Dog Spaying & Neutering – A Surgical Guide

By on November 25, 2011

Spaying and neutering is a constant hot topic in the canine world. Welfare charities insist that it is the holy grail of population control, whilst breeders would not exist if they believed the same. Questions such as, what happens when my dog is spayed? Or, what will my dog be like when he's been neutered/castrated? All are regulars to the K9 Magazine in-box. So, in this guide we'll tell you all you need to know about dog spaying and neutering from a surgical and after care perspective.

The reasons for having a procedure such as spaying or neutering performed on your dog certainly come in all shapes and sizes, but quite often it is treated as a formality, on a par with vaccines and health checks. Many dog owners quite happily get their dog ‘fixed’ as a matter of course, whilst other dog owners harbour fears about the procedure itself.

Dog spaying & neutering

Others are given the spay or neuter option as a means of health care, often when cancer and other illnesses enter the equation, the operation can be a life saver. But the morality and ethics of the procedures in question are abstract without a sound understanding of the mechanics of the actual operations. So what does actually happen when the owner leaves the operating theatre and the vet gets to work?

After consulting with Dr. Louise Murray, Director of Medicine for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and an award-winning veterinary authority, here are three ways to ensure you’re doing everything with your pet’s best interest at heart.

Step 1: Know the Terms and Timing

While the medical jargon for these procedures has become part of the common vernacular, it is important to know their correct meanings:
- Neuter: having no reproductive organs
- Ovariohysterectomy (spaying): surgical removal of one or both ovaries and the uterus
- Orchiectomy/Orchidectomy (castration or ‘neutering’): surgical removal of one or both testicles or testes.

While there is no set rule on when to have the surgery done, the ASPCA recommends around the four months mark. Dogs are old enough for the procedure eight weeks after birth and most females won’t experience their first heat cycle until they are approximately six-months-old. Also, the early vaccinations commonly referred to as ‘puppy shots’ should be completed by this time.

Most veterinarians stress the importance of spaying a dog early in order to prevent mammary gland tumors (the pet equivalent to breast cancer) later in life. Statistics show that spaying before a dog’s first heat means she is 200 times less likely to develop this cancer. For those owners who feel a dog should have one cycle before being spayed, it is important to note that the ‘experience’ raises the cancer risk by sixteen percent.

There is barely a difference in the cancer risk percentage between females altered after one heat and those never spayed. Spaying eliminates the risk of your dog developing Pyometra, a potentially fatal infection (comparable to appendicitis in humans), during which the uterus fills with puss and has the potential to rupture.

Step 2: Understand the Surgery

It is important to understand what happens once your dog is ready to go under the knife. Prior to entering the operating room, the animal should be given medications and anesthesia, hooked up to a monitor, and the area around the site will be shaved.

Spay

1. An incision is made that extends from the middle to lower abdomen.
2. Once one of the ovaries are located, surgical clamps are applied to the Ovarian Ligament and blood vessels. These are then tied off with sutures (‘ligated’) to prevent bleeding.
3. This is repeated on the other side.
4. Next, the surgeon isolates the uterus. Sutures are placed around the uterus and its blood vessels, and the entire uterine body is ligated and excised.
5. The tissue beneath the skin and above the abdomen wall is then sutured and the skin is closed.
6. Your dog will need to have these removed in 10 to 14 days.

Neuter

1. A single incision is made in the skin, slightly in front of the scrotum.
2. Through the incision, the surgeon pushes forward a testicle and then cuts through the fibrous covering surrounding it (called a ‘tunic’). The connecting blood vessels are also isolated and cut.
3. Next, the spermatic cord (which contains the vas deferens) and the epididymis ligament (which contains the sperm ducts) are ligated. Given the generous blood supply to the cord and ligament, both must be tied tightly to reduce postoperative hemorrhaging.
5. This is repeated on the other testicle.
6. Layers of tissue are then sutured closed.

Step 3: Ask The Questions

You would ensure your family received the best medical care, and the dog should be no exception: don’t choose a veterinarian by the cheapest cost or their proximity to your home. According to Dr. Murray, there are seven questions (with their preferred answers) to ask before choosing whose calendar the surgery will go on.

1. What type of anesthesia will be used?

Anesthesia eliminates the animal’s awareness to pain or discomfort. The current standard is gas: typically isoflurane, sevoflurane, or halothane. It is reasonable to expect something stronger than an injected sedative will be used for surgery as invasive as this.

2. Will an IV catheter be in place?

A catheter provides a direct route into a dog’s vein. Should something go awry during surgery, this hastens delivery of necessary drugs and fluids without having to break the sterility of the environment.

3. Will my dog be intubated?

Placing a tube into the animal’s windpipe has multiple benefits: including keeping oxygen levels at the appropriate rate, as well as allowing easy access in case emergency resuscitation is needed. Also, with the animal unable to control his swallowing or coughing mechanisms while under anesthesia, the tube prevents aspiration of saliva, blood, or regurgitated food.

4. What will be monitored?

The operating room should have a licensed veterinary technician to assist the surgeon by keeping an eye on a pulse oximeter. A relatively inexpensive piece of equipment for a surgery to own, it provides constant feedback on the animal’s vital signs and allows for quick action to be taken in case of emergency.

5. Will a heating pad be in place?

While under anesthesia, a dog cannot regulate his own body temperature and a heating pad should be placed under the animal to prevent core temperature from dropping to dangerous levels. Ideally, the pad used should not be a ‘flat pad,’ which has the potential to burn the animal, but rather one more like a pillow that circulates warm air or water.

6. What is the preoperative regimen?

There should be two phases of medication before the catheter and intubation tube are in place. The first should calm and prevent pain and is typically in the Atropine or Morphine family. The second phase should include a drug related to Ketamine or Valium that is designed to make the animal fall asleep. Once the medications take effect, a sizeable area around the dog’s genitals should be shaved. This must be done in pre-op to ensure sterility of the operating room is maintained.

7. What will postoperative care look like?

While in recovery, a dog should be placed in a comfortable environment with a heat lamp or other warming tool, and be closely monitored by a licensed veterinary technician until his temperature, heart rate, and respiration levels return to normal. Pain medication such as Morphine or Rimadyl should be administered and prescribed in order to prevent discomfort. Though dosage depends on the size of the animal and the extent of the surgery, a general rule is an owner should be given three days worth of medication for when the animal returns home.

Although it is a common procedure, spaying or neutering is by no means simple. The recovery period however, is comparatively short and the risk associated with these procedures are relatively low, but only through understanding the procedure from a scientific point of view should a dog owner be able to make an informed decision on the suitability of this option.

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8 Comments

  1. debbie

    November 30, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    I had my male lurcher Max neutered at 6 months mainly on the advice of my vet …..better for his overall health in the long term & all the other usual reasons but i will definitely NOT be neutering any male dogs i have in the future at such a young age & definitely NOT before 18 months.The reason for that is i dont believe he was given a chance to mature and as a result he is very feminine looking , he has no muscle mass you would expect a male dog to have he is`nt as tall as i believe he would of been had i listened to my nagging inner voice and waited for him to fully mature .(having seen both his parents i know roughly what size he should of been) Thankfully it did`nt change his wacky ,OTT, totally in your face , cheeky personality & i love him just as he is ……….that said i still wish i`d allowed him to grow as nature intended .

  2. Daniel Moore

    December 15, 2011 at 10:20 am

    Just a quick question

    The article says a bitch spayed before her first season is 200 less times less likely to develop cancer, whereas one spayed after the first season increases the risk by 16%. Yet somehow “There is barely a difference in the cancer risk percentage between females altered after one heat and those never spayed”, the numbers would seem to disagree or am I not doing the maths correctly? Can someone simplify this for me?

  3. marilynn rohrbach

    December 23, 2011 at 1:50 am

    I agree, neutering takes away a lot more than just the ability to reproduce. It removes the natural life fluctuations of hormones a dog uses throughout his life. For physical and emotional growth. Remember back in the 60s and 70s when radical hysterectomies were the in thing until they found out they were doing a women a great deal of harm by removing hormones she needed throughout her life and causing the early onset of menopause? Osteoporosis, depression etc? My 6 year old male Dachshund is intact and at vet visits the Dr. finds his physical condition to be optimum for his age and his teeth show a younger dog. i find his amorous qualities to be quite tolerable and often less obvious than dogs who have been neutered. He is self assured and very confident. He has a fenced in yard and walks on a leash because it is my responsibility to be a good neighbor and dog owner. Spaying and neutering is for human convenience not for animal health. I’m speaking from my own experience and I understand it’s not a perfect world, that these procedures are necessary to reduce abuse, neglect and more animals than there are good homes for.

  4. dominique

    January 28, 2012 at 9:21 am

    how can I proceed in spaying a street dog in Bangkok? what are the options available for a street dog? can a vet come and give some shots> or must the dog undergo surgery in a vet clinic?? dominique

  5. Margaret

    September 1, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    Notice a keyhole spaying was not mention as alternative?
    .

  6. Lesley

    July 26, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    It just does not make sense to de-sex a dog before it is mature. Even if you knew nothing about the growth hormones going off-kilter causing all sorts of joint problems, and (sometimes) the emotional arrest at puppyhood (and not in a good way)leading to behavioral issues, surely common sense would stop you.
    Would you think it desirable to give your 8 year old girl child a hysterectomy? The dreadful results of early castration for young boys (the castrati) to stop their voices from breaking are well known – and similar to the problems encountered in some early-castrated dogs.
    Some of the problems may be different in dogs, but the principles are the same.

  7. M. Cope

    September 18, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    Had my 15month old dog spayed 3 days ago, today the vet said that she is having a phantom pregnancy. How long will this last and how does the spaying affect her hormone levels please

  8. Mike

    January 5, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    My 20 month-old Labrador bitch has just been keyhole spayed. It is far less intrusive and she was back at home the same day. My vet advises spaying at 5 months, which on reading up at the time, I decided against. She has had 2 seasons, and I am happy I waited. As for the increased risk of breast cancer, I`m happy to take a 75% risk reduction.

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