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  • Writer's pictureErica Daurio

Why Should I Spay My Dog or Cat?

March 27, 2021

What is meant by spaying?

A spay is the common term used to describe the surgical procedure known scientifically as an ovariohysterectomy. In this procedure, both the uterus and ovaries are removed in order to sterilize a female dog or cat.

Why should I have my pet spayed?

Once a female reaches puberty, she is considered sexually mature and has the ability to mate with a male to produce offspring.

A female dog comes into “heat” or estrus approximately every 6 months, starting from about 6-9 mos of age. The first heat may be “silent,” with no visible signs of bleeding or enlargement of the vulva. Vaginal bleeding will last up to two weeks, until the next estrous cycle. If spayed before the first heat cycle, risk of mammary cancer is minimal, however, with each heat cycle that she goes through, the likelihood increases significantly. After the third heat cycle, whether she is spayed or not, the risk of breast cancer is about 1:3, therefore it is beneficial to spay sooner than later.

A female cat is seasonally polyestrous, meaning she has multiple cycles during her mating season (in the Northern Hemisphere this is usually from January to late fall), and will have the drive to actively seek out a male to mate with during these times of year. She may also become extremely vocal and affectionate, raising her tail when petted in a posture of lordosis, or rubbing on anything and everyone. She is capable of having large litters, and overpopulation due to intact cats, especially ones allowed to roam outdoors, is an ongoing concern.

Intact female dogs and cats also have the risk of a life-threatening condition called pyometra, where the uterus becomes infected and fills with pus after a heat cycle. If not caught in time, serious infection and death can occur.

By removing the uterus and ovaries, we eliminate the risk of pyometra, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, and (depending on how many heats she has gone through) greatly reduce the risk of mammary cancer.

When should I have her spayed?

In most cases, it is recommended to spay before the first heat, as mentioned above, some time between 6-8 months of age. This will eliminate the risk of an unwanted or unexpected pregnancy, and can mitigate the risk of breast cancer. There is some evidence to suggest that the risk of bone cancer in large breed dogs might be lessened by waiting until about a year of age to spay, however these studies are still in progress. Speak to your veterinarian to determine the best course of action for you, based on your pet‘s breed and size.

What does the operation involve?

Your pet will undergo a general anesthetic. She will be given medications for pain control during the procedure and will be sent home with pain management and an e-collar after the procedure. An intravenous catheter is placed to give anesthetic agents and fluids, and an endotracheal tube is place to maintain a safe airway while she is unconscious.

You will need to withhold food after 10pm the night prior to the procedure; your pet should have free access to water during most of the pre-operative fasting period.

The surgical site is shaved and scrubbed with a sterile prep, and the uterus and ovaries are removed through an incision in the abdominal wall. Sutures are buried under the skin, and the suture material is dissolvable, therefore no sutures will need to be removed at time of recheck. We will want to recheck the patient 10-14 days after procedure to ensure that the site has healed well and there have not been any complications.

What surgical complications could arise?

In general, complications are rare during a spay surgery, however, as with all surgical procedures, there is always a small risk. Potential complications include:

Anesthetic complications Any pet can have an unexpected adverse reaction following the administration of any drug or anesthetic. Such cases are impossible to predict, but fortunately are extremely rare.

Another potential danger associated with anesthesia arises if the pet is not properly fasted prior to anesthesia. Anesthetized patients lose the normal reflex ability to swallow; during swallowing, the epiglottis, a cartilage flap at the entrance to the windpipe, closes and prevents food or water from entering the lungs. If there is food in the stomach, the pet could vomit while under anesthesia or in the early post-anesthetic period, allowing the food to enter the lungs and cause aspiration pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening condition.

Illness will increase the risks associated with anesthesia. Pre-operative blood work is a useful screening test that may detect pre-existing problems that could interfere with the pet's ability to handle anesthetic drugs, and is required prior to scheduling an anesthetic event..

To minimize the risks to your pet, it is essential that all pre-operative instructions are strictly followed and that you report any signs of illness to your veterinarian prior to an operation.

Post-operative infection This may occur internally or around the incision wound. In most cases, the infection can be controlled with antibiotics. If an e-collar is kept on until recheck, as recommended to keep her from licking or chewing at the incision site, infection is highly unlikely.

What adverse effects might spaying have on my pet?

In the vast majority of pets, no adverse effects are noted following spaying. Some people believe that their pet will become fat and lazy, however this is not necessarily true. Since she will no longer have a reproductive system that requires additional caloric intake, if diet is appropriately adjusted, weight loss does not have to follow. Many commercial brands make diets that account for the lower energy needs of spayed and neutered pets.

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