According to a recent report released by the American Humane Society, animal shelters across the country euthanize 2.4 million healthy dogs and cats each year due to pet overpopulation. Surgical sterilization of the female dog or cat, commonly referred to as spaying, and neutering for the male dog or cat is one of the most significant aspects of pet care an owner can provide. The benefits to the pet far outweigh simply not having puppies or kittens, though as pet over-population looms as a societal problem, it is important to consider the bigger picture as well and be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
Reasons to Spay Your Female Dog
Spaying involves removal of the uterus and ovaries. It is a major surgery but a commonly performed one. It is ideally performed prior to the first heat cycle in small breed dogs (adult weight under 60lbs as adults) and after the first heat cycle in large breed dogs (adult weight over 60lbs as adults). It is also recommended after the first heat cycle if the vulva is recessed, or hooded, to prevent UTI's from skin infections later in life.
Mammary Cancer Prevention
The reason to limit heat cycles is that a female dog spayed before her first heat cycle will have a near zero chance of developing mammary cancer. After the first heat cycle, the incidence of tumor development climbs to 7% and after the second heat the risk is up to 25%. In fact, spaying is important even in female dogs who already have had multiple heat cycles or have obvious tumors. This is because many mammary tumors are stimulated by estrogens from the ovaries.
Pyometra is the life-threatening infection of the uterus that generally occurs in middle-aged to older female dogs in the six weeks following a heat cycle. One in four unspayed female dogs who have survived to age 10 will get it. The uterus with pyometra swells dramatically and is filled with pus, bacteria, dying tissue, and toxins. Without treatment, the dog is expected to die. Despite her serious medical state, she must be spayed quickly if her life is to be saved. This is an expensive spay at the ER.
Female dogs come into heat every 8 months or so. There is a bloody vaginal discharge and local male dogs are attracted. Often there is an offensive odor. All of this disappears with spaying, not to mention the inconvenience of an unplanned litter of puppies to house, clean, feed and adopt out.
Reasons to Neuter Your Male Dog
Neutering involves removal of the testicles. It is a major surgery but a commonly performed one, ideally performed while a male dog is still in under 1 year old depending on breed and size.
Prostate Disease Prevention
Neutering causes the prostate to shrink into insignificance, thus preventing both prostatitis as well as the uncomfortable benign hyperplasia (enlargement) that occurs with aging.
Testicular Cancer Prevention
Can’t have testicular cancer, if you don’t have testicles!
Perineal Hernia Prevention
A perineal hernia is a tear in the muscles in the between the anus and the bottom bones of the hips. It allows the bladder to flip over and become trapped which is a life threatening condition requiring emergency surgery.
Positive Behavioral Changes
Behaviors that are most consistently altered after neutering are inappropriate mounting, urine marking, biting and fighting. Also, neutered dogs are less likely to roam from home and get hit by a car. And they smell better!
What Happens During Surgery
The patient is fasted for at least 8 hours. Anesthetic medications may induce nausea and vomiting can be dangerous in a sedated patient. A preoperative evaluation is performed; blood work is recommended for older pets. An intravenous catheter is placed to facilitate the administration of anesthetic drugs, for fluid administration, and for use in case of emergency. A tranquilizer or other pre-anesthetic medication is administered in preparation for induction of anesthesia. A medication is given intravenously to induce sleep. This medication is called an induction agent and lasts only long enough to establish the maintenance of anesthesia by the inhalant gas anesthetic by a tube placed in their throat. This is to ensure that a clear airway is maintained throughout the procedure. The tube is hooked up to a machine that delivers the inhalant gas mixed with 100% oxygen. A technician is assigned to monitor the patient’s gum color, heart rate, respiration and blood pressure.
In the surgical prep area, the abdomen is shaved and scrubbed then the patient is moved to the surgical suite and draped with surgical cloths.
For a spay, an incision is made on the midline of the abdomen, and the three points where the ovaries and uterus attached are tied off and cut. The abdomen is checked for bleeding and two or three layers of stitches are placed to close the incision.
For a neuter, an incision is made in front of or on the scrotum. The testicles are removed through this incision, the stalks are tied off and cut. Two layers of stitches are placed to close the incision.
The anesthesia technician continues monitoring until the dog wakes up and coughs enough to remove the throat tube. The patient is observed until the patient is able to walk. The patient is sent home with pain meds and an Elizabethan collar at the end of the day.
What to Expect at Home
Some nausea may occur in the first couple of days after surgery and it would not be unusual for the dog to refuse food for a day or two after surgery. A cough may persist for 1-2 days as a result of the throat tube. Activity should be restricted during the week following surgery. Excessive activity can lead to swelling or fluid accumulation under the incision or, even worse, a tear in the internal incision line. If a fluid pocket forms, it should resolve on its own after a few weeks. Refer to post-op email for more information.