When Should a Dog Be Spayed?

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Is it time to spay your new female dog? Knowing when to spay a puppy is fairly straightforward, but knowing when to spay a dog who has reached adult age can be harder to determine. For help on deciding whether the time is right to spay your dog, keep reading.

What Is Spaying?

Boxer dog at a park in pink tutu looking up.Spaying is a surgical procedure performed on female animals involving the removal of the ovaries and uterus, primarily in order to prevent reproduction. The slightly simpler procedure for removing a male dog's sex organs is called neutering. You might also hear the term sterilization which is just the gender neutral expression of having the reproductive organs removed.

Preventing unwanted puppies isn't the only purpose that spaying serves. Spaying can reduce the risk of your dog developing certain cancers and prevents the possibility of pyometra, a uterine infection that is often painful and sometimes dangerous.

When to Spay a Puppy

It's generally recommended to spay puppies between the ages of 4 to 6 months, says the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). By that age a female puppy's sex organs are fully developed but she hasn't yet experienced her first heat cycle, during which she could become pregnant.

Spaying a puppy at this age will keep her risk of developing breast cancer extremely low. Waiting until after her first heat cycle will increase this cancer risk, says the AAHA. Subsequent heat cycles will increase the risk even more. So if you're planning to spay your puppy, the sooner she can have the procedure done after the age of 4 months, the better for her overall health.

However, keep in mind that in many healthcare fields this continues to be studied, and new research is consistently available that certain breeds of dogs may benefit from being spayed slightly later in life. Be sure to speak to your veterinarian about your dog's specific timeline if you're interested in spaying.

Should an Older Dog Be Spayed?

The decision of when to spay a dog who is fully grown is much more flexible. There is no medical reason why an adult dog in good health shouldn't be spayed. Since dogs can get cancer at any age, even senior dogs can benefit from a spaying procedure. As long as a dog doesn't have any health issues that would make it dangerous to use anesthesia or undergo a surgical procedure, no dog is too old to be spayed, says Chewy.

The ASPCA points out, however, that older dogs might have a slightly higher risk of complications following the surgery. In any case, your veterinarian will likely want to conduct a physical exam and blood tests to make sure your dog is healthy enough for the procedure.

What to Expect

Spaying is a common procedure among female dogs, but keep in mind that it is surgery. While it is true that you may be able to take your pup in for surgery in the morning and pick her up later that afternoon or evening, but some veterinarians may keep her overnight to monitor for bleeding and ensure she remains quiet after surgery. When you drop your dog off you may be asked to sign consent forms for surgery, pain medication and a preoperative screening and blood test if she has not already had one.

When you pick her up later that day, she may still be groggy from the anesthesia. Your vet will provide you with a set of instructions for post-operative care, and this is a good time to ask questions about her recovery and what you can expect. Be sure to bring a carrier or a soft blanket to help make her ride home more comfortable. You can also give her a toy to cuddle, but refrain from giving her any treats until after the anesthesia has completely worn off.

Recovery and Aftercare

It's important to closely follow the instructions your vet provides for post-operative care. Your vet will most likely give your pup something for her pain before she leaves the clinic. Because she is likely to be sore for a while as she recovers, your vet might also prescribe pain medication that you can give her at home. If not, be sure to ask your vet what to do for her pain before leaving the office. Under no circumstances should you give her over-the-counter medication intended for humans without first consulting your vet.

You'll also be informed whether you will need to bring your pup back in for stitch removal once she's healed or if the stitches will dissolve on their own. Your dog will need to be kept from vigorous activity or play for about a week to 10 days, and she might have to wear a cone to prevent her from licking or chewing the incision while it heals. Many dogs find these plastic collars uncomfortable, so she might do better with one of the newer, inflatable versions that can be purchased at pet supply stores.

Possible Complications and Signs to Watch for

Brown basenji breed dog rests on designer pillow inside apartment.While determining when to spay a dog you should be aware of the time it may take your pup to recover. Rare but possible issues that could arise after the surgery include excessive pain, torn stitches or an infection. PetHelpful advises watching out for the following signs:

  • Redness or swelling
  • Torn stitches or an open incision
  • Discharge or bad odor coming from the site
  • Bleeding, especially 36 hours or more after the procedure
  • Pale gums
  • Excessive panting
  • Whining or whimpering because of pain
  • Loss of appetite or failure to regain appetite after the first 24 hours
  • Lethargy, especially after the first 24 hours

Contact your vet right away if you notice any of these signs or if the incision doesn't appear to be improving. Bleeding, pale gums, excessive panting and crying could all indicate an emergency, and in the case of these signs, your dog should be seen by a vet as quickly as possible.

As long as you follow the vet's instructions and prevent your pup from moving too much or bothering her incision, these complications are unlikely. Even so, it's a good idea to have a plan in place to handle emergencies during the clinic's off hours, especially if you don't live in an area where a 24-hour emergency clinic is available.

When to spay a dog is really the least of your considerations. As long as your pup is at least 4 months old and healthy, any time is a good time to have her spayed. However, spaying is surgery, and your vet knows better than anyone whether your dog is up to handling such a procedure. With you and your vet as a support team, your dog will most likely heal quickly and be back to her old self in no time.

Contributor Bio

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of fur babies.

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