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Dog spaying and neutering 101: What pet parents need to know

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Spaying or neutering your dog is an important aspect of being a responsible pet parent. The routine procedure has numerous benefits for both your dog and the world’s animal population. 

Guidance on the most appropriate time to spay or neuter has changed over the years and can feel more complicated and confusing than ever. Pet parents should understand the procedure’s benefits, potential risks, and factors that go into determining the best time to schedule surgery. When it comes and spaying and neutering, what do dog owners need to know?   

Table of contents 

What is spaying and neutering? 

The terms spay and neuter refer to the surgical sterilization of animals. Spaying, also called an ovariohysterectomy, involves removing the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus of female cats and dogs. During an orchiectomy, or neutering procedure, a male animal’s testes are removed. These procedures eliminate an animal’s ability to reproduce and can also prevent disease and some undesirable behaviors associated with mating instincts. 

Benefits of spaying or neutering your dog 

Spaying and neutering pets has become standard practice in the U.S. and for good reason—the American Animal Hospital Association emphasizes that the advantages of sterilizing family dogs far outweigh potential risks. Benefits include: 

  • Reduces risk of certain types of cancers and disease – Research has shown that dogs who have been spayed or neutered are significantly less likely to develop uterine infections, enlarged prostate glands, and testicular and breast cancers. Spaying female dogs before their first heat cycle offers the best protection from these diseases. According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, these dogs have less than 0.5% chance of developing breast cancer, which affects approximately 50% of unspayed female dogs. 
  • Curbs unwanted behaviors associated with mating – Spaying and neutering may reduce some behavioral problems associated with mating instincts and heat cycles. Neutered male dogs are less likely to exhibit urine-marking, excessive barking, mounting, some forms of aggression, and roaming. Similarly, spayed females typically do not exhibit excessive vocalizing and demanding behaviors, and do not have heat cycles with bloody discharge. This can all make for a more pleasant household pet. 
  • Increases life expectancy – A University of Georgia study found that the average lifespan of sterilized dogs is significantly longer than that of intact dogs. This can be attributed to reduced risks of both serious disease and potentially dangerous behaviors like roaming. Roaming in search of a mate can expose dogs to fights with other animals, being hit by a car, becoming lost, and other life-threatening injuries and infections. 
  • Cuts long-term healthcare costs – Cancers and other serious health issues, dog fights and roaming accidents, as well as pregnancy can all be very expensive, far outweighing the cost of a simple spay or neuter procedure. By spaying or neutering your dog, you can potentially save your dog’s life and thousands of dollars. 
  • Limits unwanted pregnancy and pet overpopulation – Shelters around the country are filled with unwanted dogs. The ASPCA reports that approximately 6.5 million animals enter the shelter or rescue system annually, often maxing out shelter capacities and sometimes forcing facilities to euthanize animals. Spaying and neutering reduce the number of unwanted litters, helping to address overpopulation issues. 

Potential risks 

Although minimal and preventable, it is important for pet owners to understand the potential risks associated with spaying and neutering procedures for dogs. Potential risks include: 

  • Orthopedic conditions Research from the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine has found that sterilizing large and giant breed dogs before they have stopped growing may be associated with increased risk of some joint issues. Early spaying and neutering of these dogs may lead to predisposition for cruciate ligament tears and hip dysplasia.  
  • Possible weight gain – Dogs sometimes experience weight gain following spaying or neutering, according to Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. The loss of hormones can result in a slowing of their metabolism and an increased appetite. Not all dogs gain weight, and owners can manage their dog’s weight by carefully monitoring their diet and providing ample exercise. 
  • General anesthesia – Like any surgical procedure, sterilization is associated with some—albeit minimal—anesthetic and surgical risk. Anesthesia is particularly dangerous for brachycephalic breeds like French Bulldogs and Pugs. Consult your veterinarian about the risks involved with general anesthesia.  

When should dogs be spayed or neutered? 

Guidelines vary for the appropriate age for spaying and neutering dogs. As more research shows potential benefits of delaying spaying and neutering for large and giant breeds, recommendations have shifted away from the traditional age of 6 to 9 months for all dogs to a more individualized approach.  

  • Small and medium dogs (up to 45 pounds) can be sterilized as early as 8 weeks old and should be spayed before their first heat, between 5 and 6 months of age. This is the same timeline for male small and medium dogs to be neutered, according to the Humane Society. 
  • Large and giant breed dogs, due to orthopedic concerns, should be spayed or neutered between 9 and 15 months of age. This is usually after a first heat cycle for females. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, larger breeds take longer to mature than their smaller friends, and sterilization should be delayed until after their growing stops to help growth plates properly develop.   

As with any surgical procedure, recovery time is likely to be longer and there is a slightly higher risk of post-op complications for older dogs. This is also true for overweight dogs and those with other health issues.  

Additionally, because females experience increased blood flow to their reproductive organs during heat, spaying is typically avoided during this time. This increases the risk of complications associated with the procedure. 

When determining the best time to spay or neuter your dog, it is best to consult your veterinarian. They will be able to conduct a physical examination of your dog and offer personalized advice based on their breed, size, age, sex, and overall health. 

Preparing your dog for surgery 

Once your veterinarian has determined an appropriate timeframe and deemed your dog healthy enough for surgery, it is time to book the procedure. The good news is that spaying and neutering operations are routine and generally quick, so most pets come home the same day. 

Follow pre-op instructions from your veterinarian closely. Some professionals recommend not feeding your dog any food after midnight the night before surgery, while others note that a small snack, about one quarter the size of their normal meal, is okay for that morning. Younger puppies should not fast. Additionally, water does not typically need to be withheld. 

Caring for dogs after spaying or neutering 

Following sterilization surgery, it is important for pet parents to understand what to expect during the recovery process. Follow your veterinarian’s post-op care instructions closely to help your dog heal as quickly and complications-free as possible.  

  • Prevent infection by keeping your dog’s incision clean and dry. Keep your dog from licking their incision site by having them wear an E-collar. You should also check your dog’s incision site several times each day for signs of infection such as excessive swelling, redness, odor, discharge, or warm to the touch. Contact your veterinarian if you notice these signs, the incision has reopened, or your dog develops a fever, loss of appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea. 
  • Limit physical activity to help minimize swelling and risk of reopening the incision. Veterinarians typically recommend that dogs avoid strenuous activity for 10-14 days. Discourage jumping and running, gently carry them up and down stairs, keep them in a small room or confined space, and only go on short walks on leash. 
  • Keep your dog comfortable and occupied by providing a cozy bed and blankets, easy access to water, and plenty of their favorite toys. Keeping your dog busy and mentally stimulated when they are confined can be challenging—try providing interactive puzzles and treat-dispensing toys like a Kong.   

How can ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA support your dog’s recovery? 

The physical discomfort, limited activity, and confinement may not be easy for all dogs, potentially causing stress. If you are struggling to keep your dog comfortable and calm while they recover, ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA can help. 

ElleVet’s Calm & Comfort can help keep your dog quiet and relaxed while recovering from surgery. It can be stressful for pet parents to keep their young dog quiet and many people end up allowing their dog to become active sooner than recommended because resting is such a challenge. Dogs can also become frantic when cooped up all day and end up hurting themselves or getting at their incision. Calm & Comfort sets up both pets and owners for success by allowing pets to quietly and calmly rest and recuperate.   

For any questions about ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA products and how they can help with post spay and neuter recovery give us a call (844-673-7287) or send us an email ([email protected]). We are here to help.   

Any health or medical information in ElleVet blogs is from a variety of public and reputable sources. This information is intended as an educational resource only and is not a substitute for expert professional care.