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Spaying and Neutering Dogs 101: Everything You Need to Know

Spaying and Neutering Dogs 101: Everything You Need to Know

Spaying or neutering is one of the most responsible ways dog owners can care for their pets. First-time dog owners are likely to have many questions about these procedures, from the risks involved to the costs. Here are some answers to the most common questions that pet parents have about the spaying and neutering process.

What’s the Difference Between Spaying and Neutering?

Spaying a dog refers to the removal of a female dog’s reproductive organs, while neutering refers to the procedure done for males.

When a female dog is spayed, the vet removes her ovaries and usually her uterus as well. Spaying renders a female dog unable to reproduce and eliminates her heat cycle. Typically, behavior related to breeding instincts will cease, but this is not always true for every dog.

When neutering a dog, both testicles and their associated structures are removed. Neutering renders a male dog unable to reproduce, and behavior related to breeding instincts, like humping, usually ceases—but not always. This may depend on the age of the dog and other factors.

Alternative procedures, like vasectomies for male dogs, are available but not commonly performed.

Why Spay or Neuter?

Animal shelters are filled with unwanted puppies and dogs. Spaying and neutering reduce the number of unwanted litters, which helps decrease the number of stray animals and those in shelters.

These procedures also have specific health benefits. Spaying a dog helps prevent serious health problems, including mammary cancer and pyometra, a potentially life-threatening uterine infection. Neutering male dogs helps prevent testicular cancer. Neutered male dogs are generally less aggressive and less likely to stray from home, which keeps them safe from fights or getting hit by a car.

However, some diseases, like prostatic cancer and certain orthopedic conditions, are slightly more common in dogs who have been spayed or neutered. For most pet parents, the pros of spaying and neutering their dogs outweigh the cons.

When Should You Spay or Neuter Your Dog?

The traditional age for spaying or neutering a dog is between 4 and 6 months. However, a spay clinic or shelter may safely spay or neuter dogs as young as 2 months old. Several factors can influence the timing of these procedures, such as the dog's breed and living situation.

Most veterinarians recommend spaying a female dog before her first heat cycle, which varies but occurs somewhere between 5 and 10 months of age. Spaying before the first heat cycle greatly reduces her risk of developing mammary (breast) cancer.

For male dogs, adult size is an important factor. Small and medium male dogs are generally neutered earlier—around 6 months of age—while your veterinarian may recommend waiting until a giant breed puppy is a year or more before neutering.

Before a dog is spayed or neutered, the vet should give the animal a complete checkup to ensure there are no health issues. The pet’s owner should also provide a full medical history because underlying conditions or current medications could be relevant.

Recovery From Spay and Neuter Surgery

Dog owners can help their pets have safe and comfortable recoveries after being spayed or neutered by following some precautions:

  • Keep the dog inside and away from other animals during the recovery period.

  • Don’t let the dog run around and jump on and off things for up to 2 weeks after surgery, or as long as the vet advises.

  • Ensure the dog is unable to lick their incision site by using a cone or other methods, as recommended by the vet.

  • Check the incision every day to make sure it’s healing properly. If redness, swelling, discharge, or a foul odor are present, contact your vet immediately.

  • Don’t bathe the dog for at least 10 days post-surgery.

  • Call the vet if the dog is uncomfortable, lethargic, eating less, vomiting, or has diarrhea.

Discuss pain management with the vet before the procedure to ensure that pain medication is available if needed. A good way to gauge a dog’s recovery is if the dog is comfortable and energetic enough to play, he or she is probably doing okay. However, ensure your dog doesn’t run around before fully healed.

Is Spay and Neuter Surgery Risky?

Spay and neutering are common surgeries, but there’s always some degree of risk involved for animals undergoing surgery and general anesthesia. Dogs should have a thorough physical exam to ensure their general good health before surgery is performed. Blood work may be recommended to ensure that the dog has no underlying health issues.

Misconceptions About Spay and Neuter Procedures

A common misconception is that a sterilized dog will get fat. This is not true as long as dog owners provide the proper amount of exercise and dog food. Dogs may need fewer calories (by about 20 percent) after being spayed or neutered, but changing their diet appropriately and keeping them active will prevent weight gain.

Another misconception is that spaying or neutering a dog will change its personality. This is not true. It may help stop unwanted behaviors such as marking in the house but shouldn’t change their behavior much at all.

Cost of Spaying or Neutering Your Dog

The cost of spaying or neutering a dog varies widely by geographic area and the size of the dog. Researching low-cost options in your area can help. Local municipalities may offer specific low-cost and affordable options for these procedures.

Low-cost care provided by spay and neuter clinics does not necessarily mean the care will be less comprehensive than what a private practice provides. Ask for a breakdown of the costs associated with your dog’s spay or neuter to get an idea of what is and what is not included.

For more information and to schedule a spay or neuter procedure, visit

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