Dogs that aren’t being bred should be spayed or neutered, for many reasons. The health and behavioral benefits alone can prolong your dog’s life and reduce the risk of certain diseases and infections. Neutering also avoids accidental pregnancy, and reduces the potential burden on local shelters that are forced to euthanize millions of unwanted and unplanned animals each year.
For female dogs, spaying before her first heat virtually eliminates the risk for developing breast cancer later in life. After four heat periods, spaying offers no protection from breast cancer, so unless you’re going to breed your girl, spay her at 6 months of age.
A female dog who has many heat periods is at risk of developing a potentially fatal uterine infection called pyometron. In this condition, the uterus fills with pus and the dog becomes seriously ill. She must be spayed urgently, but due to her illness, there are more risks associated with a general anesthesia. Neutering male dogs completely eliminates the risk of testicular cancer.
Spayed and neutered dogs are less aggressive, and if they spend any time outdoors, they will be less likely to roam or get into altercations with other dogs. Male dogs who are neutered as a youngster are less likely to mark their territory by urinating on every upright object.
A puppy may be sterilized as young as eight weeks of age, but most veterinarians will wait until they are around six months old. They are spayed and neutered under anesthesia, and using sterile equipment. Post-operatively, they may stay overnight, to allow them to completely recover from the anesthetic, and to make sure they don’t pull at their sutures.
Spaying a female involves removing the uterus and the ovaries, so after they are spayed, the female will no longer produce eggs or have heat periods. This is a more involved procedure than neutering a male, and the abdominal surgery requires a recovery period where the dog must remain quiet.
Neutering a male dog involves removing both testicles, and because there is no abdominal surgery involved, he has a shorter recovery time. For those people who don’t care for the sight of a neutered male, there are silicone implants called Neuticles that can be implanted after surgery. That way, the male dog still looks like he has testicles.
Some male dogs have testicles that haven’t descended into the scrotum. These must be removed as they can become cancerous later in life. The veterinarian will have to look inside the abdomen to find these testicles, so recovery is longer, as with a female dog spay.
As with any elective surgery, there are risks and potential complications from spaying and neutering. Dogs can have adverse reactions to suture material and anesthesia, and some incisions are slow to heal properly. There is also modern research that suggests that sterilization alters a dog’s appearance by slowing the closure of the growth areas of the legs. This means that dogs who are neutered as youngsters tend to be taller and leggier than their entire counterparts.
Hormone changes in spayed and neutered dogs can contribute to a slower metabolism and weight gain in some cases. This means that owners need to watch closely the food intake of their neutered dog, and make sure they get plenty of exercise, to keep their waistline trim.