Neutering is a procedure that many dog owners will be familiar with, or aware of at the very least. It involves the removal of a dog’s reproductive organs, known as the ovaries and uterus in females, as well as the testicles in males. However, neutering in females is called spaying, while this procedure is called castration for males.
Below, we discuss everything you need to know for the spaying process and confirm the best age to spay a dog depending on various breeds.
What is Spaying?
Spaying is a procedure performed on female dogs and can bring a wide range of benefits for them apart from preventing pregnancy. However, there is much debate surrounding the right age and time for when pets should be spayed. Things are made even more complicated since the advice given by experts will vary according to the size, breed, and lifestyle of a dog.
But why and when should pet owners spay a female pet?
Why You Should Spay Your Dog
Generally, most veterinarians will tell dog owners to spay or neuter their intact dogs unless the owner has plans to use them for breeding purposes. Spaying provides a wide range of health benefits for different dog breeds, including the following:
- Eliminates the risk of developing uterine infections that could be life-threatening and are common in older female dogs
- Eliminates the risk of developing uterine cancer and ovarian cancer
- Reduces the risk of mammary cancer (also known as breast cancer) in female dogs if she’s spayed before she reaches the third season
- Eliminates the chances of a false pregnancy which can be highly stressful for dogs
- Eliminates any chances of pregnancy
- Provides the added convenience of having your pup come into season every 6 months. This means she won’t get unwanted attention from males and will have no blood spots.
The Pros and Cons of Spaying
As with any kind of medical procedure, neuter surgery, and spaying in particular, will come with various pros and cons, which are as follows.
- Heals faster when done early
- Eliminates any bloody discharge
- Won’t attract males around her environment
- Less blood loss if done early
- Dogs can live longer as a result
- No polyps and other uterine diseases
- No uterine or ovarian cancers
- Eliminates chances of getting womb infections
- May increase other kinds of cancer risk
- Spayed dogs may eat more and could result in becoming overweight
- Changes in sex hormones as a result of spaying could lead to hypothyroidism and diabetes
- Increased risk for some forms of cancer
When Should You Spay a Dog?
The answer to this question will depend on a lot of factors but historically, veterinarians will advise dog owners to have their dogs spayed shortly after they reach 8 months of age. It’s important that owners time the surgery 3 to 4 months after their pet’s first season. But today, this decision isn’t as clear-cut, and there are many more factors that need to be taken into consideration.
In rescue centers, dogs will usually be spayed before they reach their first heat cycle, which is referred to as prepubertal neutering. The benefits of this procedure include quicker recovery times, faster surgery, and a close to zero chance of developing breast cancer throughout their life. Younger dogs are able to heal faster compared to older animals, and spay surgery can be quicker for them since they won’t be kept on anesthetics for long.
Rescue dogs and animal shelters will often spay their dogs sooner. This is because shelters won’t adopt dogs before they’re spayed since new owners may not be responsible enough to have the surgery done.
Avoid Spaying Your Dog Early
Some veterinarians will stick to the recommendation to have your dog spayed at just four months old which is when she will be finished with vaccinations. However, some larger dogs and giant breeds of dogs may carry an increased risk of cancers and orthopedic problems, as well as potentially resulting in early urinary incontinence. Here are other reasons why you shouldn’t spay your dog too early:
- Early spaying may cause dogs to dribble urine
- Spaying early won’t have much of an effect on mammary cancer
- Having them spayed early won’t matter in cases of pyometra (uterus infection)
- Spaying too early could lead to arthritis and joint disorders
- Early spaying may increase the chance of certain cancers
Another thing to think about is the potentially higher risk of some cancers and orthopedic disease in larger breeds such as the Labrador Retriever, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers when spayed at a traditional age. While research into this is ongoing, many experts now suggest spaying large dogs after 1 year of age. But this decision should be made carefully; you can either have your pet sprayed early and reduce their risk of mammary cancer or spay them later and risk unwanted pregnancies.
Spaying When in Heat
An important thing to remember is not to spay adult dogs when in season, during their dioestrus period (the next two months after their season), or when they go through a false pregnancy. Spaying a female dog while it’s in season will present more risks such as an increased chance of tearing tissues and bleeding during surgery. As a result, the operation will also take longer and can increase anesthetic risk.
Spaying According to Breed
According to recent studies, breeds that aren’t mentioned below don’t experience any significant effects on their health after desexing or when it’s done. But for mixed dogs, it’s best to follow the timing of the breed that it most resembles. In general, you can neuter or spay dogs at a time that suits your pup the best, which is usually around 6 months of age.
Here are the different ages at which specific breeds can be spayed.
- Golden Retriever: Unfortunately, female Golden Retrievers have a high risk for cancer regardless of their age. According to a study, spayed pups will have a 2-4% higher chance of cancer compared to intact females. As such, it’s best to keep them intact as long as possible or to perform a neuter procedure at 2 years of age.
Male Golden Retrievers may have a risk for both cancer and joint disease, which is why they should be neutered during their first year.
- Labrador: Females should be spayed after 1 year to get the protection they need against joint disorders. On the other hand, males will need to become neutered after 6 months for males to become protected.
- Boxers: These dogs are at a high risk of cancer. You can reduce their risk by having your male and female Boxers desexed once they reach 2 years old.
- Cocker Spaniel: When it comes to females, this is another high-risk breed and will need to be spayed once they turn 2 years old.
- Collie: Female Collies also have a slight increase in their risk of cancer. To lower this, they should be desexed when they turn 1 year old.
- Dobermans: These large breed dogs have always been thought of as having a high risk for cancer and a study has linked their desexing with problems such as joint disease. The latest guidelines recommend desexing females after 2 years and males after a year to decrease cranial cruciate ligament tears and to help with bone development.
- West Highland White Terriers: A female West Highland White Terrier will need to wait a minimum of 1 year before getting spayed to minimize their risk for urinary incontinence.
- Springer Spaniels: Just like the pup above, Springer Spaniels will also need to wait a year before getting spayed.
- German Shepherd: Both the male and female German Shepherd dog needs to be desexed when they reach 2 years old to help lower their chances of getting a joint disease.
- Bernese Mountain Dog: These large breeds have males that are prone to joint disease if they’re desexed after 2 years of age.
- Great Danes: Luckily, these giant breed dogs aren’t at a greater risk for cancer or joint disease as long as they get an early spay at around 6 months old. But due to their high chance of getting a musculoskeletal disorder, it’s best to have them desexed after a year.
- Wolfhound: Female Wolfhounds have a similar requirement to Great Danes, which is to get spayed any time after 1 year of age. However, the male Wolfhound will have a higher chance of cancer if they’re neutered before turning 2 years old.
- Saint Bernard: These large-breed dogs don’t get an increased risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders or cancer as long as they’re desexed after 6 months. They also don’t show any effects relating to their age after desexing.
- Shetland Sheepdog: The female Shetland Sheepdog is prone to getting urinary incontinence if they’re spayed before reaching 2 years of age.
- Shih Tzu: To lower their chances of getting cancer, these small breed dogs should either be spayed at an early age before they turn 6 months old or after they reach 2 years of age.
Dog Spaying FAQs
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions regarding spaying female dogs.
What Does Spaying Involve?
Ovariectomy is the medical term for spaying and describes the removal of ovaries, while ovariohysterectomy refers to the removal of the uterus and ovaries. The techniques used in these procedures differ — while ovariohysterectomy was more commonly used in the past, the introduction of keyhole surgery (a minimally invasive surgery) has made it easier to transition to ovariectomy. As long as the ovaries are entirely removed and the uterus is healthy, then there’s no need to remove the uterus along with the ovaries.
As such, the process is much quicker and easier for female dogs and carries all the benefits of spaying.
Should Dogs Go into Heat Before They’re Spayed?
Yes, dogs should be allowed to go into heat before they’re spayed for a wide variety of reasons. One big reason is to give time for the urinary tract to mature, making it less likely to dribble urine when the pup becomes older. Moreover, its bones will become fully formed by the time it reaches its first heat cycle and will statistically have a lower chance of developing certain kinds of cancer.
When you wait for longer neuter periods, you may find that your pup will need to become locked up to stop her from attracting males. You may also need to buy doggy diapers to keep her from dripping blood throughout your house.
When is the Best Time to Spay a Dog After Being in Heat?
After your pup passes her heat cycle, waiting six weeks is the best time to go to neuter clinics. But vets will usually be able to perform neuter surgeries without any complications if you go earlier. Just keep in mind that dogs in heat will tend to bleed more compared to dogs that aren’t, so waiting for the right time can help to mitigate health risks such as blood loss.
Do Dogs Get Arthritis if They’re Spayed Too Early?
Previous studies found that hip dysplasia is twice as prevalent in Golden Retrievers when they’re neutered early. They also developed anterior cruciate ruptures a lot more frequently and saw a significant increase in joint diseases. Below are specific dog breeds that are at risk of joint disorders as a result of spaying early:
- Labrador Retriever
- Golden Retriever
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Saint Bernard
Fortunately, small-breed dogs have a lower chance of developing arthritis even if they’re spayed early.
Will a Spayed Dog Have a Higher Chance of Cancer?
There are different kinds of cancer that may be diagnosed most often in neutered or spayed dogs, such as:
- Transitional Cell Carcinoma
There are also studies that show how cancer risk increases in neutered dogs compared to non-neutered dogs. This is especially true in cases of lymphosarcoma, which is three times more common in dogs neutered earlier. At the same time, no cases are found in dogs that are neutered later.
Do Dogs Become Fat After They Get Spayed?
There are a few reasons why dogs may put on weight after they get spayed. For one, their metabolic rate will go down and their appetites will no longer be suppressed by estrogen, so they’ll want to eat more. However, overweight dogs will live shorter lives and face more health problems than healthy dogs.
To help them stay healthy, be sure to feed your pup with a high-fiber diet in smaller portions once they’re spayed. Exercise will also help, so create an exercise plan suitable for your dog’s breed.
Will Dogs Behave Better Once They’re Spayed?
While dogs that are spayed too early may develop fearful or aggressive behaviors, there won’t be much of a change in their personality once you spay your dog. Your pup will run around just as she used to, and if there are any undesirable behaviors before getting the surgery, they will probably remain the same afterward. If you’re told that your pooch will stop growling once she gets spayed, they may not be the best source of information.
Is it Too Late to Have My Dog Spayed?
Should you decide not to have your dog spayed early, you might need to have her looked at once every six months while she’s in heat. You can also go through with the neutering once she’s a few years old.
What are the Downsides to Neutering and Spaying?
Spaying dogs will involve surgery and anesthetics, so there will be risks associated with both. Luckily, veterinary science has greatly improved, and modern practices make the procedures low risk which is especially true when working with healthy and young animals. Another common problem is that urinary incontinence has an increased risk in female dogs after getting spayed, compared to intact dogs.
Larger dogs will have a higher risk if they’re spayed earlier than 6 months compared to small dogs and their incontinence could start while they’re younger. Fortunately, this condition can be treated using veterinary medicine in many cases. Lastly, the risk of certain cancers is more prominent in spayed dogs compared to intact dogs but there are many factors involved — the biggest one being the breed of the dog.
Track the Age to Spay a Dog
Depending on the sex of the dog, there are a few procedures that can help them transition to a healthier life once they reach sexual maturity. When looking to protect your female pup from unwanted litters, be sure to have them spayed at the right time. Male pets can also benefit from neutering and can eliminate their risk of testicular cancer, which is also a common practice.
There are plenty of low-cost spay clinics where you can give your pup the help it needs and prevent pet overpopulation.