Spaying is a procedure performed on female dogs (and cats) that remove their reproductive organs to prevent them from having puppies or kittens. In this article, we will review what happens when a dog gets spayed, how to prepare your dog for the surgery, and how to care for your dog after surgery. If you have a male dog, you may be interested in these articles — What Happens When You Neuter a Dog? and What to Expect After Neutering a Dog.
Spaying is most commonly recommended around 6 months of age, however, can be done as early as 6 to 8 weeks as well as later in life. The best time to spay a dog is when they are young and healthy. The worst time to spay a dog is when they are old, sick and have secondary complications from not being spayed such as a uterine infection called pyometra or breast cancer.
Why Dog Spaying is Important
Having your dog spayed can have many health, financial, and behavioral benefits. The benefits to spaying your dog include:
- Prevents your dog from going into heat
- Prevents your dog from getting pregnant
- May make your dog more gentle and affectionate
- May help prevent your dog from getting breast cancer later in life
- Prevents your dog from getting an infection in the uterus later in life
- Prevents cancer of the uterus or ovaries
- The cost of spaying is far less expensive than the cost of raising a litter of puppies
- Spaying your dog when she is young and healthy is less risky and much less expensive than spaying after your dog is ill or has a problem
What Happens When a Dog Gets Spayed
The spaying procedure, medically known as an ovariohysterectomy, is the surgical procedure in which both ovaries and most of the uterus is removed from your dog’s body.
Below we will provide details of what happens before surgery, the day of surgery and some information about post-op spay care.
What to Expect the Day Before The Surgery
Before surgery, your vet will provide you with recommendations on what you should do the day before the spay surgery. For most dogs, they will recommend that you not feed your dog food after 6 pm or give water after midnight the night before surgery. This means no food and no treats. The times may vary slightly based on your veterinarian’s preference and also other factors such as concurrent medical problems or the size and breed of your dog. For example, some small and toy breed dogs may be offered food later in the evening to prevent a low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
If your dog is taking medication, ask your vet if they want you to give the medication the morning of surgery. Make sure that you follow those instructions exactly. If your dog is a diabetic, please discuss the insulin dose you should give with the staff prior to the morning of surgery. Plan to bring any medication that your dog is taking with you in case they decide to give it to them or your dog needs to stay in the hospital.
Your vet will ask you to bring your dog to the hospital in the morning at a specific time. Many clinics will ask that you drop off your dog between 7 am and 9 am but this varies with the hospital’s surgery schedule.
What to Expect the Day of Surgery
You will need to load up your dog and take her to the hospital. Make sure the collar fits properly and she cannot slip out of it. Bring them on a regular leash and not a retractable leash. Small dogs can be taken in a pet carrier.
Below is what happens at many veterinary hospitals but the exact protocol may vary depending on your veterinarian and the individual veterinary hospital.
- When you arrive at the veterinary hospital, they will likely ask you to sign a surgery consent form that confirms the surgery to be performed as well as routine questions about if you want optional baseline bloodwork or an electrocardiogram (EKG), any needed vaccinations, CPR status, if you would you’re your dog microchipped (if not already done), and any other procedures such as removal of baby teeth, dewclaw removal, or repair of an abnormal hernia. Older dogs may also have mass removals after the spay procedure. This consent form may also include a cost estimate.
- It is also important that you provide the veterinary hospital with an accurate phone number where you can be reached during the day.
- Once your dog arrives, she will be taken back to the hospital’s treatment room where she will be evaluated by the technicians for any problems. Often at this time they will draw blood if approved by you to ensure your dog’s organs are healthy. If they identify any problems or concerns, the doctor will call you before proceeding.
- The doctor will examine your dog and give injectable sedation. While your dog is relaxed, they will often shave the leg to place of an intravenous (IV) catheter and give additional drugs that allow total relaxation.
- Your dog will then be moved into the surgery room. Most dogs are intubated (a tube placed into the trachea) to deliver safe inhalation anesthesia. Veterinary hospitals have anesthesia protocols that consist of very safe drugs and monitoring equipment that constantly monitors your dog’s heart rate, respirations, blood pressure, EKG, and temperature. The monitoring equipment is attached to your dog.
- Your dog will then be positioned on her back and feet secured to the edges of the table. The technician will generally proceed to shave the hair on your dog’s belly. Disinfectant is then used to gently and thoroughly clean the skin.
- Your veterinarian will put on a sterile hat, gloves, and a gown and organize their surgical instruments for surgery. An incision is made near the belly button and will vary in length depending on the size of your dog. The uterus and ovaries are identified and surgically removed. The body wall, tissues between the body wall and skin, and finally the skin is sutured closed. The actual surgery takes anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes depending on your dog’s age, breed, and size.
- Your dog will continue to be monitored as they wake up from their anesthesia. This can take anywhere from an hour to several hours. At first, they are groggy then gradually become more aware and alert as the drugs wear off.
- When you pick your dog up from the vet, the veterinary team will provide you with detailed post-op instructions. Your pet may be sent home with pain medication and/or antibiotics. Those instructions will most likely include:
- Keep your dog in her e-collar at all times until your vet gives you the clearance to remove it. This will most likely be approximately 10 to 14 days post-op.
- Keep an eye on your dog’s stitches to monitor its recovery. If the area becomes inflamed, swollen, or has discharge, please call your veterinarian immediately. Some dogs have sutures and other dogs have sutures under the skin that are absorbable. This will vary with the veterinarian.
- Keep your dog calm for two weeks after surgery. If there are other dogs in your house, you may need to keep your dogs separated post-op.
- You may need to get creative with your feeding routine. With the e-collar on, some dogs won’t be able to eat out of their food dish. Most have found success by elevating their dog’s dish so that the e-collar doesn’t hit the floor while they’re eating.
- You’ll need to keep up with your dog’s pain management routine carefully post-op. Attach a magnetic whiteboard to your fridge so that you can write down when you last gave your dog meds and when it will need them again.
What to Expect After Dog Spay Surgery
Some dogs will be sleepy immediately after surgery and some will be slightly nauseated. Begin feeding your dog slowly, small amounts at a time. Immediately after surgery, offer small amounts of water. If there is no vomiting, you can offer small amounts of food. Don’t offer a huge meal as some dogs may vomit. Give a little bit of food at a time and you can always offer later.
What is most critical is to keep your dog quiet and ensure she doesn’t lick at her incision. If there is any indication she will lick at her incision, it is critical that you use an E-Collar.
Check the incision twice daily looking for swelling, redness or discharge. Call your vet immediately if you notice any problems. Assuming everything goes well, see your vet for any recommended follow-up appointments and suture removal.