Most female dogs that are kept for companionship are spayed unless they are intended to be used for breeding. Spaying is a common practice to prevent them from going into heat, avoid certain diseases in the future (breast cancer and pyometra, an infection of the uterus, false pregnancies and mastitis) and prevent accidental pregnancy. However, some dog owners choose not to spay their female dogs, despite the health benefits.

What is spaying?

Spaying a female dog is surgically removing the ovaries and uterus. The procedure involves entering the abdominal cavity under general anaesthesia.

How does spaying affect behavior?

The only behaviors that will be affected by spaying are those that are under the influence of  hormones (see below). A dog’s temperament, training, personality and ability to do “work” are a result of genetics and upbringing, not its hormones. Spaying does not “calm” an excitable dog, and unless a spayed dog is overfed or under-exercised, there is no reason for it to become fat and lazy. Food intake will probably need to be adjusted after the healing of the incision site is complete. Usually a 20-30% reduction in food is recommended a couple of months after spay this is due to the growth rate and metabolism slowing due to age as well as change in hormonal levels.

Which of my dogs’ behavior problems can be expected to improve following spaying?

As mentioned, only those behaviors that are “driven” by female hormones, can be reduced or eliminated by spaying. Although the hormones are gone from the system almost immediately following the spay, these behaviors may diminish quickly over a few days or gradually over a few months.

Undesirable sexual behavior

Attraction to male dogs and roaming, can be reduced or eliminated by spaying. Your female dog won’t want to roam away from home.

An intact female dog in heat will attract a mate or go looking for one! That includes digging his way under the fence and escape from the house. And once she’s free to roam, she risks injury in traffic and getting pregnant.

It is highly cost-effective

The cost of your pet’s spay/neuter surgery is a lot less than the cost of having and caring for a litter of puppies. It also beats the cost of treatment when your pet escapes and gets into an accident or develops a related disease later in life.

Are there any additional benefits to spaying?

Medical benefits

Your female pet will live a longer, healthier life. Spaying helps prevent uterine infections (pyometra) and breast cancer, which is fatal in about 50 percent of dogs. Spaying your pet before her first heat offers the best protection from these diseases.

Population control

Spaying and neutering helps fight pet overpopulation.

Perhaps the most important issue is that millions of dogs of all ages and breeds are destroyed annually at animal shelters across the United States and Canada or suffer as strays. These high numbers are the result of unplanned litters that could have been prevented by spaying. Spaying females is essential to population control.

Are there any risks?

With todays the broad selection of anesthetic agents and state of the art monitoring, it is extremely rare for there to be anesthetic or surgical complications during a canine spay.

Most young and healthy animals recover without incident. Often, the biggest concern is not the surgery and anaesthesia, but the recovery, since we need to ensure that the dog does not lick excessively at its incision line until it is fully healed. Constant monitoring, bitter tasting creams, or a protective collar, known as an Elizabethan collar, will be required if excessive licking is observed following a spay.

When spaying is being considered for an older dog, the benefits must be weighed against any risks associated with anesthetic and surgery. Since spay surgery is seldom associated with any complications, it is the anesthetic that is the primary concern. If spaying is being considered as a separate procedure for a medical reason  then there is a significant benefit to the dog’s health, comfort and perhaps longevity, in having the spay performed. If the dog is exhibiting any undesirable behaviors that might be improved by spaying.

What age is best for spaying?

To date, studies have shown that the medical benefits of spaying are REDUCED significantly if performed after the first heat (so it‘s best to do it before!!!!!!). The first heat varies in dogs depending on breed. Generally larger breeds have their first heat later, closer to one year of age compared to smaller breeds, who can start at 6 months of age.

Many shelters and some veterinary clinics begin spaying as young as 4 months of age. They report that the surgery is often shorter and that recovery is faster and with less post-operative discomfort for these younger animals. Once dogs are adopted into their new homes, most veterinarians recommend waiting until all vaccinations are complete before admitting the pet into the hospital for surgery approximately at 6-7 months of age. However, if general anesthesia were needed prior to the vaccinations being completed for any other reason (e.g. suturing a cut) this would be an excellent time to consider a spay. In summary, there seems to be no behavioral or medical benefit to waiting until a dog is “mature” to perform a spay; on the contrary it is best to do it before puberty!