Spaying Your Female Dog – Pros and Cons
(for MALE dogs, click here.)
By Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2016
You might be wondering, "Should my female dog have one litter before being spayed?"
No. Your female does not – absolutely does not – need to have puppies in order to be happy or healthy.
In fact, just the opposite is true. Female dogs carrying puppies or trying to birth puppies can suffer infections and complications that can make them miserable or even kill them. Imagine the guilt you would feel, losing your beloved dog so unnecessarily.
So no, you shouldn't breed your dog – even once.
So the next question is, "Should female dogs be spayed?"
In most cases, yes. For many reasons, which I'll tell you in a moment. But first we have to take care of another myth.... which is WHEN to spay.
When you look at the current research on spaying and neutering, the AGE at which it's done turns out to be vitally important to your dog's future health. For example, your female dog should NOT be spayed at 6 months old. We'll talk about that in a moment, too.
First, let's look at the positives – the advantages of spaying your female.
Good reasons to spay your female dog
You can call it spaying or neutering or de-sexing. All three terms refer to a hysterectomy – removing the ovaries and uterus so your female no longer comes into heat and cannot have puppies.
A dog who is NOT spayed is also called intact.
Spaying prevents the nuisance of heat periods.
- Heat periods can be messy and embarrassing. Your dog's genitals swell. She will have a bloody discharge, which can stain your carpets and furniture. She may spend a lot of time licking her private parts. She may flirt with other dogs (male or female), presenting her rump and encouraging other dogs to mount her. She may mount other dogs herself or hump pillows or stuffed toys. Even when Grandma is visiting...
- Heat periods require vigilance and confinement. A female in heat can be smelled from a long distance away and fences mean nothing to a lust-crazed male. You shouldn't leave her alone in the yard for a single minute. Indeed, you may have to stop walking her completely.
- Heat periods can upset your own plans. Vacations and trips may have to wait. Friends and relatives won't appreciate a visit when your dog is bleeding or will leave tempting scents in their yard. And leaving an unspayed female with a pet sitter or boarding kennel is risky.
Spaying prevents deadly infections of the uterus.
Nearly 1 in 4 intact females will develop an infection called pyometra. The uterus swells with toxic pus and the only cure is an emergency spay. The surgery is dangerous when a middle-aged or elderly dog is already sick from the infection.
Many beloved dogs die from pyometra, which can be completely prevented by spaying while your dog is still young and healthy.
Spaying offers partial protection against breast cancer.
If your dog is spayed before 2-1/2 years old, she is less likely to develop mammary tumors (about half are malignant).
Spaying prevents false pregnancy.
A few weeks after a heat period, some intact females act as though they're going to have pups. Their nipples produce milk and they become obsessed with stuffed toys as puppy substitutes. It sounds harmless, even amusing. But the hormonal changes associated with a false pregnancy can throw your dog's metabolism out of whack, causing health problems.
A 9-year-old dog named Caina developed a false pregnancy, followed by infection of her mammary glands. The infection spread through her bloodstream, and even with antibiotic treatment, Caina died.
Spaying prevents real pregnancy.
Your dog can die trying to give birth, or shortly after birth from infections. Your beloved dog was happy and healthy, then suddenly she's gone, just because you wanted puppies. Imagine how terrible you would feel.
Also, dogs are put to sleep every day because there are not enough homes for them. Any puppies created by your female will take homes away from the poor dogs who are already here.
What if your female passed along genes for a health problem? A dog who is allowed to breed must first be tested and cleared of certain health problems known to be hereditary. Imagine a puppy living with a painful health problem because your female had that problem in her genes yet was allowed to breed. You would feel sad and guilty.
Finally, responsible breeding requires too much knowledge and expense. You need to learn about canine genetics and researching pedigrees. You need to pay veterinary costs, and if anything goes wrong during the pregnancy or birthing or with the puppies, vet costs go up really fast. Breeding is simply not worth it.
Possible disadvantages of spaying your female dog
Most of the following statistics come from a 10-year study at the University of California (Davis) Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The study was headed by Dr. Benjamin Hart and study results published in 2013.
Spaying doubles the risk of obesity.
Extra weight leads to debilitating joint disease, arthritis, heart disease, pancreatitis, and diabetes.
Spayed dogs become overweight when owners feed the same amount of food as before their dog was spayed. Spaying, you see, changes a dog's hormonal make-up and metabolism so she doesn't require as much food.
Monitor your dog's shape as you feed her. Keep adjusting the amount you feed so she stays on the slender side, and provide plenty of exercise. Then your spayed dog will not become fat.
Spaying increases the risk of a deadly cancer called hemangiosarcoma.
Apparently the reproductive hormones offer some protection against this cancer, because spayed females are twice as likely to develop hemangiosarcoma of the spleen and five times as likely to develop hemangiosarcoma of the heart, compared to unspayed females.
Hemangiosarcoma is much more common in certain breeds, especially the Afghan Hound, Belgian Shepherds, Bernese Mountain Dog, Bouvier des Flandres, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Bulldog, Doberman Pinscher, English Setter, Flat Coated Retriever, French Bulldog, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Labrador Retriever, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Rottweiler, Saluki, Scottish Terrier, Skye Terrier, and Vizsla.
Spaying triples the risk of hypothyroidism.
The loss of reproductive hormones appears to upset the endocrine system. This can result in low thyroid levels, which causes weight gain and lethargy. Fortunately it can be treated with a daily thyroid supplement for the rest of your dog's life.
Spaying is major surgery requiring general anesthesia.
Studies show that about 20% of spay procedures have at least one complication, such as a bad reaction to the anesthesia, infection, abscess, etc. But most of these complications are minor. Less than 5% are serious, and the death rate is less than 1%.
IF DONE AT THE WRONG AGE, spaying increases the risk of hip dysplasia, torn ligaments, bone cancer, and urinary incontinence.
The reproductive hormones help your dog's bones, joints, and internal organs to develop properly. If you remove those reproductive hormones too early, they don't have enough time to complete their valuable work.
- Early spaying causes the leg bones to grow unevenly. This leaves your dog more vulnerable to hip dysplasia and torn ligaments.
- Early spaying triples the risk of bone cancer, a deadly cancer that mostly occurs in large and giant dogs.
- Early spaying causes urinary incontinence in up to 20% of spayed females. If your dog is spayed before her bladder is fully developed, weak bladder muscles may start to leak in middle age. This is stressful for both you and your dog, who is understandably upset at "having accidents" when she can't understand why. Lifelong supplementation with estrogen will be required and getting the medication properly balanced can be tricky.
- Early spaying can affect the size and shape of a female's "private parts." The vulva of a dog spayed early remains small and may even be recessed inside her body instead of protruding as it should. An abnormal vulva has folds of skin that can trap bacteria, leading to recurrent infections.
The moral is.... Don't spay or neuter before your dog's reproductive hormones have had time to do their valuable work. And when is that? It depends on her size or breed, which is completely covered in my dog care book. Please don't spay your dog before you read Chapter 10.
So....should you spay your female dog?
My answer is YES.
Uterine infections are very, very bad. Mammary tumors are bad.... false pregnancies are bad.... heat periods are a nuisance to live with.... and it can be harder than you think to prevent accidental breeding. Lusty males can smell a female in heat from a mile away.
And you really don't want to breed on purpose. You don't want to risk your dog's life to bring more puppies into the world, taking homes away from the poor dogs who are already here.
So yes, I recommend spaying.
The only breeds I might hesitate to spay are those most prone to hemangiosarcoma (scroll up to yellow box), since spayed females are the most likely to develop this cancer. But I believe I would still spay, and then cross my fingers.
Remember, your dog can develop health problems if spayed too early. She needs her reproductive hormones for some time so her bones, joints, and internal organs can develop normally.
So don't rush to spay. There's a right time and many wrong times to have the surgery done.
And don't forget that spaying is major surgery under general anesthesia. You don't want to just drop off your dog expecting all safety precautions to be taken. In fact, those safety precautions are often not used unless you specifically ask for them.
There are 6 questions you should ask and 6 answers you want to hear to make sure your dog will be as safe as possible during the surgery.
When to spay.... safety precautions to insist upon.... 6 specific questions to ask your vet, and the 6 answers you want to hear.... plus more info on breeding.... all covered in Chapter 10 of 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy.