Arranging for your vet to spay your dog is a very good idea, and possibly one of the most important things you can do for her. Spaying significantly reduces the chance of mammary cancers and other problems. Here we explain what the procedure involves, its pros and cons, and how it can help your pet.
If you are thinking about neutering your bitch, read my blog – To Neuter or Not – the Doggy Dilemma!
What is a bitch spay
- A bitch spay is a procedure carried out under a general anaesthetic which involves the removal of both the uterus and the ovaries.
- It is a permanent procedure which cannot be reversed.
Why should I neuter my bitch?
- The main advantage of having your dog neutered is that she will be unable to get pregnant. Puppies may seem like a good idea, but there are no advantages to your dog of having a litter, puppies take a lot of care and attention, can be expensive, and there are plenty of unwanted dogs in the world already!
- Your bitch will not come into season every 6 months. When a bitch is in season she will drip blood from her vulva, attract entire male dogs and may try to run away to find a mate.
- Some bitches will suffer a ‘false pregnancy’ after being in season, where the body thinks it is pregnant. This can cause mammary development, behavioural changes and even abdominal swelling. This can be stressful for both bitches and owners, and something that can be avoided by spaying.
- Bitches who have been spayed before their 3rd or 4th season have a much lower chance of developing mammary tumours in later life compared to entire bitches.
- When a bitch is spayed, both the uterus and ovaries are removed, this means there is no chance of these organs becoming cancerous.
- Older, entire bitches can develop a life threatening condition called ‘Pyometra’, when the uterus becomes infected and fills with pus. This is a very serious condition, which requires emergency surgery, which is both dangerous and costly.
Look closely! This is the best sort of litter for a dog to look after!
When is the best time to have a dog spayed?
- Different vets will have different recommendation on when to have your dog spayed and will discuss the pros and cons of each with you.
- There are 2 different times you can spay your bitch when she is young, the first is before she comes into season and is termed a ‘Pre-season spay’, the second is between the 1st and 2nd seasons, the ‘Post season spay.’
- Pre-season spay, your vet will advise you on the best time to have a pre-season spay, but it is generally between the ages of 6-9 months, depending on the breed of your dog.
- The bitch will never come into season, so she will never be at risk of getting pregnant, this is particularly useful if she lives with an entire male
- The risk of future mammary tumours is virtually non-existant.
- It is an easier operation for the vet, as the uterus is very small and has a minimal blood supply.
- Spaying early can increase the risk of urinary incontinence in later life, especially in large breed dogs who can be prone to the problem anyway.
- In bitches spayed before their first season, the vulva can remain very small and tucked up, this can cause problems with urine spraying on the legs and urine scald on and around the vulva.
- Post Season spay, this is done between the first and second seasons, about 2-3 months after the season has finished.
- Waiting the extra time allows your bitch to fully mature
- The chances of urinary incontinence in later life are lessened.
- Your bitch will have one season before she is spayed, which will involve her bleeding, being attractive to male dogs and could become pregnant.
- The risk of mammary tumours is higher in bitches that have had seasons, but if you spay after just one, the incidence is only slightly higher that having had no seasons.
- You can spay your bitch at any time in her life, although bitches spayed late ( after the third or fourth season) will have the same risk of mammary tumours as if they were never spayed, they cannot suffer from pyometra ( infected uterus), nor will they have ovarian or uterine cancer.
How is a bitch spayed?
- A bitch spay will require your pet to undergo a general anaesthetic and abdominal surgery.
- General anaesthetics are very safe in young, healthy dogs. If you have any concerns, your vet should be able to talk you through the procedure.
- When a bitch is spayed, the incision is generally made in the ‘midline’, which is through the abdominal wall in the middle of your dogs tummy.
- During a bitch spay both the ovaries and the uterus are removed.
- The wound is stitched up in several different layers; the muscle, the subcutaneous fat and the skin. Some vets place stitches in the skin which need to be removed 10-14 days later, others place sutures which dissolve. The sutures below the skin will all dissolve once things have healed.
- The procedure itself is considered very safe and few complications are seen. However, although this is a routine surgery for vets, it is a major one for the bitch, as the vet is entering the abdominal cavity and removing an organ.
This picture shows a bitch spay during the operation. Both uterine horns have been removed.
The wound after a bitch spay. It is in the ‘midline’ and is small and neat.
Aftercare and complications
- The recovery period for a bitch after she has been spayed is about 2 weeks. However, most will be back to their normal selves by the next day and should be eating and drinking as normal.
- The most important thing you can do after your bitch’s surgery, is to keep her rested. This is very important as any running or jumping will put a lot of pressure on the stitches in the muscle and may cause them to pop open.
- Most vets will advise you keep her on a lead for 2 weeks after the surgery when out on walks.
- It is also important she doesn’t bother with the wound by scratching or licking at it. This will cause it to become inflamed, painful and possibly infected.
- If you think your bitch may bother with the wound, your vet should be able to provide you with a ‘buster collar’, this is a lampshade collar which will mean she cannot reach it.
- Your vet should book at least one post operative check up to ensure things are healing properly. However, if you are concerned at all, you should seek veterinary advice immediately.
- Complications from bitch spays are very unusual. The most common problems are from delayed wound healing caused by the dog being too active or messing with her stitches, which is why it is so important to keep a close eye on her.
This is a well healed spay wound, there is very little inflammation or swelling
This wound has not healed as well, it is quite swollen and red. This is a very lively dog and she had been licking at her wound.
The cost of spaying a bitch
- The price you pay to have your dog neutered will vary between practices, areas of the country and also the size of your dog.
- Inevitably smaller dogs will be cheaper because they will need smaller doses of anaesthetic and medications and the operations tend to be completed more quickly.
- In the UK you can probably expect to pay between £150-£300 but it could be more, especially in London.
- This price will include all the drugs used, the surgery itself, a nurse who will stay with your pet throughout the anaesthetic and their recovery and usually the post operative checks. It may also include on-going pain relief and a buster collar. It will probably not include any post-operative complications, especially if you have allowed your dog to mess with the wound.
- Some practices will be cheaper than others but it is important to ask exactly what is included in the costs.
- If you will struggle to afford to neuter your dog, there are some charities which may help. The Dogs Trust and RSPCA can provide vouchers to contribute towards the cost of the operation (but they will not cover all of it) but these are usually only available in some areas and to people on low incomes.
- The PDSA and RSPCA can provide low cost dog spays at their hospitals but again you will normally need to prove you are on benefits or a low income and their clinics are not in all areas.
- Often, if you a rescue a dog from a charity, they will either already be neutered, or they will arrange for them to be spayed at not cost once they are old enough. The Blue Cross runs a particularly good scheme for this.
- However, it is important to consider that if you cannot afford to spay a dog, whether you can afford to have one at all. As a pet owner you are legally required to provide care for your pets, which includes veterinary treatment, which can, especially in illness, be costly.
- Having a litter is good for a bitch
- FALSE – having a litter has no effect on a bitches physical well-being or her personality. In fact, the later she is spayed, the higher the risk of mammary cancer.
- Having a bitch spayed will change her personality
- FALSE – there is no evidence to suggest spaying a bitch will change her personality, in fact, being spayed can calm some manic or aggressive behaviour.
- Being spayed will make my bitch fat
- FALSE – A bitches metabolism will slow after being spayed, but this means she needs to be fed less, bitches who gain weight are being fed too much, weight gain after being spayed is not inevitable!
Please note, this is an advice only website, if you have any specific queries or concerns about your pet, you should contact your veterinary surgeon.