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Female dogs (spaying)

Normal puberty and reproductive cycles

Female dogs normally have their first “season” or “heat” at 5-9 months of age (i.e. puberty) and then typically cycle every 6-7 months throughout their lives (approx. twice a year). The age at puberty and the time between cycles does vary between individuals. Each “season” lasts 1-3 weeks and during this period, female dogs have a swollen vulva, lose varying amounts of bloody fluid and are attractive to male dogs. Dogs in "season" require restricted, "lead-only" exercise to prevent roaming and associated accidental injury / mating.

Towards the end of each "season", female dogs are fertile and can become pregnant. Over the next few weeks, even if your dog is not mated, she will still experience the same hormonal surges as if she were pregnant. Therefore, after each “season”, dogs may have a “phantom/false pregnancy” when behavioural changes can occur (e.g. nest building, depression, aggression, hoarding toys and poor appetite). Although most behavioural changes are short lived, others can be longer lasting (e.g. aggression & depression). Some dogs will also develop enlargement of the breast tissue and even start producing milk. Around a quarter of female dogs have “phantom/false pregnancies”, often after every “season”.  Some dogs require medication for this problem. 

Why do we recommend spaying?

Eliminates “seasons/heats”, including the associated vulval swelling & discharge, the attractiveness to male dogs, the behavioural changes and the need for restricted "lead-only" exercise. 

Eliminates the risk of pregnancy and “phantom/false pregnancy”,preventing the unpleasant behavioural changes and milk production associated with “phantom/false pregnancy”.

Eliminates the risk of pyometra, which is a serious womb infection occurring a few weeks after a “season”. Around 25% of older, entire female dogs will get a pyometra. This can be a life-threatening illness unless treated promptly by performing an emergency spay procedure.

Eliminates or reduces the risk of breast cancers,depending on the age at which the dog is neutered. Breast cancers occur in around 15% of entire female dogs (up to 40% in some breeds) and just under half of canine breast cancers are malignant. Breast cancers are very unusual in dogs that have had less than 2 seasons before they were neutered. Female dogs being neutered beyond 2.5 years of age have the same risk of breast cancer as dogs left entire.

Eliminates the risk of ovarian or uterine cancer, which can affect around 12% of entire female dogs. 

What are the risks?

Complications associated with spaying dogs are uncommon and include the anaesthetic risk and the surgical risks (e.g. wound swelling & breakdown and haemorrhage). Thankfully, all our surgeons have a proven neutering track record, and the incidence of serious complications at Woodcroft Vets is very low. 

All female dogs may become urinary incontinent later in life, especially larger breed dogs > 15kg (e.g. Old English Sheepdogs, Dobermans).  Spaying may increase the likelihood of incontinence developing later in life. Allowing a female dog to have a season before neutering may reduce the risk. Incontinence is not a common problem, but occasionally it does occur. Thankfully, most cases can be controlled with medication. 

Once spayed, your dog will burn fewer calories, despite her remaining as active as ever. Spayed dogs are therefore prone to gaining weight. This can easily be prevented by providing fewer calories. This does not necessarily mean feeding less. We stock a complete range of Royal Canin life stage diets. The Royal Canin neutered dog diets are specially designed with the nutritional requirements of spayed dogs in mind.

Dogs neutered before puberty have slightly delayed closure of growth plates and grow slightly larger than entire dogs. This does not seem to cause any significant problems.

Finally, limited, recent research suggests that dogs of certain breeds, neutered before their first season, may have a slightly increased risk of developing certain joint problems or cancers than similar dogs, which are left entire. The risk appears to be small and has only been demonstrated in a few larger breeds of dog. This small risk is offset around three-fold by the elimination of breast and ovarian cancers in neutered female dogs.  

When do we recommend spaying?

Given the information already discussed, the timing of neutering for female dogs is controversial. Over time, as more research appears, our advice may change. 

The onset of “seasons” is associated with the risk of unwanted pregnancy, undesirable discharges and the requirement for restricted, “lead only” exercise. If your over-riding concern is to avoid these issues, then spaying before the first “season” may be the priority.

The greatest beneficial effects for preventing breast cancer appear to be when female dogs are neutered before the first or second “season”. However neutering before the first “season” may very slightly increase the risk of urinary incontinence later on in life and joint problems in larger breeds of dogs. Our current general recommendations for the age of neutering of dogs are as follows:

  • Small breeds - 6 to 12 months
  • Medium breeds - 9 to12 months (after the 1st “season”)
  • Large breeds - 12 months (after the 1st “season”)
  • Giant breeds - 12 to 18 months (after the 1st “season”)

We recognise that some owners will want their dog to be spayed at 6 months, just before the first “season”, and we will continue to honour such requests

It is not recommended to spay female dogs whilst “in season” and for at least 12 weeks after they have been “in season”.

We strongly recommend all puppies have an adolescent / six month check, prior to neutering, with one of our vets. If your dog has been vaccinated with us and is a member of Woodcroft Vets’ Pet Club, this check is free of charge. This is an ideal opportunity to examine your dog and to discuss any concerns you may have. We may identify additional problems that could be corrected under the same anaesthetic as the neutering procedure e.g. correction of an umbilical hernia or removal of deciduous teeth and hind limb dew claws. We can also discuss a range of preventative health care options. Membership of our Pet Club also entitles your dog to a 20% early neutering discount (ask us for more details).

How is the surgery performed?

At Woodcroft Vets, we offer our clients a choice of surgical procedures. As well as the standard open surgical technique offered by most vets, we are fortunate to be able to offer minimally invasive laparoscopic surgical neutering for dogs heavier than 8kg. Click the link to learn about the benefits of this state of the art technique. During the open surgical technique a 5-10cm incision is made in the midline of your dog’s abdomen. In contrast, 2-3 tiny incisions are all that is required for a laparoscopic spay.

What should I do next?

Please call your nearest branch for further details. Briefly, we recommend the process starts with your dog having a consultation with one of our vets. This allows us to make sure that your dog is healthy enough to undergo general anaesthesia and the operation. We will also assess if your dog is in season and start planning the anaesthetic protocol, based on any special requirements your dog may have. This consultation is usually combined with our free adolescent health check, if your dog has had her primary vaccination course with us. If you are new to our practice, or we have not examined your dog recently, we will ask you to arrange a pre-op appointment to perform a general health check.

What happens on the day?

We will ask you to bring your dog to one of our clinics on the day of the operation between 8am and 9am (depending on the specific clinic opening times). Your dog should be starved from midnight, the night before. Free access to water should be allowed until the time you leave your house. It is important that food should be withheld to reduce the risk of anaesthetic complications. Please allow your dog to urinate and defecate prior to admission.

Once admitted to the clinic, your dog will be re-examined and, if requested, a pre-anaesthetic blood sample submitted for in house analysis. We will discuss any significant results with you prior to anaesthesia.  Before anaesthesia your dog will be given a premedicant. This will calm your dog, provide pre-emptive pain relief and reduce the anaesthetic doses subsequently used.

During the anaesthetic process we use the most advanced anaesthetic agents. These agents are short acting and so recovery times are usually short. Unfortunately, there are no safe anaesthetic drugs, only safe anaesthetists. All anaesthetic drugs depress the performance of the cardiovascular and breathing systems: monitoring and patient support are key for successful veterinary anaesthesia.

To this aim Woodcroft Vets staff have various tools to help monitor anaesthesia. A recent survey of general practice anaesthesia (CEPSAF study) concluded that many veterinary practices do not use monitoring devices. See our Anaesthetic Brochure for more details of our gold standard anaesthetic service.

After the procedure is completed, your dog will start to recover from anaesthesia soon after the anaesthetic is stopped. Your dog will be moved to a warm comfortable bed in the recovery area where the monitoring process is continued.

A recent survey identified the recovery time as an ‘at risk period’. We, at Woodcroft Vets, are fully aware of the risks associated with the recovery period: diligent anaesthetic monitoring is continued until your dog is fit enough to be moved to our hospital wards. 

Your dog may be provided with an Elizabethan collar to prevent her licking the wound and causing an infection. A wound dressing may also be applied. Your dog will be sent home with pain killing medication.

Usually your dog will be discharged on the same day as the procedure. Mild wooziness and a slight cough after the anaesthetic are not uncommon. A small light meal should be offered that evening. We provide Royal Canin’s sensitivity diet after all our anaesthetic procedures. This is an ideal diet for the first 12-24 hours after anaesthesia to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal upsets.  Your dog should have a post operative check 3-4 days after surgery with one of our trained veterinary nurses. This examination is included in the cost of the procedure. If you are unsure about anything before or after this appointment, please feel free to contact us for advice.

Your dog should be completely rested for the first 1-2days after surgery. After this we advise lead only-walking until the sutures are removed 12 days after the operation (if necessary). During the first 2-3 weeks after surgery excessive play and vigorous exercise should be avoided. Wound complications may be more likely to occur if this advice is not adhered to. 

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