Before we dive into the importance of getting a dog fixed, let me explain this terminology that’s common at the vet’s office but still may be mysterious for new pet parents.
“Spaying” is the term used for female pets which means removing the uterus and ovaries of a female dog so that they cannot produce offspring.
“Neutering” is the term used for male pets which involves removing the testicles that produce sperm and testosterone so that the dog cannot produce offspring.
An animal that is not spayed or neutered is considered “Intact.” Choosing to get your dog “fixed” is a big decision and there are several reasons that pet parents choose to spay and neuter their dogs or to keep them intact.
Let’s explore the pros and cons...
Reasons for spaying and neutering:
Pet parents of female dogs want to avoid the dog period known as “heat,” where the dog bleeds for up to a full month about every 6 months. The main reason a pet parent would neuter male dogs is to avoid serious behavioral issues related to testosterone such as excessive urination around the house also known as marking, humping, running away from home to seek out female dogs, and aggressiveness with other male dogs.
The second reason to spay and neuter is to avoid health issues. Female dogs that are not spayed have a higher chance of developing bladder cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine infections, and mammary tumors which can be malignant or benign. Male dogs that are not neutered also have a high chance of developing bladder cancer, prostate tumors, and testicular cancer early in life. Some benign tumors can be treated by spaying and neutering the dog and taking away the estrogen and testosterone hormones that created the tumors in the first place.
One of the other reasons parents opt to spay and neuter their dogs is that there are too many homeless dogs in shelters, and they want to avoid any chance that their dog could breed and create more dogs that would then need homes.
Reasons to keep your pets intact:
The main reason for opting against spaying and neutering is that people do not want to take away their pets’ natural hormones: estrogen, and testosterone. When the sex organs (ovaries and testicles) are removed, the pet has lower levels of hormones which research has shown can potentially impact their health. The first health issue in fixed dogs is that they can gain weight without changes to diet and exercise. Without their sex hormones, dogs can become calmer, lazier, and have an increased appetite which all can lead to weight gain. Owners need to know this and simply increase their pet's daily exercise routine and healthy diet to avoid this.
The second documented issue associated with early spaying and neutering of dogs is that removing the sex hormones can decrease dogs muscle mass and tendon and ligament strength. This can lead to higher rates of joint disorders such as hip dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament tears in the knees of dogs that are spayed and neutered early in life.
What are the risks (if any)?
There are very minimal risks of spaying or neutering a dog. There are always risks of any patient undergoing anesthesia for a surgical procedure. But don’t be too scared. Spaying and neutering a dog is the most routine procedure that your veterinarian performs on a daily basis and there are very minimal complications that can happen.
How can pet parents help their dog heal after surgery?After your dog has been spayed or neutered they will have a surgical site with stitches and they will be in a small amount of pain at the surgery site. The healing process usually takes about two weeks. Your veterinarian may provide pain medication and antibiotics to help prevent healing complications and to make sure they are comfortable after surgery.
Make sure to get an Elizabethan Collar or “Cone of shame” to take home with you for your dog to wear so that they cannot lick, bite, or scratch out their sutures. When you take your dog home, keep them in a quiet isolated place from other pets for at least 1 week to heal.
The second week, you may let them roam more around the house but keep them under strict supervision and have the cone on at times you cannot watch them and make sure they aren’t disturbing the sutures.
Exercise restrictions are a must and this means only 2-3 short walks a day to use the bathroom, and no swimming, running, or jumping onto furniture. Avoid giving your dog baths for at least 10 days. Follow the vet’s instructions for follow-up care. Don’t forget to give them extra love!
Usually at about two weeks your veterinarian will ask you to schedule a recheck to remove the sutures. If at any time you notice your dog is lethargic or stops eating bring your dog to the veterinarian immediately to be checked.
Can a dog still get pregnant after being spayed? No, dogs that have been spayed cannot get pregnant. They do not have ovaries to ovulate, and they do not have a uterus in which embryos can attach in and grow.
What behavioral changes can pet parents see after their dog is spayed or neutered?Female dogs that have been spayed may be hungrier, relaxed, and calm after their hormones are taken away. They also may feel less anxious and protective and be less aggressive if this was an issue to begin with.
The same is true for male dogs. If a male dog is neutered too old in life, their behavior of peeing in the house or “marking” their territory may never be fixed. However, taking away their testosterone and will to run away and seek out female mates may decrease, and they may stay closer to home.
At what age should a dog be spayed or neutered? Can a dog be too young/old?Most veterinarians will recommend spaying and neutering at 6 to 9 months old. Female dogs usually come into heat around 6 months old and can be spayed earlier around 5 months old to avoid their first heat cycle or after their first heat cycle at 9 months old. The first heat cycle may be so light that owners sometimes don’t notice it. Puppies as young as 8 weeks old can be neutered in shelters as long as they are healthy. However, most female puppies in shelters are not spayed until they are around 12 weeks old.
No dog is too old to be spayed or neutered as long as they are healthy enough to undergo anesthesia.
The decision to spay and neuter your pet is complicated, and with the high rate of homeless dogs in shelters, it is important to talk to your local veterinarian about the pros and the cons and what is best for your pet.