Spaying your female dog

Alison Laurie-Chalmers, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets Inverness

At Crown Vets we have had a recent worrying increase in Pyometra cases. Pyometra is a life threatening condition involving an infected womb which is seen in 23% of females that are not spayed. Spaying/neutering a female dog while they are young is still strongly advised to avoid the risk of illness in later life. The main advantages of spaying young are preventing pregnancy, preventing pyometra, preventing ovarian or uterine cancer and reducing the likelihood of mammary (breast) cancer. Mammary cancer is the most common tumour in female dogs.

As well as removing the inconvenience of regular seasons every six months, and the risk of an unwanted pregnancy, spaying your female dog markedly reduces the risk of mammary cancer later in life. It also prevents the inconvenience of having a bitch in season for three weeks every six months with the constant unwanted attention from male dogs.

Fortunately, the risks involved in anaesthesia and surgery are very small compared with the pending risks of these other health conditions which are prevented by spaying.

There is no medical reason to let a bitch have one litter before spaying. An owner has to be committed to having a litter. The work concerned along with the expense involved can be considerable. Ensuring she is of suitable temperament and free of any hereditary problems, only then should breeding be considered. Also, some of the health benefits like protection against mammary tumours are lost if the spay operation is further delayed.

Some people expect that their bitch will get fat after spaying, but in fact this is entirely preventable with an appropriate healthy diet and proper exercise.

Bitches can be spayed from the age of six months of age either by a routine standard spay method or by Laparoscopic (key-hole) surgery.

Deciding when to spay:

It is not a good idea to spay when a bitch is in season or about to come into season because the blood vessels supplying the uterus and ovaries are all larger and this will increase the risks of surgery. Another time we try to avoid is 8 weeks after a recent season, when a bitch may suffer from a common hormonal imbalance called a false pregnancy termed ‘pseudopregnancy’. If this happens, she may be acting as if she is nursing pups and the operation at this time would cause such sudden changes in hormone levels that it would be unhealthy to her. Also, if she was producing milk, the enlargement of the milk glands would make it more difficult for the spay wound to heal.

For all of these reasons, the time chosen to spay is usually either before the first season occurs at around six months of age, or 3months after the first season. For the large dog breeds, it is now recommended that these should not be neutered or spayed until they are skeletally mature after the bone growth plates are closed at around 15 to 18 months of age. There also is a consideration that spaying a bitch too young may predispose them to urinary incontinence in later life. Certainly, weighing all these pros and cons up, spaying while young is still strongly advised to keep your female dog healthy in the long term.

A physical examination by the vet will determine whether your female puppy is mature enough to spay. A pre-spay check up for a full clinical examination is advised and your Vet will then discuss with  you the best option for your dog.