Spaying and neutering are terms used to describe the process of “fixing” your dog. Spaying refers to sterilization of female dogs; neutering is surgical sterilization of male dogs.

Fixing your dog has a number of advantages not only for the dog’s health but also because it prevents unwanted litters of puppies. Every year, millions of unwanted dogs have to be destroyed in animal shelters. Spaying and neutering prevent more unwanted puppies in a world where good homes for dogs are already limited.

Myths About Fixing Your Dog

A number of myths have developed about spaying or neutering a dog. Some owners believe that fixing a dog will lead to weight gain. Others worry that neutering a dog, especially a guard dog, will make him less aggressive.

Another popular belief holds that spaying a bitch should be done after she has her first heat and has had a litter of puppies, to “settle her down.” According to this myth, spaying her before this will cause her to “mourn” her lost fertility.

Some of these beliefs are true; others are false. Fixing your dog does not cause him or her to gain weight. Adult dogs’ metabolism naturally slows down. As dogs mature the need fewer calories and have a lower activity level, so weight gain will occur if the dog is fed too much. Because spaying and neutering is ideally done during puppyhood and the metabolic change of adulthood occurs after spaying or neutering, people have come to believe fixing a dog leads to weight gain.

Male dogs, it’s true, tend to be less aggressive towards other male dogs after neutering. However, this lowered aggression does not mean that fixing your dog impairs his ability to be a guard dog. A trained guard dog will do his job whether he has been neutered.

As for the belief involving female dogs and spaying, the rumors are simply that. Surgery is easier if the bitch has not gone into heat or produced a litter. A female does not need to have a litter to “settle” her, nor will she mourn the loss of her fertility. In fact, heat is an uncomfortable time for a female dog: hormone changes associated with heat often bring about personality changes. Spaying a bitch before her first heat cycle actually gives her a more even temperament.

Reasons for Spaying and Neutering

The advantages that come with spaying or neutering your dog abound. Although preventing litters is perhaps the most important reason, lifespan is also an issue. Fixed dogs have twice the lifespan of “intact” animals. The reasons for such differences in lifespan include:

  • Intact males are more likely to roam, risking fights and car accidents.
  • Older intact males commonly contract testicular cancer. Neutering makes this impossible.
  • Intact females risk pregnancy complications, serious uterine infections and cancers of the uterus.
  • Fifty percent of unaltered bitches develop breast cancer.

In addition to the health advantages, fixing your dog will make him or her a more stable, the benefits of a fixing your dog include:

  • eliminating crying, whining and irritability
  • eliminating the vaginal discharge that accompanies heat
  • reducing territorial marking
  • minimizing dominance issues with your family
  • reducing sexual mounting behavior (leg-humping).

Spaying and Surgical Sterilization

When fixing your dog, the procedure to spay a female dog is more complicated than the surgery involved in neutering a male dog. Consequently, spaying is more expensive. Even though medical advances allow surgery to happen at two to four months, bitches are usually spayed at six months of age.

Veterinarians recommend spaying a bitch before her first heat because heat and pregnancy alter the uterus, making spaying more difficult. Excess abdominal fat also complicates spaying. However, any dog can benefit from spaying, regardless of her age.

While spaying often seems easy, most veterinarians consider it major surgery. Along with a mandatory fast before surgery, the bitch must have a pre-anesthetic exam, have her bladder expressed to remove urine and have the surgical site shaved.

Spaying is a complete ovariohysterectomy, meaning that the uterus, the fallopian tubes connecting the uterus to the ovaries and both ovaries are removed. Spaying usually requires thirty minutes of surgical time, but can take longer if the dog has been in heat or has been pregnant in the past.

After removal, dissolvable stitches (sutures) are used to seal the incision. The dog may be uncomfortable for a day or two, but usually recovers completely after a few days.

Neutering and Sterilization

Neutering is a much simpler procedure than spaying, although it still requires pre-surgical fasting and general anesthesia.

After anesthesia is administered, the dog’s groin area is shaved. An incision is made in front of the scrotum. Both the testicles and the epididymis (the sperm duct connecting the testicles to the vas deferens) are removed through the incision. After removal, the incision is sealed with dissolvable sutures.

The Cost of Fixing Your Dog

Spaying or neutering your dog is not cheap: expect to spend $150 or more. Older, larger dogs and bitches who have been in heat or had litters may cost more to spay, as the procedure takes longer and requires more anesthesia.

If cost is an issue, watch for spaying and neutering drives at your local animal shelter, or see if your veterinarian offers subsidized spaying and neutering costs.

You may also want to consider that, in the long run, medical costs for an intact dog are likely to be much higher than the cost of fixing your dog. With this in mind, it makes sense to look into spaying or neutering your pet.