Spaying Your Female Dog

A spay surgery prevents dogs from getting pregnant by removing both the ovaries and the uterus. It’s not as simple as the neuter surgery the guys get–in fact, it’s major surgery–but your darling girl will only be affected for a few days, maybe a week. Afterward, she’ll enjoy many health benefits and neither of you will have to deal with her being in heat. Can you say, “freedom”?

Unless you plan to responsibly breed your female, spay her. Think you can just keep away unwanted suitors? Even experienced breeders get “oops” litters: dogs will jump gates, bolt through doors, dig under fences, and jump out of cars to mate. Like teenagers going to the prom, when dogs with raging hormones get together at the wrong time, you could have undesirable consequences.

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The benefits to your dog are considerable:

  1. Spaying reduces risk of certain illnesses, such as pyometra (a common, life-threatening infection of the uterus) or mammary gland cancer.
  2. Spaying reduces pet overpopulation. Millions of dogs are put down every year because there aren’t enough homes for them.
  3. Spaying saves you from dealing with males who are wildly attracted to your dog in heat.
  4. You don’t have to choose between a dog in sanitary pads or mess all over your house. (Leaving her in the backyard so she won’t make a mess inside is not a good choice unless you’re purposely trying to mate her to the most persistent male in the area.)
  5. Spaying eliminates the rather unattractive (read: totally offensive) odor often associated with a dog in heat. Your nose may not be as sensitive as your dog’s, but even you will be able to smell this.
Remember, unspayed female dogs go into heat about once every eight months and it lasts for as long as three weeks each time. And they don’t go into menopause. They regularly go into heat for their entire lives–unless they’re spayed.

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When it’s time to spay your dog

She can be spayed any time after eight weeks of age, and preferably before her first heat for the best health benefits. The first heat cycle occurs somewhere around six months of age, depending on the breed.

Preparing your dog for surgery

Presurgical blood work is usually offered to make sure your dog is healthy enough for surgery and doesn’t have any unknown conditions that would affect the choice of anesthesia. Typically, young and healthy dogs don’t need it, but it’s a good idea to have a baseline reference for future blood work.

Follow the directions your clinic gives, but generally speaking the dog should not eat for at least eight hours before the surgery, because the anesthesia can cause nausea. Some veterinarians ask you to stop all food starting at midnight the night before the surgery. Drinking water beforehand is fine, however.
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What to expect postsurgery

  1. Some clinics allow you to pick her up and take her home the day of the surgery, and some want her to remain overnight.
  2. Pain medication can be given for those dogs who need it, but most don’t.
  3. She might be a little nauseated and not eat normally for a day or two afterwards.
  4. Restrict her activity for the following week, since a lot of movement or exercise can cause swelling or allow fluid to accumulate under the incision.
  5. Stitches will need to be removed after about seven to 10 days, depending on the type of stitch material used. Your veterinarian will give you details about how to check that the incision is healing, and when to come back in for this final detail.
  6. Some dogs cough after surgery because the anesthesia tube, which is put down the throat, can cause irritation. Don’t worry unless it last more than a couple of days; after that, call your vet.

What to watch for after the surgery

  1. If she persists in licking the stitches, an Elizabethan collar (which looks like a plastic lampshade and is available from your vet and from pet supply stores) can prevent her. She’ll probably bonk into doorways and slop her drinking water while wearing it. Remember, she should sleep with it on.
  2. If liquid drains from the incision, take her in to the vet.
  3. Some dogs cough after surgery because the anesthesia tube, which is put down the throat, can cause irritation. If coughing lasts more than a couple of days, call your vet.

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