Reasons to spey
Neutering a female dog is known as speying. It is strongly recommended for many reasons:
• She will no longer be able to have puppies. We frequently have dogs brought in to us that have been mismated - for example, they ran off on a walk and were found with a male dog, or a dog has somehow managed to get into the owner's garden, or were mated by another dog in the same household. It's more common a problem than you might think!!
• She will no longer have seasons or false pregnancies (when the mammary glands fill with milk and she develops behavioural changes such as nesting, because she thinks she is having puppies).
• The risk of mammary (breast) cancer is reduced is speying occurs before 3 years old.
• It prevents your dog developing pyometra.
What is pyometra?
This is a life-threatening infection of the uterus (womb). We tend to see it in middle aged to older dogs, generally about 6-8 weeks after a season. The womb enlarges dramatically and fills with pus, bacteria and toxins.
The signs of a pyometra include being generally quiet and lethargic, poor appetite, drinking and urinating more, sometimes vomiting. Often there is also an offensive vulval discharge.
An ultrasound scan can usually confirm a pyometra is present.
Without treatment, the dog is unlikely to survive. The treatment is to spey as soon as possible - the surgery is more difficult than a regular spey, the dog is generally older and very ill, so the risks are higher and the cost greater. Speying at an earlier time would have prevented this unpleasant condition from developing.
When do females come in season?
Dogs have seasons every 5 months or so. The season lasts for about 3 weeks, and starts with the vulva becoming swollen, and bleeding. They are most fertile approximately 10-12 days after the start of the season, but can conceive if mated before and after this time.
Seasons generally start from 6-7 months of age, with smaller dogs starting seasons earlier than bigger breeds, which can be well over a year before they have a season. It doesn't matter when they first come in season, and there is no reason to worry if your dog hasn't had a season by 1 year of age.
Do female dogs have a menopause?
No, but seasons become more irregular as the dog gets older.
When can she be speyed?
The season lasts for 3 weeks, and we recommend speying 3 months after the end of the season. This allows the womb to settle down , so is the safest time to spey. It is preferable not to spey her if she has a false pregnancy ie glands full of milk, and possibly behavioural changes.
It is becoming more common for us to spey bitches before they have their first season, generally we do this around 6 months of age. Indeed some rescue centres are doing them as early as 3 months of age. We are happy to discuss the various options about when to spey your dog. There are some breeds where it is advisable to let them have a season prior to speying.
What does speying involve?
We can now spey female dogs using keyhole surgery – please see the separate section about keyhole surgery. This involves smaller wounds and quicker recovery times compared to ‘conventional’ surgery.
Under a general anaesthetic, an incision is made in the middle of the belly. We then locate and remove both ovaries and most of the uterus (ovariohysterectomy) before stitching everything back together. The muscles and layers between the muscle and the skin are stitched with soluble stitches, but the skin stitches are not soluble, and will need to be removed 10 days after surgery. She will be given a pain killing injection and sent home with an oral pain killing anti-inflammatory medication.
Dogs almost always are able to go home the same day.
Speying is a big operation but one that we perform very commonly so are very familiar with.
Is there a risk from the anaesthetic?
A general anaesthetic (GA) can never be 100% guaranteed. As a hospital practice we regularly monitor our anaeshetic success rate. Over the past 5 years, we have monitoring 1000 successive anaesthetics on three separate occasions, and can report a 100% survival rate recorded when neutering dogs and cats. We are proud of this, but have never and will never be complacent about GAs, and we are fully aware of the great responsibility we have while your pet is with us for an anaesthetic, or indeed any procedure. The risks of the GA are far outweighed by the benefits.
What can I expect when she comes home?
Your dog may be quiet for a few days following the surgery, this is entirely normal and actually helps them heal. You need to keep her to lead-only exercise until the stitches are removed. Dogs that are active during the week following surgery are more likely to develop complications such as fluid building up under the stitches, so please try to keep her quiet! It is not helpful for her to lick the wound, she may need a buster collar ('lamp shade' to prevent licking).
Is it true that speyed females are prone to putting on weight?
Dogs are only in season for a few weeks of the year, so from a behavioural point of view, the female dog acts speyed most of the time. Having said that, unlike males, where no weight gain occurs following castration, females are prone to weight gain, possible due to a slight slowing of the metabolism following surgery. It may be necessary to reduce the amount you feed her or give a reduced calorie food.
I'm thinking of letting my dog have a litter first, as she is so special to me and I've love to have one of her puppies, is this a good idea?
No please don’t!!! Although this might seem like a good idea, in reality it can be a less than pleasant event! You need to consider;
• Whether she is healthy, does she have any problems that would be passed on to her offspring (eg umbilical hernias, poor teeth positioning, skin problems, heart disease);
• How are you going to choose which dog to use for mating? Mating can be an unpleasant procedure especially if the dog has not previously been used at stud.
• Do you know how to look after a whelping bitch?
• What if she needs a caesarean?
• Can you hand rear the puppies if she can't raise them - this involves feeding them every 2 hours for several weeks!!
• Will you find good homes for a large litter of puppies?