Spaying, or having your dog “fixed,” is a procedure that achieves surgical sterilization in female dogs. After being spayed, your female dog can no longer get pregnant. Most shelters will spay your dog as standard procedure before they can come home with you.
There are several benefits to spaying your dog. Spaying can help prevent uterine infection, reduce the risk of mammary cancer, prevent unwanted pregnancy, and avoid the behaviors that come with heat cycling. While it is possible to spay a dog when they are in heat, the spay becomes a much riskier surgery. The tissue is more fragile and prone to tearing and bleeding. Most vets prefer not to do this if possible.
The best age at which to spay your female dog is based on multiple factors; this decision should be made in conjunction with your vet. These factors include your environment (are there intact male dogs at home, and is breeding unwanted?), genetic predisposition to certain diseases, and medical issues. The size of your dog also plays a role (large vs small breed).
How Are Dogs Spayed?
The spay procedure can be performed in a few different ways. The most common procedure is called an ovariohysterectomy. This includes the removal of the uterus and ovaries. Some veterinarians may perform what is called an ovariectomy, where only the ovaries and the part of the uterus closely associated with them are removed.
Ovariohysterectomy: Removal of the Uterus and Ovaries
Your vet will make an abdominal incision on the underside of your dog’s belly, right around or below the belly button area. The incision may be small or large. The ovaries and uterus are removed, and stitches are placed internally.
During this procedure, large blood vessels must be closed off with stitches. On the belly, stitches may be absorbable or buried under the skin, with no removal necessary. Stitches may also be placed in the skin to close the belly, and these will require removal. If skin stitches are to be removed by your vet, this will happen 10-14 days after surgery.
Ovariectomy: Removal of the Ovaries Only
Ovariectomy can be performed through incisions in a dog’s belly, similar to an ovariohysterectomy. This procedure can also be performed by vets with specialized training using a laparoscope. Laparoscopic surgery involves making a few small incisions in the belly. The procedure includes removal of the ovaries and only the closely associated uterine tissue.
While this procedure is not as commonly performed as an ovariohysterectomy, it will still result in surgical sterilization and can reduce the risk for mammary cancer and ovarian cancer. However, uterine cancer is still possible since your dog will still have a uterus.
Dog Spay Recovery Checklist
Use this checklist to provide care after spaying your dog.
If you see any of the following, call your vet right away, as these could be signs of a surgical complication:
Discharge, blood, or swelling at the surgical site
Sluggishness or collapse
Changes in breathing rate
Straining to pee or poop
Unable to pee
Restrict Your Dog’s Activity For 10-14 Days
Regardless of the procedure performed, help your dog heal by restricting her activity for at least 10 to 14 days post-surgery. Your veterinarian may give specific instructions for a longer period of rest, depending on your dog's particular situation. Leash walks with a gradual return to regular exercise are important.
Keep an E-Collar on Your Dog
Use an E-collar as instructed by your veterinarian to prevent your dog from licking her incision, which can lead to infection and premature removal of stitches.
Check Your Dog’s Spay Incisions
Monitor your dog’s surgical site daily for swelling, redness, or discharge. Opening of the surgical site could lead to a major medical emergency for your dog. If the incision appears to have opened or stitches have come loose, check in with the vet right away.
Internal hemorrhage is a serious complication that can be seen on occasion. This occurs if stitches that are placed internally (in procedures where the ovaries and uterus are removed) become loose or fall off. Letting your dog run around too soon after surgery can be one cause of this complication.
If an internal hemorrhage occurs during dog spay recovery, this is an emergency, so take your dog to a vet immediately. Look for the following signs:
Belly distension (swelling)
Blood dripping from incision
Difficulty or changes in breathing
Monitor Your Dog’s Bathroom Habits
Pay attention to your dog’s ability to pee and poop after surgery. When you pick your dog up after the procedure, ask your vet whether they’ve used the bathroom after surgery. Not urinating in the first 24 hours at home may be a sign of a surgical complication and warrants a check-in with the vet.
Give Your Dog Prescription Pain Medications
Medications to manage pain should be given as instructed. Ask your vet for a pain-management plan for your dog to stop any pain before it starts.
Follow Your Vet’s Feeding Instructions
Feed your dog according to your veterinarian’s instructions. While some dogs may choose to skip their evening meal after surgery, they should want to start eating the next day. If they remain uninterested in food at that point, or if their appetite changes, call the vet.