How to Spay and Neuter a Dog – A Step-By-Step Guide
How to spay and neuter a dog – perhaps you’ve heard your fellow fur parents and your dog’s veterinarian talk about spaying or neutering a dog. But as a new pet owner, you’re probably quite unsure if you’d like your furry buddy to undergo these kinds of surgeries. After all, spaying and neutering can change your dog’s life and impact him in so many ways.
Hence, we’ve put up this handy guide on how to spay and neuter a dog. In this article, we’ll define what spaying and neutering are.
We’ll present to you step-by-step how veterinarians do this procedure. Also, we’ll outline the advantages and disadvantages of having your dog neutered or spayed.
Hopefully, you’ll gain enough knowledge on the procedures on how to spay or neuter your dog after you’ve gone through this article. And we hope that you’ll finally be able to decide whether or not your furry buddy will benefit from undergoing these procedures.
- What is Spaying?
- What is Neutering?
- Advantages of Spaying and Neutering Your Dog
- Disadvantages of Spaying and Neutering Your Dog
- Pre-operative Preparations Before Spaying and Neutering Your Dog
- A Step-By-Step Guide to Spaying
- A Step-By-Step Guide to Neutering
What is Spaying?
Spaying is a veterinary surgical procedure for removing a female dog’s reproductive organs. These include the dog’s ovaries and uterus, rendering the dog sterile after the procedure. The medical term for traditional spaying is ovariohysterectomy.
Some veterinarians today believe that female sterilization in dogs can be accomplished without removing the uterus. Hence, they perform ovariectomy, another spaying procedure in which only the female dog’s ovaries are removed.
The ovaries and uterus are two main reproductive organs in female dogs.
The ovaries store eggs that are released when a female dog goes into heat. Meanwhile, the uterus is the womb where the fertilized eggs grow into puppy litters.
Removing these organs results in sterilizing the female dog, taking away her capacity to mate and bear puppies.
The age at which a female dog can be neutered varies, but most veterinarians perform the procedure between 5-15 months. Some factors come into play before deciding when to spay a female dog, such as:
- The dog’s general health
- Your dog’s breed
- Lifestyle with which the dog is accustomed to (adopted, remains in a shelter, used to the indoor out outdoor lifestyle, etc.)
- Risks of contracting an illness
Dog parents should also decide if they want their dog to experience her first heat cycle first before having her spayed.
Many people elect to have their female dogs spayed before her first estrus cycle appears. However, some dog owners feel the need for their dogs to experience at least one cycle before being sterilized through spaying. Some even want their female dogs to mate and breed at least once before having her spayed.
What is Neutering?
Neutering is the surgical removal of reproductive organs in all pets. The term applies to both males and females.
However, neutering is the term popularly assigned to denote male animal sterilization. Castration and de-sexing are other terms synonymous with male dog neutering.
Male dogs who are neutered may undergo a surgical procedure called an orchiectomy. It involves the surgical removal of the dog’s testicles. Removing both testicles in dogs stops the production of the hormone testosterone.
Apart from its role in reproduction, studies have shown that testosterone may play a part in aggressive male dog behaviors. This is in connection with other hormones causing behavior changes in dogs such as vasopressin and oxytocin.
Hence, castration or neutering a male dog may lead to better behavior in conjunction with positive behavioral training (1).
The age when male dogs can be neutered also varies. They can undergo the procedure:
- Before reaching puberty (before 6-9 months age)
- Post-puberty (at 1st year of life or older)
Many dog owners allow their male dogs to be neutered before puberty starts. This is because when a dog is allowed to experience mating first before castrating him (typically after puberty onset), he’ll likely retain his aggressive sexual behaviors.
Also, castrating a dog as early as 2 months age is proven safe and effective. The surgical procedure done at a young age becomes shorter. The neutered young puppy also experiences a faster recovery time and less post-operative pain or discomfort.
10 Advantages of Spaying and Neutering Your Dog
Most veterinarians recommend spaying or neutering your dog early in life. Also, most adoption shelters have their dogs spayed or neutered before giving them up for adoption. Why is this done? It’s because of these spaying or neutering advantages:
- Prevents unwanted pregnancies in female dogs
- Helps control unwanted or harmful behaviors related to mating for male dogs such as mounting on other dogs, urine spraying and marking, roaming, and aggression towards other dogs and humans
- Controls yowling, crying, aggression, erratic behavior, and vaginal discharge in female dogs
- Reduces the risk of illnesses such as prostate cancer for males and pyometra, mammary cancer, and tumors in females
- Prevents behavioral and medical problems arising out of a pseudopregnancy after a female dog’s heat cycle
- Helps control the ballooning dog population worldwide, especially in the United States (2)
- Eliminates the stress of caring for a pregnant female dog and her litter after she gives birth
- Stops passing any genetic illness, whether known or not, to other generations of dogs
- Increases a dog’s lifespan and quality of life
- Saves you money in the long run for preventing illnesses and conditions that may arise from not spaying or neutering your dog (such as mammary cancer and testicular cancer)
4 Disadvantages of Spaying and Neutering Your Dog
There are also potential disadvantages in having your dog spayed or neutered:
- May slow down your dog’s metabolism, especially in females
- Middle-aged and older females may develop urinary incontinence
- Early spaying in puppies may alter proper bone growth and cause injuries such as cruciate ligament tear
- Certain behaviors such as shyness and noise phobia may become more prominent in spayed or neutered dogs
Most of the time, the advantages of having your dog spayed or neutered far outweigh the disadvantages. Hence, it is highly recommended that all dogs get neutered or spayed. An exception is dogs who are raised to become breeders.
Pre-operative Preparations Before Spaying and Neutering Your Dog
Before any of these operations are carried out, your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination on your dogs. This is done to ensure that your dog is completely healthy and ready for the surgery.
Older dogs to be spayed or neutered may have their urine and blood samples taken for urinalysis, complete blood count, and serum chemistry. Young dogs may also have blood works done to get baseline data should anything go wrong.
Female dogs with conditions such as dystocia or pyometra may need to undergo an additional ultrasound and abdominal x-rays before the procedure. Male dogs will be checked for cryptorchidism, a genetic condition wherein the dog’s testicles did not fully descend into the scrotum.
Your dog should fast at least 8 hours on the night before surgery. Don’t give any food, drink, or treats to your dog. This is to prevent complications such as aspiration and vomiting. Some clinics allow your dog to drink water, but check in with your vet to be sure.
How to Spay and Neuter a Dog: A Step-By-Step Guide to Spaying
Ovariohysterectomy is the spaying procedure of choice for female dogs. This involves the removal of both the uterus and the ovaries. Some vets may also offer another spaying surgery called ovariectomy, where only the ovaries are removed.
Female dogs may undergo traditional “open” surgeries or a minimally-invasive version using laparoscopy. The following spaying procedures may be done to your dog:
- Traditional ovariohysterectomy
- Traditional ovariectomy
- Laparoscopic ovariohysterectomy
- Laparoscopic ovariectomy
Laparoscopic procedures may be preferred in large animal hospitals due to it leaving the dog with lesser post-operative pain. They may not be ideal in a smaller animal clinic, though, due to the need for equipment and more medical personnel in attendance during the surgery.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to how your veterinarian will perform these procedures. You’ll see the difference in how traditional open surgeries are done compared to laparoscopic ones.
Also, we put together ovariohysterectomy and ovariectomy as the difference between those only lies in the organs to be removed. All the other procedures regarding the operations remain the same, regardless of the operation your dog will undergo.
Traditional ovariohysterectomy and ovariectomy
- An IV catheter will be inserted into your dog’s vein. From there, intravenous fluids will be administered before, during, and after the procedure.
- The dog will be hooked up to monitoring equipment.
- The dog will be given a short-acting anesthetic through the IV. This is just enough to aid the dog into a gentle loss of consciousness.
- The veterinarian inserts a breathing tube into your dog’s airways, then connects this tube to an anesthesia machine. General anesthesia in the inhalant form will be continuously given to the dog through the breathing tube.
- The operative area is cleansed, prepared, and draped. Excess hair will be clipped from the abdominal area. A disinfectant solution will then be scrubbed in a wide circular motion across the abdomen. Sterile drapes are then placed over the area.
- The surgeon starts by creating an incision on the abdominal midline or the flank, depending on the technique he uses.
- The surgeon then visualizes and temporarily lifts (exteriorizes) the uterus and ovaries from the abdominal cavity. Blood vessels surrounding the area are tied with ligatures. The uterus and ovaries are then removed for ovariohysterectomy. In ovariectomy, only the ovaries are removed and the uterus is left intact.
- The incision is then closed by layers. The body wall, subcutaneous tissues, and the skin are all stitched closed.
- The dog is then moved to a recovery unit, with the anesthesia gradually being tapered off until she regains consciousness. Post-operative monitoring and pain medications will be given as well.
Laparoscopic ovariohysterectomy and ovariectomy
- Your dog will receive IV fluids, intubated with a breathing tube, and given an inhalant general anesthesia just like in the open surgery. She’ll be hooked to monitoring equipment as well. The abdominal area will also be cleaned, prepped, and draped right before the procedure starts.
- The surgeon creates 2-3 small incisions in the abdominal area. These incisions are typically less than an inch long. Also, these incisions will allow the insertion of the laparoscope and other instrument ports to accomplish the surgery.
- Carbon dioxide gas is given to distend the abdomen. This allows for better visualization of the reproductive tract.
- The laparoscope is gently introduced to the area until the reproductive tract is visualized. The tract is grasped and manipulated through the instrument ports. The surgeon and his assistant visualize the reproductive tract through a monitor connected to the laparoscope.
- Surrounding blood vessels are ligated using either sutures, clips, or a device that seals off vessels.
- The ovaries and uterus are then removed for ovariohysterectomy. The ovaries are taken off while keeping the uterus intact for ovariectomy.
- The laparoscope and instrument ports are then removed. Portal incisions are stitched closed.
- The dog is moved to the recovery unit for post-operative monitoring, anesthesia tapering, and pain management.
Most dogs leave the clinic or hospital a few hours after the spay surgery, be it traditional or laparoscopic. Post-operative home instructions may include pain medications such as Metacam or Tramadol, dressing changes, and provision of food and water.
A special large Elizabethan collar will be placed on your dog to prevent her from licking her wounds. This collar is typically kept in place for 10-14 days or until your dog learns how to prevent licking her wounds. The dog must return to the vet for a follow-up appointment 3-5 days after the operation. The vet will check the wounds’ healing, remove any stitches as needed, and assess the overall health of your female dog.
How to Spay and Neuter a Dog: A Step-By-Step Guide to Neutering
Neutering procedure (orchiectomy) is simpler than a spay operation. However, two techniques can be used in orchiectomy: open or closed castration.
In an open castration, an incision is made in the membranous testicular covering called a tunic. This is done to adequately visualize the spermatic cord. Open castration is preferred for dogs with large cord vessels that can be ligated separately to prevent slippage and bleeding.
In a closed castration, the dog’s tunic isn’t incised anymore. Instead, the spermatic cord and associated structures are ligated all at once.
Now, here’s how male dog neuter surgery is done:
- An IV catheter will be inserted to provide adequate fluids before, during, and after the orchiectomy.
- Monitoring equipment will be set up and hooked to the dog.
- The dog will be gently induced to a loss of consciousness state through IV anesthesia.
- Once asleep, the surgeon inserts a breathing tube (endotracheal tube) and connects it to the anesthesia machine. Inhalant anesthesia will then be given continuously throughout the procedure.
- The surgical area is cleaned, prepped, and draped. Hair is clipped from the surgical site and then scrubbed with a disinfectant in a wide circular pattern. After that, sterile drapes are placed in the area.
- The surgeon creates an incision in the skin in front of the scrotum. Older and bigger dogs may require more than one incision, but young puppies do just fine with one cut.
- The testicles are then exteriorized. One testicle at a time is teased out of the incision.
For closed castration, the entire testicle and associated structures are clamped at once.
For open castration, the tunic is incised, then the different structures (a spermatic cord, cremaster muscle, vessels surrounding the spermatic cord, and arterial supply) are clamped separately.
- The vessels are then ligated using a dissolvable suture. The surgeon may also transfix ligatures to keep bleeding to a minimum.
- After ligating one testicle, steps 7-8 are repeated on the other testicle.
- The surgeon gives a final check on the ligated structures to assess for any abnormal bleeding or seepage. If none, the incision is then stitched closed on different layers – subcutaneous tissue first, then a second layer just underneath the skin, and a final layer on the skin. Tissue glue may be applied to the third closure layer as well.
- The dog is then moved to the recovery unit for anesthesia tapering, post-operative monitoring, and pain management.
Your dog will be sent home with you a few hours after surgery. You’ll need to place a large Elizabethan collar on him at home to prevent licking and chewing on the wound. Post-operative home care may include assessing for bleeding, wound care, pain medications, and supervising dog activities.
Your vet may require a follow-up appointment after 3-5 days to personally assess the operative site and ensure that the scrotum isn’t filled with blood. Blood may rush to the scrotum if your dog is highly active, hence the supervision in dog activities after the neuter procedure. If this happens, another corrective surgery may be required.
In this article, we’ve detailed the steps on how to spay or neuter a dog. There are various forms of procedures available for both male and female dogs. You and your dog’s veterinarian will jointly decide which type of surgery is best for your dog given his/her age, health status, and breed.
Spaying or neutering your dog has many benefits and can contribute to the overall improvement of your dog’s quality of life. Hence, it is advisable to have your dog spayed or neutered to keep him or her healthy and happy throughout his/her life.
(1) Miller, P. (2008). The power of positive dog training. 2nd edition. Wiley Publishing.
(2) Dunbar, C. (2018). Dogs: 101 amazing dog fun facts and trivia for ki