Should I Spay or Neuter My Pet?
Getting a new puppy or kitten is one of the most special moments in a pet owner’s life, but one that comes with so many decisions. Pet owners have to decide what food to feed them, what form of prevention works best for them, and most importantly, whether or not to spay or neuter their pets. If you are struggling to make a decision on spaying or neutering, we want to offer all of the information available to help you make the most educated decision possible.
What do the terms “spay” and “neuter” mean?
These terms refer to the sterilization, or the removal of certain reproductive organs in both female and male, dogs and cats. Spaying, or an Ovariohysterectomy, is the surgical removal of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus in a female dog or cat, making them unable to ovulate, breed, or have menstrual cycles. Neutering, or an Orchiectomy, is the surgical removal of the testes in a male dog or cat, also making them unable to breed.
Now, we know what you’re thinking, “I don’t plan on breeding my pet, is this really necessary?”. Fortunately, we are here to show you just how necessary they both are!
When should I consider spaying and neutering?
Knowing when to spay or neuter your pet is just as important as getting them spayed all together. Our preference is at around 6 months of age, and there are a few reasons most veterinarians choose this time as well. A main reason is because the operation is often quicker, with fewer complications during and after surgery, since at this age they have not reached full sexual maturity. Both puppies and kittens are also less likely to have a reaction to the anesthetic used for the surgery.
Another important reason we choose 6 months is because studies show that spaying before the first ever heat cycle reduces the risk of mammary cancer by 99.5%. If spayed before the second heat but after the first, the risks of cancer are then reduced by 92% and after the second but before the third, the risk is then reduced by 74%. It is important to note that unfortunately, there is no significant mammary cancer protection (around 26%) if your pet is spayed after their third heat cycle.
Neutering at 6 months offers similar protection for male pets by eliminating testicular cancer, but also helps in a different way than spaying. Most male dogs and cats will often display unwanted behaviors if left intact like urinating in your home, roaming or running away, and even some aggression between them and other animals. If neutered before reaching sexual maturity, these behaviors do not have time to develop.
What about my giant breed dog?
Now, we cannot forget about the giant breed dogs. We prefer for most giant breeds to wait until about 12 to 18 months of age (trying to aim between the first and second heat for females) to be spayed or neutered. There is a common misconception that your dog may have stunted growth, but the issue really lies with the growth plates. This can lead to joint problems, like hip dysplasia that has a 70% increased risk of developing, if neutered too early. Of course this rule is not absolute, as some dogs may develop behavioral concerns that may pose a threat to their overall health. (Ask us how we can couple a gastropexy with a spay!)
What are the benefits of spaying or neutering?
There are so many benefits to spaying or neutering! Thanks to neutering male roaming behavior, or wandering away, is decreased by 90%, regardless of age! Also the risk of testicular cancer is completely eliminated since the testes are removed at neutering. Other than the lifesaving benefits of reducing the risk of mammary and ovarian cancers, spaying eliminates the possibility of severe uterine infections, like pyometra.
Pyometra is a very serious and life threatening infection of the uterus that affects around 25% of intact female dogs and 2.2% of intact female cats. The most common symptoms of Pyometra are vaginal discharge, swollen abdomen (looking pregnant), vaginal discharge, vomiting, diarrhea, fevers, and lethargy. Unfortunately, this is not an infection that can be treated with antibiotics and requires an emergency spay to cure. This emergency procedure often comes with much bigger risks than a normal spay as the risks of uterine rupture, hemorrhage, and sepsis are all very high.
The most commonly known benefits of spaying is to avoid unwanted litters or heats, but did you know pets who are ’fixed’, tend to live longer? They do! Because of the decreased risks of certain cancers, uterine infections, and aggressive behaviors, their lives are generally longer than their intact counterparts.
How to schedule a spay or neuter?
For any current patients, spays and neuters are typically discussed during regular well visits with our veterinarians and can usually be scheduled easily over the phone or in person. However, for new clients or referrals, we require an examination with one of our veterinarians to ensure your pet is physically healthy enough to undergo both anesthesia and surgery.
During scheduling our staff will go over drop off times, deposit fees, eating and drinking restrictions, and any surgical follow-ups.
What to expect from a spay or neuter?
Both surgeries will start out with identical surgical prep! Patients are prepped with an intravenous catheter so we can administer fluids, and medications, safely to your pet. We then administer an anti-nausea/anti-emetic medication called Cerenia, to help your pet recover easier and with less stomach upset, from anesthesia. Similar to human surgeries, both neuters and spays in animals are full surgical procedures that require your pet to be fully anesthetized and intubated.
For a spay, once your pet is under, your surgeon will make a vertical incision in the lower abdomen, just long enough to locate the reproductive organs. Your surgeon will then clamp off and remove the uterus and ovaries, and then suture the incisions closed.
A neuter is only different to a spay, in regards to location really. Once your pet is fully anesthetized your surgeon will make small, vertical incisions on each testicle. These incisions are just large enough to push the testicle through the incision and clamp off the vas deferens (spermatic cord), pampiniform plexus (vessels surrounding the vas deferens), cremaster muscle and arterial supply. After the entire structure is clamped, your surgeon will create multiple knots in the structure to prevent bleeding, remove the testicle, and suture the incision closed.
After either surgery is complete, one of our surgical technicians will remain with your pet keeping them warm and comfortable until they wake from anesthesia and start to become coherent. We prefer to keep all surgical patients in our care for the majority of the day, so we can ensure your pet is recovering as they should from anesthesia and surgery. As soon as your pet is awake, your technician will either give you a call or send you a message, letting you know your pet is out of surgery and recovering and they will give you a pick up time.
During pick up, your surgical technician will go over a packet of information regarding your pet’s surgery and post-op care instructions, review the medications prescribed to your pet for recovery, and answer any of your questions you may have.
What is the post-operative care for spays or neuters?
Post-operative care is identical for both spays and neuters, in every way. Your pet may be sluggish or drowsy from anesthesia for about 24-48 hours after surgery, and they may not seem like themselves during that time frame. Stomach upset may occur, so try to limit the amounts of food and water you are offering at one time. Make sure you are keeping an eye on the incision and ensuring it is healing normally, while also not touching, cleaning or applying anything to the incision that was not instructed by your veterinarian. No bathing or swimming for at least 14 days post-op is essential to keeping harmful bacteria to the incision.
Your pet will be sent home with a plastic elizabethan-collar (or cone of shame) from us, unless you provide your own at check in, and it is to remain on your pet at all times for the entire 10-14 day healing period. The elizabethan-collar is to keep your pet from licking, scratching or having access to the incision site. If your pet is able to lick or scratch the incision, this could introduce bacteria and create a possible infection or even remove suture at the site. If either is to happen, this could cause an increase of cost to you, as another surgical procedure may be needed to repair any damage caused.
Also, always make sure you are giving your pets medications as prescribed, including for the amount of length prescribed. Both dogs and cats are very good at hiding their pain, and sometimes the signs they do show can be easily misunderstood for other things. We take pain management very seriously, especially for healing from surgical procedures. The most commonly prescribed medication for post-op are an NSAID (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug) to help control pain and swelling, anti-nausea or antiemetic medications, and sometimes light sedatives to ensure your pet remain calm and safe during healing (often used with very anxious pets).
Lastly, activity should be heavily restricted for the full 10-14 day healing period. All dogs must be leash walked to ensure no unnecessary exertion of energy and all cats must remain indoors. Do not allow either dogs or cats to jump, run, or allow unassisted access to stairs. If your pet does too much physical activity, they are at risk of rupturing suture or causing injuries, which could lead to an additional surgery or procedure to correct.
Why should I choose the Veterinary Outpatient Surgical Center for my pet’s spay or neuter?
A great question! As many know our office is really two offices; our outpatient primary care office Sully Animal Hospital, and our Veterinary Outpatient Surgical Center (VOSC). Both sides hold some of the most talented and board certified veterinarians and surgeons in the DMV area, who specialize in anything from routine spays and neuters to orthopedic surgery! If you want to ensure your veterinarian has the knowledge and expertise to ensure all concerns are addressed, give us a call! (We also accept referrals from other hospitals for any reason)
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