People choose a bitch or a dog from a litter for a variety of reasons. “We’ve always had bitches”, “we’ve never had a bitch”, or “I like this one’s markings”. “Last one left of the litter” and “he/she was the most confident one of the litter” (this is always my favourite reason!!) are common responses.
Once we have a bitch at home we need to be thinking about spaying. There are totally different reasons compared to discussing castration in boys.
In the UK vets routinely perform an ovariohysterectomy where both the uterus and ovaries of bitches are removed. This is different to the hysterectomy operation performed in people. We also remove the ovaries which means we remove the hormones (more about this later). There are options of a midline approach – your dog will go home with a wound on her belly with the stitches on the outside or the inside. Or some veterinary practices perform surgery laparoscopically (keyhole surgery). This is an ovariectomy – where only the ovaries are removed and not the uterus.
Either way your dog will be required to rest and to wear a buster collar. So why not train for these two behaviours in advance? This is something we cover with all our training clients as it is a huge stress for guardians of young dogs. Imagine having something new which is potentially scary introduced when you’re in pain and confused. Verses learning to love a new piece of equipment and that being used to help you feel better when you feel rubbish post-op. The cone of shame vs the cone of fun! We also need to train our dogs to cope with restricted exercise. Otherwise we risk opening the wound again with serious complications if they are jumping around or going wild. Contact us or your local force-free trainer to learn more about pre-op training.
There is lots of controversy over prophylactic surgery (surgery before there is an actual problem). Lots more evidence of the pros and cons on spaying is being released all the time. Below is a summary of medical and behavioural reasons to and not to spay. It is always a very individual decision on what is best for you and your dog. If you have questions talk to your vet, or a few vets, and make sure you’re happy with the choice you make.
The reasons vets in the UK recommend spaying in dogs are usually health driven. It is very common for older bitches to have a condition called Pyometra when they are older. Usually over 7 years but can happen any time from after the first season. Pyometra means an infection in the uterus (womb) after bacteria get in following a season. This condition kills many dogs each year and usually the only treatment option is an emergency spay. This is much riskier than the same surgery when they are well (and much more expensive).
Another huge health implication is mammary (breast) cancer in older girls. There is evidence that each season we allow them to have increases their chances of developing cancer when they are older. If we spay prior to their first season, e.g. 6-8 months, then they are about as likely as a male to develop breast cancer but this increases after even one season. Many vets in the UK now recommend spaying before the first season. This is the reason there is more of a time frame for making your mind up compared with castration for boys.
Another medical condition spaying avoids for dogs is phantom pregnancy. This can occur after a season where a dog undergoes changes in hormones similar to if they are pregnant. This is distressing for dogs and for their guardians. It can cause guarding behaviour, lactation and general stress. Phantom pregnancy is a treatable condition but is avoidable by spaying.
Behavioural reasons are also something to consider next to medical implications with surgery. Some bitches really struggle in their seasons and unwanted behaviour often escalates and they can be more reactive. Their hormones are going crazy and there is likely a pain component too – and I’m sure many women can relate to this. For this reason any cases I see where a bitch is entire I will always recommend spaying. The surgery will not solve any problems but it prevents things getting dramatically worse every six months or so.
Some bitches also really go mad trying to get to boys and it can be distressing for dogs and their guardians with walks limited (certainly to on lead) and sometimes huge safety measures to keep them safe and indoors. It is also very important to ensure where a litter hasn’t been well planned and prepared for that she doesn’t have access to males in the house. There are still people under the impression that brothers and sisters or mothers and sons won’t mate – they will, and the pups will be at a higher risk of congenital abnormalities.
Concerns Over Spaying
There certainly are down sides to spaying; they need to be considered as carefully as the benefits and it is unlikely we have the full picture of all the benefits risks but as more and more papers are published we should start to be able to offer a clearer picture. At the moment the main concern is around giant breed dogs that if spayed young they may be at a higher risk of certain diseases including bone cancer, but these giant breed dogs are already at a higher risk compared to smaller dogs. The papers reporting these risks are not using huge samples so has be taken as not proven but a potential risk.
The main risk as far as I am concerned is that we are talking about potentially immature puppies (at 6 months of age) and for them to undergo the intense handling required for hospitalisation there is a real risk of developing negative emotions towards the vets or generalising this to all people. So many people say their pup loved the vets until they went in for surgery and after that no one can get near them. This needs to be seen as a serious condition in itself.
We are our pet’s guardians and it is up to us to protect them from this level of fear developing. The good news is that some vets offer certain drug protocols in the general anaesthetic which can cause amnesia. Similar to what doctors use for children having operations they might find equally scary. This prevents our dogs from learning that it was a bad experience. This is something I would suggest you discuss with your vet before booking your dog in!
There is always a risk with any anaesthetic too which needs to be conscious decision that you make. Obviously this risk is dramatically reduced in young fit animals compared to older, ill animals.
The one potential downside that might be taken as a given for many people, but not everyone, is that once spayed bitches can no longer have any pups! We don’t generally recommend breeding anyway so we don’t personally see this as a downside!
As with anything where you’re making a big decision for your dog. Think about it carefully and talk to your vet and other people to ensure you make the best choice!