Why is it important?
If you are not planning on breeding your bitch, there are a few reasons to consider spaying her. Entire bitches are at an increased risk of a number of disease conditions, some of which are potentially life-threatening. These diseases can be prevented, or at the very least, the risk reduced, by spaying (neutering). However, this is a surgical procedure, and obviously, it does involve some risks in and of itself, as well as having other consequences (never having any more puppies being the most obvious!). There are a lot of people and websites who will tell you that you MUST have your bitch spayed, or that you MUSTN’T. In this guide, however, we’ll look at all the pros and cons, so that you can make your own mind up.
What is spaying?
Spaying a bitch is a surgical procedure where the ovaries (and, usually, the uterus or womb) are surgically removed. It’s a fairly big op (although dogs seem to cope and recover really well), but it’s still an optional surgical procedure with a one in 1000 risk of significant complications. So, what are the advantages – why do people do it?
Ending her cycles. Most bitches will come into season roughly every six months (although it may be longer for large and giant breeds). When they’re in season, or “in heat”, they pass a bloody discharge from their back end, which can be really messy. In addition, every male dog in the vicinity is likely to be queuing up at your back door trying to get to her! Some bitches also undergo quite dramatic personality changes, and they may suffer from “False Pregnancies” in the couple of months following the season. If they get “caught” by a dog, it’s likely to be a real pregnancy, and then you have to look after and find homes for all the puppies! Spaying completely removes her cycle (it cannot occur), and she cannot get pregnant. This means you’re not going to be part of the overpopulation problem, with dogs stacked up waiting for rehoming in shelters and rescue centres.
Reducing the risk of reproductive tumours. About 7% of unspayed bitches will develop a mammary tumour (breast cancer) in their lifetime; if spayed before the second season, the risk drops by 92%; if spayed before her first, it’s down by 99.5%. Spaying an older bitch has progressively less effect. This protective effect extends to other reproductive tumours – a dog without a uterus or ovaries cannot, for example, develop uterine or ovarian cancer!
Eliminate the risk of Pyometra. This is a serious and, if untreated, usually fatal infection of the uterus (womb). An astonishing 23% of unspayed bitches will develop a pyometra by 10 years old. The risk is essentially zero in spayed bitches.
Lifespan – once you factor all of these risks together, you can expect a spayed bitch to live 26% longer than an entire one.
Urinary Incontinence. Neutered bitches are reportedly 8 times more likely to become incontinent in later life (although this statistic has recently been questioned). This can usually be controlled easily with medication but is an annoyance. Estimates for the number of affected bitches range from 5-20%.
Hormone changes – weight gain, coat alterations. After neutering, most dogs will be more prone to put on weight – but that doesn’t mean they become fat because of neutering. They become fat because their owners overfeed them! A few dogs also show a change to the quality of the coat – this is actually pretty rare, and usually really minor.
Orthopaedic disease. There’s been a lot of research done into the effects of spaying on certain bone and joint disorders. There is good evidence to suggest that there is a slightly higher risk of bone cancer (osteosarcoma) in spayed bitches (unspayed bitches have a risk of 0.006%, spayed bitches 0.012%). In addition, spayed bitches have a higher risk of growth plate injuries, and seem to be at slightly higher risk of cruciate ligament injuries.
How is it done?
Unlike neutering a dog, which is a very simple operation (his reproductive organs are easily accessible!), spaying a bitch requires entering the abdomen. In most cases, this is done as an “open” surgery, where she will have a general anaesthetic, then the surgeon will open her abdomen and remove her ovaries and uterus. A more modern alternative is the laparoscopic bitch spay, where we use keyhole surgery just to remove her ovaries – this has a much faster recovery time and seems to provide all the advantages of the traditional surgery. Both are done under general anaesthetic, but we’d expect her to go home the same day in most cases.
Spaying your dog is an important decision – there are hundreds of thousands of unwanted dogs in the UK, so reproductive control is really important. It also genuinely does save lives; however, there are disadvantages too, so it’s important that you make up your own mind. If you would like to discuss this further with your vet, get in touch.