Two Vets holding a dog

Spaying & Neutering: A Complete Guide

Guide To Spaying & Neutering Dogs

If you own a dog, you have probably been asked if your dog is spayed or neutered, or you may have faced the dilemma of whether to have the procedure done. Before you can make such a big decision for your dog, you need to make sure you know how the procedure works, what you can expect of it and what options there are.

This is a simple- yet complete guide put together for your convenience, to give you a better idea of what sterilizing your dog would mean for you, your pup and your life together.

Spaying and neutering are humane steps towards reducing the population of unwanted dogs in the world, as it prevents puppies to be born into the wrong circumstances, and it can also help reduce the risk of some serious health issues known to affect both male and female dogs.

Surgical Sterilization

Person holding Surgical Sterilization tools

Spaying or neutering a dog surgically is what people usually associate with the words, and it is when certain reproductive organs are removed with a surgical operation. These are permanent procedures that cannot be undone, and your dog will have to be sedated with anesthesia. There are certain risks with anesthesia, but the procedures themselves are generally safe, provided you choose a trustable and experienced veterinarian and follow the guidelines for follow-up care.

Ovariohysterectomy, also known as a spay, is when the veterinary surgeon removes the uterus, the fallopian tubes and the ovaries from a female dog. It eliminates the occurrence of the dog going into heat – meaning no more blood stains on your couch, and no more male dogs going nuts whenever they see or smell your lovely canine lady.

It is known to possibly also reduce or remove any instincts related to mating, such as pseudopregnancies. Pseudopregnancies can cause stress, discomfort and even pain for some female dogs, and it can become an issue especially if it tends to happen often. A full spay will stop this from happening, and give both you and your dog much-needed peace of mind.

For male dogs, surgical sterilization means that an Orchiectomy is performed, where the testicles are carefully removed from the sack, which will then – with time – retract and disappear. It is a simple procedure, also compared to spaying, as it requires no internal surgery, and it almost always heals rapidly within a few days.

Other Surgical Alternatives

If traditional spaying or neutering doesn’t feel like the right thing for your dog, there are also other surgical alternatives worth having a look at. You can opt for a hysterectomy, which is almost the same as an ovariohysterectomy, only that the ovaries are left in their place.

The veterinarian will remove only the fallopian tubes and the uterus, which allows the ovaries to continue producing hormones. This, of course, means that your dog’s breeding related behavior might stay the same as before, so it depends on whether this matters to you.

A vasectomy for male dogs is where the ductus deferens (also known as the vas deferens) are removed, which are the tubes that lead sperm from the testicles. It stops the dog from impregnating female dogs in heat, but it does not control or eliminate any hormone-driven behavior the way full neutering would. A vasectomy in dogs is performed much like a vasectomy in humans, and it does not include the removal of the testicles as is the case with an orchiectomy.

Another option for a female dog is an ovariectomy. This is the opposite of a hysterectomy, and when the ovaries are removed, but the uterus is left in its place. It has the same effect as a full spay, meaning it eliminates the heat cycle and makes the dog unable to reproduce. Which procedure is right for you depends on what your veterinarian recommends, and you need to make sure you keep an open dialogue with your trusted pet doctor.

Chemical (Non-surgical) Sterilization


Surgery isn’t an option for all dogs, and there are also cases where a dog owner might prefer something less permanent. For male dogs, there is now a nonsurgical option and something that is becoming increasingly popular especially in Europe. This method uses calcium chloride to chemically sterilize the dog, and it is injected into the testicles to prevent the dog from reproducing.

It is a cheaper option, and it only lasts for a certain amount of time, which gives the dog owner a chance to reverse the effect if they would notice side effects or simply change their minds. This method is frequently used in Italy, for example, as a measure to reduce stray dog populations without having to turn to more extreme measures, like euthanizing them.

If choosing to sterilize your dog chemically, you won’t have to worry about any surgical procedures or anesthesia-related side effects, as all it takes is a shot. It is quick, relatively pain-free and not known to have any dangerous side effects, and your veterinarian can give you all the details if it turns out it would be a good option for your male dog.

The downside to this alternative sterilization method is that it is not 100% guaranteed that it will work, and there is a small risk of the treatment not having had the desired effect, which could result in unwanted litters.

Reasons to Spay and Neuter

Everyone has their own reasons for wanting to spay or neuter their dog, and there are no rights or wrongs, provided you have made the decision together with a licensed veterinarian. Overpopulation is a real issue, not only in the United States but all over the world, and the best way to combat it is by sterilizing and neutering pets and homeless dogs to prevent more unwanted puppies from being born.

Breeding should be left to responsible breeders who know what they are doing, and whose main focus is to improve and preserve a dog breed, and not to people who only wish to make money or who wants their dog to have “cute babies.”

Sterilization can also be the answer if you have a dog that is very affected either by her own heat cycle, or a male dog that can’t seem to relax whenever there is a female dog in heat around. Some dogs struggle to control their hormones and might give up eating, whine and cry uncontrollably, act with aggression and more, and removing the ovaries from a female dog and the testicles from a male dog might (though it is no guarantee) help control their behavior.

Spaying and neutering are also known to reduce the risk of certain cancers. For female dogs, breast cancer (ovarian cancer) is a real threat and something that happens to a surprising number of dogs, and by removing the ovaries, you also remove the risk of a potentially life-threatening condition. It can also help protect against uterine infections.

Reduced risk of testicular cancer and benign prostatic hyperplasia (known as an enlarged prostate gland) have been registered in male dogs following a neuter procedure. This only applies to full spay- and neuter surgeries where ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes and – in the case of male dogs – testicles are removed. Chemical castration is not the same in terms of health benefits, but it could be used as a way to see if surgical sterilization might be right for your dog.

Risks Associated with Sterilizing a Dog

A veterinarian can explain in detail the risks sterilization would mean for your dog, as not all dogs are at equal risk. One of the benefits is the potentially reduced hormonal misbehaviors, but this could also backfire and alter your dog’s behavior in an unexpected and unwanted way.

Some report fearful dogs becoming even more insecure after a spay or neuter, but there are also counter-reports where sterilization has helped dogs with anxiety. This basically means that there is no way of knowing exactly how sterilizing your dog might affect it, but in most cases – no significant personality change or negative side-effects are noticed.

The anesthetic is the other risk with surgical sterilization, same as with any other surgical procedure, but an experienced veterinarian will talk you through this and make sure your dog is physically fit for surgery before initiating. This usually involves extensive testing and health checks, and the incidents related to anesthesia are relatively few considering how many dogs are sterilized every day across the globe.

Best Age to Spay or Neuter a Dog

The ideal timing for sterilizing a dog is widely debated. It as previously believed that a female dog should go through her first heat cycle before being spayed, and some even believed it best to let her have a litter before the surgery.

This has proven to be incorrect and misguiding, and research is now showing that it might be best to spay a female dog already before she goes into heat for the first time. This, of course, is only an option if you have had your dog from the early puppy months, and if so – a veterinarian should be given the last word regarding when to spay or neuter.

There is no upper age limit for a spay or neutering, and if your dog would happen to already be an adult when you decide to have it done – go for it! Better late than never, as they say, but a dog over the age of 7 will usually need additional evaluation by a veterinarian before being cleared for surgery, as there may be some additional risks with spaying or neutering a senior dog.

How to Care for Your Dog After the Procedure

After you have your dog sterilized, it is very important to keep the wound clean and dry. Some veterinarians use dissoluble stitches that disappear on their own after a few days, and others use stitches that will need to be taken out.

Your veterinarian will give you specific instructions for how to care for your dog for the 10-15 days after a spay or neutering, but the most important thing is to keep your dog as still as possible to prevent the stitches from ripping. Take short and slow leashed walks with no off-leash playtime and avoid (if possible) going out when it rains or when it is wet outside.

Your veterinarian is likely to prescribe a pain killer and possibly an antibiotic to help the wound heal and to prevent infection, and it is important to follow those guidelines and to give your dog the proper dosage for as many days as the treatment requires.

Your dog may seem fine – full of energy and as happy as ever, but it doesn’t mean you can stop giving them their medication or let them run around the yard, as they may not feel their own physical limitations. Listen to your vet and follow instructions to ensure the safety of your newly operated dog.

Making the Right Decision

As initially mentioned, there is no right and wrong here, and no solution will be a perfect fit for every dog. If you are considering spaying or neutering your dog – read up on the procedure you believe to be right for you, book an appointment with your local veterinarian and discuss your options with an open mind.

Sterilizing a dog contributes to reducing overpopulation, it prevents the suffering of future litters and helps control certain hormone-driven behaviors, but it can also have health benefits like a reduced risk of cancer and other life-threatening conditions.

In the end, it is the veterinarian who will decide what procedure would suit your dog best and whether your dog is a good candidate for sterilization, but by knowing what your options are – you will feel more involved in the big health decisions you will eventually need to take on account of your dog. Knowledge is power, and knowledge will give you the confidence you need to do what is right for your furry friend.

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