Neutering dogs – Bitch spay operation: a step by step guide

Deciding whether to spay

Spaying or neutering a female dog is not a small operation, so owners should think carefully about all the pros and cons before deciding.

The main advantages of spaying are preventing pregnancy, preventing infection of the uterus (pyometra), preventing ovarian or uterine cancer and reducing the likelihood of mammary (breast) cancer, all of which can be life-threatening. It also prevents the inconvenience of having a bitch in season with unwanted attention from male dogs.

The main disadvantages are major surgery with associated risks, an anaesthetic with associated risks and the increased likelihood of urinary incontinence in later life. Fortunately, the risks involved in anaesthesia and surgery are very small indeed compared with the risks of the other conditions which are prevented by spaying. Urinary incontinence in later life is a nuisance but not very common, and can usually be controlled by drugs.

There is no medical reason to let a bitch have one litter before spay, in fact some of the benefits like protection against mammary tumours, are lost if the operation is delayed. Unless an owner is committed to having a litter, with all the work and expense that can be involved, and the bitch is also suitable in temperament and free of any hereditary problems, then breeding should not be considered.

Tilly GrinSome people expect that their bitch will get fat after spay, but in fact this is entirely preventable with a healthy diet and proper exercise.

My own opinion is that most bitches should be spayed because of the health benefits. My boxer bitch Tilly was recently spayed.

Deciding when to spay

It is not a good idea to spay when a bitch is in season or about to come into season, because the blood vessels supplying the uterus and ovaries are all larger and this will increase the risks of surgery. The other time we try to avoid is the 8 weeks after a season, when a bitch may suffer from a hormonal imbalance called a false pregnancy. If this happens, she may be acting as if she is nursing pups and the operation at this time would cause such sudden changes in hormone levels that it would be unfair to her. Also if she was producing milk, the enlargement of the milk glands would make it more difficult for the spay wound to heal.

For all of these reasons, the time chosen to spay is usually either before the first season occurs, or 3-4 months after a season. A physical examination by the vet will determine whether a 5-6 month old bitch puppy is mature enough to spay before her first season.

Before the operation

As well as timing the operation carefully to reduce any risks, it is also important that the bitch is not overweight. Because this increases the difficulty of the operation, it may well be advised that an overweight bitch should lose weight before the operation.

Another important way of spotting avoidable risks is by taking a blood test before the anaesthetic. This could be done on the day of the operation or a few days earlier. This is used to check the liver and kidney function (both vital when dealing with anaesthetic drugs) and to rule out any unsuspected illnesses.

Before going to the surgery

Before any anaesthetic the patient should be starved for a number of hours, according to the instructions of the surgery. This prevents any problems with vomiting which could be dangerous. It is also a good idea to allow the dog enough exercise to empty the bladder and bowels. Apart from that, it is best to stick as closely as possible to the normal routines of the day so that the dog does not feel anxious.

Being admitted for surgery

On arrival at the surgery, you can expect to be seen by a vet or a veterinary nurse who will check that you understand the nature of the operation and will answer any questions you may have. They will ask you to read and to sign a consent form for the procedure and ask you to supply contact phone numbers. This is very important in case anything needs to be discussed with the owner before or during the operation.

Before the anaesthetic

Your bitch will be weighed to help calculate the dosages of drugs and given a physical examination including checking her heart. If a pre-anaesthetic blood test has not already been done, it will be done now and the results checked before proceeding. If any abnormalities are found, these will be discussed with the owner before deciding whether the operation goes ahead or not. One possible outcome is that extra precautions such as intravenous fluids may be given.

A pre-med, which is usually a combination of several drugs, will be given by injection. This begins to make the dog feel a bit sleepy and ensures that pain relief will be as effective as possible.

The anaesthetic

There are several ways in which this can be given, but the most common is by an injection into the vein of the front leg. The effects of the most commonly used drugs are very fast, but don’t last for very long, so a tube is placed into the windpipe to allow anaesthetic gas and oxygen to be given. The anaesthetic gas allows the right level of anaesthesia to be maintained safely for as long as necessary.

Various pieces of equipment will then be connected up to monitor the anaesthetic. This is a skilled job which would usually be carried out by a qualified veterinary nurse. Apart from the operating table, the instruments and the anaesthetic machine, a lot of specialised equipment will be on “stand by” in case it is needed.

The area where the surgical incision is to be made will be prepared by clipping and thorough cleaning to make it as close to sterile as possible. The site is usually in the middle of the tummy, but some vets prefer to use an incision through the side of the tummy.

The operation

While the bitch is being prepared for surgery as mentioned above, the surgeon will be “scrubbing up” and putting on sterile clothing (gown, gloves, hat & mask) just as in all television surgical drama programmes. The surgical instruments will have been sterilised in advance and are opened and laid out at the start of the operation.

The operation involves removal of the ovaries and uterus (ovario-hysterectomy). The surgeon carefully opens the abdomen by cutting through the various layers. The first ovary is located and its blood vessels are tied off before it can be cut free at one end, then this is repeated with the second ovary. It is a delicate and fiddly job, needing great care and attention. The main body of the womb or uterus is then tied off as well before the whole thing can be cut free and removed. After checking for any bleeding, the layers of the tummy can then be sewn closed again. A dressing might be applied to the wound. Further drugs may be given now as needed.

When the operation is finished, the gas anaesthetic is reduced and the bitch begins to wake up. She will be constantly monitored and the tube removed from her windpipe when she reaches the right level of wakefulness.

Recovery

Like humans, dogs are often a bit woozy as they come round, so she will be placed in a cage with soft warm bedding and kept under observation. Usually they will wake up uneventfully and then sleep it off for the rest of the day.

After-care

The bitch will not be allowed home until she is able to walk and is comfortable. Full instructions should be given by the surgery concerning after-care. The most important things would be to check the appearance of the wound, to prevent the bitch from licking it (with a plastic bucket-collar if necessary) and to limit her exercise by keeping her on the lead. Any concerns of any kind should be raised with the surgery.

Any medication supplied should be given according to the instructions. Pain relief can be given by tablets or liquid on the food. Antibiotics are not always needed, but may be supplied if there is a need for them.

Usually there will be stitches in the skin which need to be removed after about 10 days, but sometimes these are concealed under the surface and will dissolve by themselves.

tilly's wound with text

After a couple of weeks, if all goes according to plan, the bitch can be allowed to gradually increase her exercise levels. This is the stage that Tilly has now reached and she is thoroughly enjoying a good run again now that she is feeling back to normal.

  • Claire says:

    Really good overview – I have an 8 month old black labrador bitch and knew we wanted her spayed but it was a question of when – a surprising lack of information available to “Joe Public” when it comes to researching best time to spay (before first season or not). I decided to spay her before and do not regret the decision as the op went well and she recovered quickly. The biggest challenge was to get her to rest for 10 days post-op!
    Good article – thanks!

  • Dr. Vicente Fernandez @cvcasacampo says:

    Good article, but forget talking about new procedures in vet surgery as lap spay.
    Thanks for your job

  • Cheryl says:

    thank you for going through all the steps of spaying my 11month old staffie is having this done as i write this reply,she has had a first season 3months ago, as other people have commented the biggest problem will be making her rest for 10 days!!

  • Lara says:

    Oh dear, how am I going to keep a Parson Russell Terrier quiet? She had a very mild first season as she’s only 7 months old, but I will take her as soon as she is ready, keeping the tips in this article in mind. Thanks.

  • chris says:

    my dog is diabetic and have been advised to have her spayed next week.hope all go ok

  • Zarina says:

    Thank you for all the info, my dog has pyometra and has to be spayed, she is 5 years old, this has put my mind at ease somewhat, thank you!

  • Wendy Haxton says:

    This is an excellent article, comprehensive, but written in easy to understand language for the lay person. I am shortly purchasing a labrador bitch and want to collect all the necessary information in good time. Well done Jenny.

  • Linda says:

    I have two female Maltese mixes . One is age ten and one age seven . We have rescued a neutered Maltese , age 15 month’s . They are sweet dog’s but the girls are in heat and I have had next to no sleep from the “dancing ” ! Are the girls too old to be spayed ? What about the new tech. of spaying done through a small hole type incision . Is the uterus suctioned out ? What is this type of spaying called and what is involved ? Is it a safer way to go since my girls are older ?
    Thank you for your help ,
    Linda

  • Lorraine says:

    Hi Linda, I have just collected my 2 boxer bitches this evening from the vet. They were both spayed today, they are 8 & 3 years old! We were concerned about the older one but we didnt need to worry. Our vet said they both did brilliant and the op was a great success for them both. We have to allow a little longer for the older girl to recover and take it easy with her but other than that she is doing fine! Hope this helps :-)

  • Carol Lawton says:

    Hi
    I have an 11 month old chocolate labrador. We have decided to have her spayed in January (she has had one season) as our previous labrador died at 10 years old when she developed mamory cancer. It was a terrible end for her as we operated but it was too late and spread to her liver. We never had puppies from her and she did suffer a couple of womb infections so because of this we have decided to spay our bitch Millie. In one hand it seems sad to take away her bits and pieces but on the other we are not going to breed from her so why take the risk of her developing cancer or suffering with her womb. Hope this helps others.

    Carol

  • Jean Walker says:

    I have a 6 month old Yorkshire Terrier, as we live close to a farm I would like to have her spayed but have been told that if I get her spayed too early it could cause her to have incontinence could anyone tell me if that is more likely than if I wait until she has her first season.

  • Martine Roberts says:

    This is a good article as our 11 month old miniature jack russell is going in to be spayed tomorrow, this as put our mind at rest reading other peoples experiences, thank you.

  • David G Smith says:

    I have a delightful ex racing greyhound bitch who is seven years years old. Is it safe to consider her for spaying? I am told it is best when a bitch is much younger and at this age the risk is far greater. I could not stand the thought of losing her.
    Can anyone offer advise please?

    Regards
    David

  • Andy Holloway says:

    Very informative article, thank you. We’ve just had our boy neutered and bitch spayed 2 days ago. He is up and around already (Lab/Pointer X), she is slowly getting back to her normal self, but with the Op being bigger and more complicated it’s taking her longer. They’re glad to be home having their scrambled eggs for brekkie again.
    Again, thanks for the info. I wish I’d found this before they’d gone in as the day of the Op I was pacing the floor.

  • John Smith says:

    Hi, this is a good article but something about the after effects of the op and recovery would be useful – we’ve just had out wee border done and its very distressing – she is hardly moving – the vet says its normal but I am completed shocked at how sore and ill.

    I’m trying to find if this is normal as I have never heard a dog owner mention this before .

  • Becky says:

    Thanks for the article.

    How do you calculate 3-4 months from the end of a season? Is it from the first day of bleeding or the end of the bleeding or something else?

    Also, does the timing of spaying between seasons have anything to do with hormone levels? I’m just trying to ascertain whether it is important to time it right so the hormone levels are at a good level because they then stay like that once they are spayed, or whether it doesn’t matter too much because once they are spayed the hormone levels will fall to the same level regardless of when you time the spay?

    I’m not sure if you are able to answer questions in comments but any information you can give would be helpful.

  • Hayley says:

    I too am having my border spayed tomorrow. I am incredibly anxious and know I will not sleep tnite. She is my life and I don’t want her to feel pain of any sort.

  • Jenny says:

    Hi Becky
    Calculating the best time to spay, I would start by taking a date 3 months after the start of the season as being the earliest date for a routine spay. Because not all bitches have a regular 6 month cycle, this will not always be the ideal time but it is most likely to be. After this it depends on the vet examining your bitch to check that she has not got any signs of coming into season again early, or of false pregnancy, and of course that she is generally in good health. These things will be checked on the day before the operation starts, or at a pre-op appointment a few days before the operation. If there is any doubt that the timing is not right, then the operation should be postponed.
    As far as hormone levels go, they will fall to the same level after spay regardless of the timing, but I think if the timing is ideal there will be a less abrupt change in hormone levels which may make it easier for your bitch to adapt to.
    I do hope this helps.
    Jenny

  • Carol Skull says:

    Hi after reassurance really! My pup,Rosie,a standard schnauzer is booked to be spayed at easter she will be 26 weeks. She had her checkup at the vets and said she should be ok to have it done. Having looked at some other web pages though some say they are too immature and it can affect their growth at this age. Help!!What would you advise?

  • Scott Swabey says:

    Really good information Rosie our 6 month old Cocker Spaniel is having her op tommorow morning her pre op check went well the Vet said she was fit and very healthy and ok for the op to go ahead. We were aprehensive at first but after reading all the different informative sites we feel more at ease. Keeping her quiet and rested will be difficult she has bounds of energy.

  • Shari Kennedy says:

    thank you so much for the information. I have a rescue dog. We don’t know exactly how old she is, but vet figured 3 years. She is in her first heat and I need to get her spade, but didn’t know when to do it. the information you gave is very helpful and now it is time to call the vet. thanks again

  • karen hillyard says:

    thank you for the information. we are having our 6.5 month old boxer bitch done tomorrow and we were concerned about the recovery period. she is extremely active and the 5-10 day recovery period will be awful for all of us, especially as we have a 14 month old male who will pine for his companion!! his op was awful and he ended up being on antibiotics and painkillers for 2 weeks. wish us luck!!

  • Sally says:

    Thank you, this is a really good article, I have my PJR spayed a few days ago and was worried she was too young at 10 months, this has put my mind at rest. The only problem is she has become very hyperactive after the surgery and has reverted to her destructive early puppy days!

  • Chris Isherwood says:

    Thanks for this great outline of the operation/post-op care. I have a 4 year old Japanese Shiba who is at this minute undergoing surgery. This article helped a lot as my vet didn’t really explain too much about the procedure. It’s a bit nerve wracking waiting. My main concern was not so much about the operation and more about how it could affect her emotionally afterwards (or am I just anthropomorphizing?) Thanks again!

  • Pam Holland says:

    Thanks for this detailed step by step operation explanation.
    My 11 month old Yorkie-Poo is being operated on as I write this – Quite worried for her. Keeping her quiet afterwards will be very hard but I think this is essential for her future health.

  • Lesley says:

    Thanks so much for this article, after a nightmare few weeks with my bitch in season and three male dogs, been wondering what to do. I live in Spain and do not want puppies at all, three of my dogs are rescued, but very nervous about this op, still unsure but great info, thanks again x

  • Sarah Riley says:

    Our 9 year old bitch Staffie is getting spayed tomorrow and we were really worried. Her season 3 months ago was horrific so we knew it was time for her to get spayed. This has put out mind at rest a little and was very informative, nice to know exactly what happens and the procedures used.

  • Corinne says:

    Thank you so much for this, I’ve just booked my 1 year old dog in and feel much better now I know what’s involved!

  • Barbara Hunsley says:

    Not sure what to do we have a 15 month old border collie bitch , she as had one season at 8 months i want to have her spayed but my husband is against it , as she as a pedigree as long as your arm & its a shame not to breed from her. I think there are to many border collies in rescue & i dont want that to happen to her pups, help what do i do ???

  • Alyson says:

    Got my 7mo lab princess back from the vets yesterday and what a whingebag, she has paced the floor all night crying and this morning then suddenly perked up, glad I got it done, just a few extra bits to mention. She has a wet cough because of the tube, which I was told to expect. Before taking her to vets for op she was sick, probably because she had been fed early the night before then nothing. I leave the cone off when i’m around then put it on to sleep. She will have the cone on in her crate too as I need to work in a few days for couple hours per day, I have also given her a stagbar chew to keep her mind occupied.

  • Paul says:

    Great article, agree with other comments. I have just brought my beautiful wheaten terrier home, and she seems very unsure of herself! The vet said take her collar off so long as we keep a close eye on her! Well the first thing I did was take it off and she went straight for the stitches!!! I guess the reality is the collar has to stay on until she’s completely through.

    Does anyone have any advice for coping with the collar? Are there any decent alternatives to the standard cone? Thanks

  • Sarah says:

    I’ve got to have my baby spayed she’s a 3yr old staffy and as only been in heat only once so av been advised to get her done by the vets! I really wanted to let her have one litter she be a great mum but unfortunately the risk while carrying could b greater so my decision was made. But to get my dog to rest for 10 days yeah rite she will need sedating! Lol! I also know she will hate a cone round her head. Not looking forward to the day being ere for her to go in at all.

  • Alyson says:

    Probably too late but in response to Paul, I had the option of purchasing an inflateable collar or a ‘pyjama’ suit but knowing my Poppy I didn’t go for the latter, it would have been in bits. The cone did its purpose, she crated well with it, stick to the old fashioned I say. Poppy is fully recovered now I did walk her after 6 days before her stitches came out at 10 days she was fine.

  • Ellie says:

    this is a really helpful post! a step by step into castrates would be great too!

  • tony says:

    we had our 18 month staffy speyed 4 days ago and she wants to run around as normal already just cannot keep her resting

  • Margaret says:

    Been reading through the article and the comments, we are having our collie x spayed on monday, so was good to refresh on what we can expect…many years ago we had our old collie x spayed and she made a very quick recovery, hope our new little girl does the same. Always worrying though.

  • Marc in Taiwan says:

    Thanks for this info. This was the first site I found with the all straightforward info I needed about spaying my dog. All other site were wanting.

  • M Thompson says:

    To the lady who is unsure of having her Border Collie Spayed ,.. i am waiting as i write this for my B-Collie to come home from having her Op,.. i too was unsure, but at nearly 3 yrs old and having had 2 seasons i decided to have her Spayed, Years ago i had a Beautiful miniature Yorkshire terrier who too had a fab Pedigree,didn’t breed from her and had her Spayed late in life,.. what a marvelous little thing she was too,. she lived to 16 yrs of age but she did have to have her Mammary Gland removed ,….not nice, i don’t want to put my Collie through all of that, i feel i have made the right decision and being a good responsible owner you will know what is best for your Border Collie….. hope this is of some help,

  • Richard khul from Uganda E.Africa says:

    Thank u so much for the artical, i read it, it was so easy to understand. I have just taken my labrada bitch (i call her smookie) for the operation (spay) and it was a success and now am left with the big task. “Keeping it at rest for 10days”

  • Liz elliott says:

    Thank u so much for this article. i am having my beautiful doggy daughter spayed in afew hrz and this has helped me ALOT. All the best to u all x

  • Sapna says:

    I have a female pug who is now 1 year and 5 months old and is due for her second cycle this month. Is she too old to be spayed. We definitely don’t want her to have pups

  • Sandy says:

    Why do they need to be kept quiet for 10 days after the surgery? I have a border collie cross puppy who was spayed two days ago – no discomfort and she’s ignoring the stitches. But she wants to run and play like normal and I can’t see any reason not to allow this.

    Is there something I here I’m missing?

  • Leesa and Lily says:

    Hello!

    The above article is great, thank you!

    My seven year old American Bulldog Lily suffers from phantom pregnancy, I am now in a position to have her spayed but would like to know as much as possible about the procedure, including the before, during and after affects of this operation.

    Lily is my truly my world. Even though I am happy with my current vet practice, I cant help but wonder who is the person underneath the cloth performing this operation on my Lily? Is it OTT to ask my vet practice to supply me with the performing vet’s credentials before putting my dog through this operation? A dog’s life or good health can not be claimed back on insurance.

    I don’t want to be known as the owner from hell however, I would never forgive myself or the vet should anything happen during or after the operation.

    Others people advice would be appreciated. Thank you in advance.

  • L Parks says:

    My dog began her first season in mid November, and our vet booked an appointment for mid January, is this too soon afterwards to have her spayed? Also, I’ve heard that having dogs spayed will calm them down, and now I’m worried she won’t be herself again afterwords? Am I just worrying about nothing?

  • Skippy the Gordon Setter says:

    Hello world!
    I am a 13 month old Gordon Setter and my friends took me in to be spayed (whatever that is). They kept saying it was, “for the best”. Off games for a few days and was definitely a wee bit sore when I got back. Right off food for 24 hours and slept like a log. “All perfectly normal” said the vet. Can’t quite get the bit about not going up stairs and being kept on a lead and I’m told its for 10-14 days. Not fun, but then again, nor is breast cancer and the chances of that (I am told) is around 75% in bitches that haven’t been spayed. Article good but should emphasise more the benefit of being spayed before the 2nd season and, possibly, even before the first. Looking forward to being back on games soon.

  • Ellen says:

    my pop is just 13 weeks around how many weeks should i leave it before asking the vet about this op? thanks

  • Jenny says:

    Hi Sapna
    No, your pug is definitely not too old to be spayed at 1.5 years, although your vet may want to wait until 2 or 3 months after her second season if it is due soon. I would advise discussing all the pros and cons of the operation with your vet, but I personally think that the pros will greatly outweigh the cons.
    All the best, Jenny

  • Jenny says:

    Hi L Parks
    I’m sure that your vet will give your bitch a full examination in mid-January, to make sure that the timing is right. This might be on the day the operation is planned, or at a consultation before the operation date is booked. In particular, your vet will want to check your bitch is in good general health, is the correct weight and is not having a season, a false pregnancy or an actual pregnancy. They may also advise a blood test to check that your bitch is able to cope well with the anaesthetic. If anything is not right, your vet will postpone the operation until the timing is ideal.
    If anything in particular worries you about the operation, it’s always a good idea to write it down so that you don’t forget to ask the important questions that you want to ask your vet or your vet nurse.
    All the best, Jenny

  • doreen says:

    Thankyou it has been very interesting to read other peoples comments.Tomorrow28th jan 2013 i am taking my breson to be done before her first season i have been told this will be fine as the problem later on in life can be treated, if i had not got her dad who is ten i would have waited but i do not wish for problems to happen to her if i can avoid it i have tummy ache now myself thinking about tomorrow so all i can say thankyou for your help it has been helpful thankyou again doreen w

  • Branka says:

    Hi!
    My yorki is 3 years and 7 days old, and already have had 4 seasons.
    I read a lot about it, but I can not make a decision weather to spay it or not. At the same time I am afraid of possibilities of breast cancer in a future.
    I would like to ask you what do you suggest, because she is now 3 years old. Could I expect some benefit of spaying it?
    We are expecting next season in a few days (the last was at beginning of August). It has 6,5 -9 months pause between seasons.
    Thank you!

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