“Spay” is the commonly used term for the ovariohysterectomy surgery we perform in order to sterilize the female dog or cat. In performing the surgery (under general anesthesia), we remove the Y-shaped uterus and the two attached ovaries. Due to the large blood supply to those organs, great care is taken to tie off the associated blood vessels, then the various levels of muscle, subcutaneous tissue and skin are closed separately. In most cases the skin incision is only 1-2″ long, with minimal scarring. Intraoperative and postoperative pain medications are available and recommended. The skin sutures are removed 10-14 days later.
- Prevents females from “going into heat” (typically every 6 months) and possibly running off in search of a male. Also prevents the bloody heat discharge and , of course, prevents unwanted pregnancy and “mismates”.
- If performed prior to the first heat (estrus), almost totally prevents breast cancer later in life. This a major tumor in female dogs and cats.
Prevents a very serious, potentially fatal, disease called PYOMETRA later in life. This is a condition in which the uterus becomes inflamed and full of fluid. It is not unusual for the uterus to become so large that it almost entirely fills the abdomen, sometimes weighing several pounds. There may or may not be visible vaginal discharge, depending on whether the cervix is open or closed. In the cases where there is not a discharge, there may be no early outward signs of a problem until the dog has advanced disease, including toxicity and kidney failure. Pyometra is predominantly a hormonally-induced (from intact ovaries) disease with bacterial complications. Treatment requires an emergency spay, which is by no means routine, due to the poor anesthetic risk of the patient, the often huge uterus that must be removed through a much-larger-than normal incision. At this point, the surgery may be 10 times (or more) the cost of a routine spay. It pays to be preventative!
WHEN TO SPAY: We find that cats and large dogs about 4 months and small dogs 5-6 months of age are ideal because they are good anesthetic risks and they recover very quickly from the procedure. They can be spayed at any age, as seen by the fact that the shelters spay kittens and puppies at 6 weeks of age- but this is simply because they want to ensure that the animals are sterilized prior to adoption. We like to wait the little extra time on small-breed dogs because they have a tendency to retain their “baby” (deciduous) teeth-thus resulting in double rows of teeth- and the “fangs” (canine teeth, “eye teeth”) don’t normally drop out until 5 months of age. After that age, if those teeth are retained, we can then avoid an additional anesthesia by removing the extra teeth at the time of the spay. This also saves you money.
Spay patients are admitted in the morning on weekdays and released in the late afternoon of the same day. “Elizabethan” collars are recommended to prevent licking or chewing at the incision during the 10-14 day healing period.
Neuter is the term used to describe the surgery performed to sterilize a male dog or cat. The procedure involves a single small incision just forward of the scrotum, through which both testicles are removed and the spermatic cord and associated vessels are tied off. There are usually 2 or 3 skin sutures to close the incision (dogs) and usually no sutures in cats. The pet is admitted in the morning on weekdays and released in the late afternoon. for dogs, I recommend a plastic “Elizabethan” collar to prevent licking at the incision for the following 10-14 days of healing.
There is a common condition called cryptorchidism in which the testicles fail to descend (“drop”) into proper position within the scrotum. In this case, they may be anywhere between their embryonic origins inside the abdomen near the kidneys and the scrotum. One or both testicles may be involved. Of course, cryptorchid surgery is more involved, ranging from making 2 separate incisions in the groin up to performing a full-blown abdominal exploratory surgery through a larger incision. It is important to remove “retained” testicles because they have higher incidence of testicular cancer later in life. Those testicles are also incapable of producing viable sperm.
- Reduces or prevents behavior associated with the reproductive urge, including fighting, roaming (hit by car, jumping through glass windowpanes, etc.), urine marking and unwanted impregnation of intact females. (Yes they WILL mate with their littermates, mothers, etc.).
- If done at early age, can prevent or reduce incidence of certain male hormone-related diseases, including prostatic disease (hyperplasia and cancer), testicular tumors and some skin tumors.
- Generally makes the dog a more “people-oriented” (vs. “animal-oriented”) pet, less likely to stray.
- Can sometimes reduce aggression towards people and other animals.
When to neuter:
Neutering can be done at any age (shelters often neuter pets at 6 weeks of age to insure they get sterilized before adoption). I prefer to wait until the animal is 4-5 months old. This allows them to be better anesthetic risks, and the surgery is actually easier to do (things aren’t so tiny). This is before they become sexually mature. In toy breeds (chihuahuas, yorkies, etc.), which tend to retain their “baby” teeth (resulting in double rows of teeth and displaced adult teeth), I like to wait until 5-6 months old in order to be able to see if the pet has properly “teethed” and, if not, I can take advantage of it’s already being under anesthesia for the neuter to allow extraction of any retained baby teeth.