Introduction:In the true sense, to neuter a dog means the removal of part or all of the reproductive organs, rendering that animal incapable of reproduction. To spay refers to neutering a female dog, whereas to castrate or simply to neuter refers to neutering a male dog. Information on each of these operations will be discussed in the following pages.
Spaying female dogs is one of the most common procedures performed in small animal veterinary medicine. To spay a dog refers to a surgery known in medical terminology as ovariohysterectomy. This word literally means removal of the ovaries and uterus. This procedure makes it impossible for the female dog to conceive and prevents her from going through normal heat cycles.
It should be understood that this is not a simple or routine procedure. This surgery demands great skill and attention on the part of the surgeon, and recovery can be difficult and painful for the dog.
Some of the most frequently asked questions concerning the spaying of female dogs are addressed in this section. (Q = Question, A = Answer)
Q) Should I have my dog spayed?
A) There are pros and cons to this question that should be carefully considered before the decision is made to have a dog spayed:
Q) At what age should I have my dog spayed?
A) The customary age for spaying a female dog is approximately 5-7 months. This time may coincide with the animalís first heat cycle. Spaying while the animal is in heat poses additional risks and should be avoided.
At some humane society shelters, puppies are spayed as early as 8 to 12 weeks of age, with no reported adverse effects. Those who advocate spaying at this early age suggest the operation is less stressful and may take less time to perform.
Q) Are there any alternatives to spaying my dog in order to prevent pregnancy?
A) Yes, at least two contraceptive drugs are available to prevent pregnancy. Both of these should be prescribed by a veterinarian and should only be used on a temporary basis. The only way to prevent pregnancy on a permanent basis is spaying.
Q) What is the cost of spaying my dog?
A) This varies greatly depending upon location and veterinarian. Many private practices will discount this surgery far below what it should cost because many people select a veterinary clinic based on the prices of elective surgeries such as spaying a dog. The price for a spay can range anywhere from less than one hundred dollars to several hundred dollars. When price shopping, it is important to ask exactly what is included in the cost quoted on the telephone. Some clinics or hospitals will include the price of laboratory tests, anesthetic, pain medications, etc., while others may not. Therefore, a higher estimate may actually be offering the better price.
Q) What will the recovery be like for my dog after the spay surgery?
A) Spaying is a painful experience for any dog; however, one dog may act completely normal within hours after the surgery, while another may bite at the incision or cry and pace for days afterward. Many dogs do not show obvious signs of pain, therefore, the subject of pain medicine should be discussed between the owner and veterinarian BEFORE the surgery takes place. Waiting to administer pain killers until the dog actually displays pain after the surgery is a poor approach. It is believed by many that pain acts in a "wind-up" fashion. That is to say, once an animal begins to feel the pain, the pain "winds-up," or becomes a much more powerful force than it would have had the pain medications been given before the pain started. It often requires a great deal more pain medication to relieve a dog that is already in pain than it would have if the pain medications had been given immediately after the surgery or even started 2 to 3 hours before the surgery was performed. An old adage states, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
There are other complications which may also influence a dogís recovery that may occur during the first days to weeks after the spay surgery. Many of these complications were mentioned in the cons area of the spay discussion (see above). Bleeding, either from the incision site or from the vagina hours to days after a spay, should be reported to a veterinarian immediately. It is possible, though not common, for a dog to bleed to death after being spayed. Infections can occur either locally at the incision site, or generally, affecting the entire body. Local incision infections are much more common and are often associated with the dog licking or biting at her stitches. Local infections appear within days of the surgery as a swollen, red, and tender incision line, sometimes with a clear to cloudy discharge. Minor infections can often be treated with antibiotics and by restraining the dog from licking the incision. Severe local infections may require another surgery to repair and re-stitch. General infections appear hours to days after the surgery and may cause the dog to be listless, disinterested in food or water, and display pain upon handling. She may also have a fever, experience vomiting or diarrhea, and have generalized weakness. General infections usually require hospitalization and supportive care at the hands of a veterinarian.
Sometimes dogs may have a reaction to the stitches or sutures. These reactions appear as inflamed and sometimes infected areas along the incision line. Suture reactions can cause a small, firm lump to appear in the tissue surrounding the suture. These suture reactions can be solved by removing any remaining suture and, if necessary, reclosing part of the incision with different suture.
It is important to understand that while these complications do occur, they are the exception rather than the rule. An observant owner, however, may make the recovery much smoother by recognizing problems early.
Castrating or neutering male dogs is another very common procedure in veterinary medicine. The operation involves removal of the testicles and the organs which provide housing for sperm development (the epididymis). A portion of the cord attaching the testicles to the rest of the male reproductive tract is also removed. The effect is complete removal of the organs which produce both sperm and testosterone. This procedure is generally performed more quickly than the canine spay; however, it is not without its complications.
Frequently asked questions about castrating a dog:
Q) Should I have my dog neutered?
A) Similar to the spaying a dog discussion, the pros and cons to this question will be addressed.
* Complications in neutering a male dog are generally less common and less severe than in spaying a female dog.
Q) At what age should I have my dog neutered?
A) The customary age for neutering a male dog is approximately 6 months; however, as soon as both testicles are palpable (can be felt) in the scrotum, the surgery can be performed.
Q) Is there any way to neuter my dog without making him look like he has been neutered?
A) There are prosthetic testicles available which can be placed inside the scrotum following removal of the testicles. Prosthetic testicle placement is not performed by most veterinarians, and will alter the cost of the surgery significantly.
Q) Will my dogís masculinity be affected by the surgery?
A) This is actually a very common question and a difficult one to answer, because the answer depends on each personís definition of masculinity. The answer is generally yes, since both behavior and physical appearance are affected. Sexual behavior is generally curbed or eliminated, and the disappearance of the testicles in the scrotum and subsequent shrinkage of the scrotum alter the physical appearance of the dog in that area. Other physical features are not affected, and growth is not stunted as a result of neutering.
Personality generally remains the same unless a large portion of the dogís attention has been centered around sexual activity.
Q) What is the cost of neutering my dog?
A) As with spaying a female dog, one should inquire as to exactly what is included in the cost of the surgery. Some estimates for neutering a dog include pre-surgical blood work and medications to manage pain. Other estimates may only include the surgery itself. Because the castration surgery is generally less time consuming, the cost of this surgery is usually less than the cost of spaying a female dog. The price for a castration surgery can range anywhere from $40 to $100 dollars.
Q) What kind of recovery can I expect for my dog after having him neutered?
A) Recovery is generally uneventful. Discomfort is usually present for the first 24-48 hours after surgery, and medications for pain relief are re-commended. As with spaying a dog, administration of pain medications should be started before the pain becomes a problem. It is much easier to prevent an extremely painful situation than it is to reverse the pain once it has started. If the dog licks or bites excessively at the incision, he may prolong and complicate his recovery by causing swelling, bleeding, pain, and infection. A veterinarian should be contacted if the dog continues to irritate the incision after surgery.