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.
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.
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.
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.