Category Archives: Spaying

What Age to Spay A Dog?


New puppy visits have to be one of my favorite appointments in veterinary medicine. Adorable puppies, excited owners, so many opportunities to lay the groundwork for a long and happy life together. We cover lots of topics: vaccinations, deworming schedules, training, nutrition. During the first visit, one of the most common questions I get with puppies is, “When should my pet be spayed or neutered?”

For a very long time, veterinary medicine offered a fairly standard response: Six months. But why is that? Is it truly in every pet’s best interests to be desexed, and if so, why this particular age? Let’s unpack this very important topic so that you understand the factors we consider when we give you our recommendation for spays and neuters.

Understand Exactly What a Spay or Neuter Entails

A spay, known in veterinary parlance as ovariohysterectomy, is the surgical removal of both the ovaries and the uterus in female dogs. While ovariectomies (removal of the ovaries, leaving the uterus) are becoming more common in other parts of the world, the complete ovariohysterectomy is still the main procedure taught and performed in the United States. In the dog, the ovaries are up near the kidneys, and the y-shaped uterus extends from both ovaries down to the cervix. An ovariohysterectomy is a major abdominal surgery that carries with it, like all surgeries, risk and benefit.

A neuter procedure, or castration, removes the testicles from a male dog. Unless the dog has a retained testicle (a condition known as cryptorchidism), a neuter procedure does not enter the abdominal cavity. While still a major surgery, it is not as complex as a spay in a healthy, normal male dog.

The Size of the Pet Matters

A main reason veterinarians recommend a spay at six months as opposed to six weeks is concern for anesthesia. Very small pets can be more of a challenge in terms of temperature regulation and anesthetic safety, though with today’s advanced protocols, we can very safely and successfully anesthetize even tiny pediatric patients. In a shelter environment, where highly trained and experienced staff perform thousands of pediatric spays and neuters a year, it is not uncommon to perform these procedures in pets closer to two-three months of age.

On the other hand, very large dogs are also more complicated to spay. Not only is the abdominal cavity larger and deeper, the blood supply is more robust and the fat in the abdominal cavity more difficult to maneuver around. Make no mistake, I would much rather spay a six-month-old dog of any breed than a five-year-old, 100-pound Rottie. As the difficulty increases, so does the risk of complication. With male dogs, the procedure does carry increased risk of complication as the pet grows but not to the same extent as a spay. Regardless, veterinarians perform so many of these procedures that we consider them fairly routine, even in large dogs, and the overall complication rate is still very low. Unless a pet has another underlying health issue, size should not be a reason to avoid the procedure.

Removing Hormones can be of Benefit

Another reason veterinarians settle on the six-month recommendation is that if a pet is not going to be bred, spaying a female dog before her first heat cycle has significant benefit in terms of reducing the risk of mammary cancer. While pets spayed before their first heat cycle have a 0.5 percent incidence of mammary cancer, that number torpedoes to 26 percent for pets spayed after their second heat cycle, with an overall incidence seven times higher for intact females than for spayed ones. Pyometra, a life-threatening infection of the uterus, is also very common in intact female dogs, and up to a quarter of intact dogs will develop it by ten years of age, according to one study. And obviously, a pet with no ovaries, testicles, or uterus cannot develop cancers or infections of those organs.

Testosterone has a great many effects on the dog that are decreased or eliminated when he is neutered. Behaviorally, neutered dogs are less aggressive, less likely to roam and be injured or hit by cars in their never-ending search for a mate and exhibit less of that frustrating humping behavior. Some boarding and daycare facilities do not accept intact pets, which can be a significant obstacle if you usually partake of these services.

Removing Hormones can be of Risk

Recent studies have linked early spay and neuter to a bevy of health risks: increased incidence of cranial cruciate ligament disease, osteosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, or lymphomas in dogs that were spayed or neutered before sexual maturity. While these studies have received a great deal of attention, it’s also important to note that they are retrospective- they are looking back on medical records after the fact, which means the data is much more subjective and not necessarily definitive. While it isn’t unreasonable to make note of these associations and continue to study them, the scientific community is far from consensus on whether or not early spay and neuter causes these health problems, or is simply associated with them without being the cause.

There are two medical conditions that are generally accepted as being associated with spay: urinary incontinence and obesity. No one is sure why obesity is seen more in spayed females, as no studies have shown a change in metabolism after the procedure. Both conditions are treatable: incontinence with medications and obesity with diet and exercise.

Pet Overpopulation is Still a Significant Problem

Approximately four million dogs enter the shelters in the United States each year and of those, half are euthanized. Many of these are stray animals or unwanted “oops” pets abandoned by their owners. If you are not planning on breeding your dog as part of a well-researched and knowledgeable breeding program, he or she should be fixed. Dogs can begin their first heat cycle as young as six months, and you would be amazed at how easy it is for a motivated male to find her. Fences are destroyed, rock-hard soil tunneled through, six-foot walls scaled. Owning an intact female means making a commitment every seven months or so to keeping her under lock and key for the two-week duration of her heat cycle.

Are There Pets Who Should not be Fixed?

I fully support the role responsible breeders play in the canine world. Purpose-bred dogs play significant roles as assistance animals, in law enforcement and as beloved companions. I don’t believe in mandatory spay and neuter myself; as a pet owner I believe it’s up to you to understand the risks and benefits of all health decisions and choose what is best for your pet. For those who understand the risk of pyometra and reproductive cancers as well as the responsibilities of keeping an intact female from being accidentally bred, there’s certainly a good argument to make for waiting to spay. Many of those owners do still elect to spay their females once they are done having litters, which is an excellent compromise.

That being said, for the vast majority of companion animal owners, I still recommend spaying a dog before her first heat cycle as I believe that is the optimal balance of risk versus benefit. While the jury is still out on the benefits of waiting to spay until a pet is older, the known benefits of an easier surgery and recovery, living with a dog who does not go through the hassles of heat, avoiding unwanted pregnancy and eliminating the very real and ugly problem of pyometra and reproductive cancers makes this the ideal decision in my book.

For owners of male dogs, there is a little more leeway in terms of timing. Some veterinarians and breeders recommend waiting until a dog reaches their full size before neutering because of the possibility of increased joint disease and cancers in dogs neutered early, especially for large breed dogs. Unlike in females, where there is a known benefit for performing a spay before the first estrus, the benefit to neutering a dog at two is the same as it is at six months; the main deciding factors in these cases is whether the owner is willing to put up with the behavior of an intact dog for that long.

At the end of the day, this and all medical decisions surrounding your pet are your decision. Our job as veterinarians is to lay out the risks and benefits for your specific pet, and help you come up with a plan that is right for you.

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in Your Home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372

Why Does Spaying a Dog Cost So Much?

 I used to work in a general veterinary practice in a wealthy part of Wyoming. Despite the fact that many of our clients arrived at the clinic driving cars worth more than my annual salary, the question “Why does  spaying a dog cost so much?” seemed to come up on a daily basis. I think the ready availability of spays through nonprofit organizations has skewed owner perception of the true cost of this surgery absent support via donations, tax-exempt status, and a focus on maximizing the number of surgeries performed.


It’s impossible to itemize the cost of everything that goes into a high quality dog spay, but I thought that an overview of what’s involved in spaying a dog might provide some insight.

  • An examination by a veterinarian prior to anesthesia on the day of the surgery.
  • Laboratory tests prior to surgery. Exactly which tests should be run depends on your dog’s age, breed, and health history. For example, a six month old mixed breed dog who has never been sick a day in her life may only need a check of her hematocrit (red blood cell count), total blood protein level, and an Azostix (a quick and dirty check of kidney function) while a dog with an increased risk of disorders that make anesthesia and surgery riskier would require more extensive testing.
  • “Pre-meds.” Sedatives and pain relievers that help dogs to relax and can reduce the dose of anesthetics that are subsequently given.
  • Placement of an intravenous catheter after the site is shaved and prepped with antiseptics to prevent infection. Catheters allow multiple injections to be given with only one “stick,” the administration of intravenous fluids during surgery (more on why this is so important next week), and ensure access to the blood stream in case an emergency arises.
  • Administration of injectable anesthetics allowing the dog to be intubated (placement of a breathing tube into the trachea).
  • Administration of oxygen and inhalational anesthetics through the breathing tube throughout the procedure.
  • Shaving and multiple applications of antiseptic solutions to the surgical site to prevent infection.
  • The use of several monitoring devices (e.g., blood pressure, blood oxygenation, pulse and breathing rates, and temperature).
  • A specially designed room used only for surgery complete with all necessary equipment (oxygen delivery system, surgical lights and tables, etc.).
  • The use of special devices to hold the dog in the correct position and keep her warm.
  • Application of sterile drapes (newly sterilized ones for every surgery) that leave only a small area around the surgical site exposed.
  • Caps, masks, surgical hand scrub, and sterile gowns and gloves (new ones for every surgery) for the veterinarian and anyone else who might assist in the surgery.
  • A sterile equipment pack containing scalpel handles, needle holders, hemostats, a variety of clamps, absorbent gauze, etc. A new sterile pack should be used for every surgery.
  • Sterile, individually packaged scalpel blade(s).
  • Several different types of individually packaged, sterile absorbable sutures.
  • Sterile nonabsorbable sutures, tissue glue, or surgical staples to close the skin.
  • Close monitoring while the dog recovers from anesthesia in a warm and soft location.
  • Pain relievers to go home and clear instructions (both written and verbal) regarding what owners should be monitoring for during the postoperative period.
  • The veterinarian’s, veterinary technician’s, and support staff’s time/salaries.
  • Expenses to cover costs associated with the running of the veterinary practice (e.g., equipment purchases and maintenance, utilities, rent/mortgage payments, etc.)

Truth is, most veterinary clinics greatly undercharge for spaying a  dog. They consider providing high quality spays a necessary part of patient care and are willing to take a loss on the procedure to avoid scaring clients away with the actual cost of the surgery.   Dr. Jennifer Coates

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372

Spaying a Dog or Cat: Reasons Why


The major cause of the overpopulation of dogs and cats is not spaying or neutering them.  Please read this.
spay-pupkittenFor those of us who understand the benefits of spaying and neutering our dogs and cats, it can be hard to comprehend why anyone wouldn’t get their their pets fixed. Those in the know can help by sharing knowledge of the benefits, and debunking the all-to-common myths that are still believed by too many pet owners. If you are researching the pros and cons of spaying your dog or cat, or are looking for information to share with a friend or neighbor to educated them, this article will help you with facts so you or they can make a responsible, informed decision as a loving pet owner.
Here are just some of the great reasons to spay or neuter your dog or cat, and myths below that.
1. Your pet will be happier.  If you care about your pet’s happiness, spaying or neutering is one of the kindest things you can do for them. Unfixed pets
2. Your pet will be healthier. Medical evidence proves it! In females, spaying helps prevent uterine, ovarian, and breast cancer which is fatal in about 50% of dogs and 90% of cats. Females spayed before their first heat (4-5 months old) are the healthiest, but it helps at any age. For males, especially if done before 6 months of age, it prevents testicular cancer and prostate problems.
3. Your pet will live longer. Because they are healthier (see #2), spayed and neutered pets have a significantly longer average lifespan. Also, neutered pets are also less likely to roam or fight (see #4), lengthening their lifespan.
4. Your spayed female won’t go into heat. This means you don’t have to deal with blood staining, yowling, and the more frequent urination – which can be all over your house! Female felines usually go into heat four to five days every three weeks during breeding season. That’s a lot of mess and noise!
5. Your male pet is less likely to roam. An un-neutered male pet is driven by strong hormones to mate, and will often turn into a Houdini escape artist to get out of their home or yard, especially if there is a female in heat close by, or sometimes even miles away!
6. Your male pet will be friendlier. A fixed male is less likely to want to fight with other pets, even females, who may not appreciate his annoying ongoing advances.
7. Your female pet will be friendlier. When a female pet goes into heat, the hormones can make her behavior become erratic. A usually friendly pet who goes into heat can suddenly become aggressive with both people and other pets in the home.
8. Marking & humping will be reduced or eliminated. This true is for both dogs and cats, and especially for males. Also male dogs will be much less likely to ‘hump’ other dogs… or people’s legs or your couch cushions!
9. It will save you money. Fixed pets have fewer health problems so vet bills are lower. They are less likely to bite, avoiding potential costly lawsuits (80% of dog bites to humans are from intact male dogs). They are less likely to try to escape and do damage to your home or yard, or cause a car accident.
10. You are saving pets lives. You may say your pet will never get out or run away, but that’s what almost every pet owner thinks – accidents happen! Pet overpopulation is a problem everywhere. For every human born, 15 dogs and 45 cats are born. There simply aren’t enough homes for all these animals.


Here are some of the common myths, with the truths explained:

Excuse: It is more natural to leave my pet unaltered.
Fact: It would also be more natural to live in a cave and not have pets at all. But humans have chosen to domesticate dogs and cats, and with that comes a responsibility to keep them safe, happy and healthy. See above for how spaying and neutering is an integral part of that responsibility.

Myth: My pet’s babies won’t contribute to pet overpopulation.
Fact: Even if your pet is a purebred, and you can find homes for all their babies, those are homes that could have adopted a pet – there are purebreds of almost every single breed  in shelters and rescues. And though you might be a lifetime pet owner, can you be sure that all your babies’ homes will never give up their pet to a shelter?

Myth: It will change my pet’s personality.
Fact: A dog’s personality is formed by genetics and environment, not by sex hormones. Ask anyone that has fixed their pet! There are some behaviors that are typically reduced by fixing your pet, but they are undesirable… unless you like a pet that territorially urinates, tries to fight more with other pets, or tries to escape to get out to find a mate!

Myth: My pet will get fat.
Fact: Just like with people, metabolism and food intake is what determines if a pet becomes overweight. Just visit a shelter to see all the overweight unfixed pets! Fixed pets can be calmer, so do sometimes need to eat less.

Excuse: My pet will never escape.
Sit at an animal shelter intake desk for 1 day, and listen to how many owner’s reclaiming their pets say exactly that. Accidents happen. Don’t let the accident be your pet escaping and causing yet one more oops litter.


Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
310 919 9372