reproducing.
What if something goes wrong during the surgery?
This is a real concern for dog parents. This is a surgery which is performed under general anesthesia which always poses a risk, even if it is minimal. But if the pet is healthy and the vets have cleared it for the surgery there are very low chances of something going wrong. As for the surgery itself, neutering and spaying are considered routine procedures so the risk of complications during the surgery itself is close to none.
We’ll just have one litter and we will find homes for all the puppies
This is how the problem with overpopulation of dogs in shelter becomes ever more serious. By letting more puppies into this world and handing them over to people who want dogs, you are lowering the chance of the dogs that are already in a shelter or on the street of finding a home.
I keep my dog contained so I don’t have to worry
Even if you keep your dog on a leash or behind a secure fence, this doesn’t mean that it cannot run off at some point. Even if your dog is male, you will still need to worry because in case of an unwanted pregnancy you will be expected to pay half of the cost of the pregnancy, the delivery, and puppy care.
It is not natural
Owning your own dog is not natural either, but now that we have domesticated canines, what was considered natural for them once has changed drastically. The same goes for neutering and spaying.
I don’t want to desex my dog
When you think about the health benefits for your pup after you neuter it, you will quickly forget about the male reproductive organs it will be missing. Plus, dogs don’t suffer from male identity crises after getting fixed.
It is healthier for the female dogs to go into heat or give birth once before getting spayed
There is actually no medical proof to support this common myth about spaying female dogs after they have given birth at least once.
As for the heat cycle, it is actually healthier for the dog to get spayed before she goes into heat for the first time, as this reduces the risk of mammary cancer considerably.
The procedure is too expensive
When you own a pet you are responsible for its wellbeing and care. A dog will require food, medical care, and other basic things. Neutering or spaying a dog is part of the responsibility of owning a dog. Plus, there are many clinics and shelter which offer a discount for these procedures.
But my dog is a purebred!
Unless you are certified to breed dogs, then you shouldn’t breed your purebred dog. Even purebred puppies can end up in shelters or on the streets, so you should be a responsible owner and dog parent to your purebred dog.
My dog will lose its watchdog abilities after it gets fixed
The sex hormones do not affect the protective instincts of canines, so you needn’t worry that your dog will stop protecting you and your family and home after it is spayed or neutered.
Some statistic which may help you make up your mind about neutering or spaying your dog
- About 6 million animals are euthanized in shelters every year
- 70% of the cats and 50% of the dogs in shelters are euthanized due to lack of interest for adoption
- Every 13 seconds an animal is euthanized in the USA
- About 25% of the dogs and cats in shelters are purebred
- Approximately 50% of the female dogs that are not spayed will develop breast tumors
- Around 60% of the non-neutered dogs develop prostate cancer
- Just one unspayed cat and its litter will add more than 400,000 new cats to the animal population in the next 7 years
- One unspayed dog and its litter will add more than 67,000 dogs within 6 years and with an average of just 4 puppies per litter
- The cost for catching, feeding, housing and destroying a stray animal costs $100 of the taxpayers’ money
- Only 10% of the animals that end up in shelters come in spayed or neutered
- Thankfully 75% of all owned pets are neutered or spayed
- Spaying or neutering a cat can add 3-5 years to its life
- Spaying or neutering a dog can add 1-3 years to its life
How much do neutering and spaying cost?
Unfortunately, many dog owners fail to neuter or spay their dogs due to the belief that the procedure costs a fortune and in some cases it can be quite a pricy surgery.
It is a fact that many animal hospitals charge $300 and more for the surgery, but you can find a low-cost clinic which will charge you from 45 to 135 dollars only.
You can also ask your local animal shelter whether it provides low-cost spays or neuters.
The price for the procedure also depends on the size, weight, and health of the dog, as well as on the location. Also, neutering is usually cheaper than spaying as it is a simpler and faster procedure.
SpayUSA also offers vouchers to pet owners that cover part of the cost of neutering and spaying at some of the clinics.
You can also check your local municipality for affordable low-cost spay or neuter procedures in your area.
When you speak to the vet ask for a breakdown of the price, so you know what is included and what is not. In most cases, the price will include the pain medication for the surgery and some core vaccinations, or other services, tests or medications.
You don’t need to worry about the quality of the service provided in the low-cost clinics, because they are usually sponsored by the local humane societies and SPCA shelters in order to make the neutering and spaying procedures more affordable for more dog and cat owners, and thus help reduce the overpopulation of pets in the area.
So, all you need to do is perform an online search in these databases to find the nearest low-cost spay or neuter clinic and call to make an appointment for your pet.
The surgery will be performed by a licensed veterinarian at the low-cost clinic or at your local shelter.
Even if you don’t want to use the services of your local low-cost spay or neuter clinic, you can help it by donating. Your donation will help reduce the problem with pet overpopulation and the problem with millions of dogs and cats being euthanized due to a lack of adopters every year.