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.

  • carol Rochester says:

    Hi we are going to book our 2 pugs in to be neutered 1 male nearly 3 and 1 female nearly1 am worried about anesthetic but think overall it will be for the better to get them both neutered and after having a male and female in the same house during our little girls 1st season i do not want a repeat thanks for the article very informative

  • John Veale says:

    i run a very low key dog rescue home in Granada in Spain, taking in strays and abandonados who would otherwise die from hunger or neglect or road accidents. We do have a major roblem here in spain where many of the hunting breeds, Spanish Greyhounds, Podencos, Ibizan Hounds and Pointers are either, in the case of females used as breeding machines or as males as hunting dogs. Generally both males and females owned by hunters or breeders are abandoned when they are no longer fast enough or productive enough. Once abandoned they are left to their own devices. As a result of this and the Spanish Macho attitude regarding neutering males there are quite literally thousands of dogs roaming the streets, producing ever more dogs. What I cannot understand however is why Spanish vets are so reluctant to spay females before their first season. In the UK and US it is quite common for females to be spayed at six months. My own vet like most if not all of the vets hereabouts is adamant that he will not spay before a first season is complete. Can anyone through any light on this situation?

  • Kate says:

    Hello,

    Thank you very much for this detailed article. My 2 years old girly had this doen yesterday and I have been sorry worried about what to expect and how she will be feeling, this has put my mind to rest – slightly.

    Thanks again.

  • jacko says:

    I am not sure if my little girl needs this should I have any concerns . don’t won’t any thing to happen to my amber

  • jade says:

    I have a 5 year old old english mastiff who has just had to have an emergency hysterectomy due to a womb infection we collected her yesturday around tea time and will not eat or drink I’m a little concerned do you have any advice please

  • Susie says:

    Hi Jade, Please take her back to your vets urgently so they can check her, she may need pain relief and/ or fluids and antibiotics in the vein for a bit longer. Emergency hysterectomies are always bigger, longer and more serious operations and bitches take longer to recover. I hope she feels better soon.

  • Kathy says:

    I had my 6m old Cocker bitch spayed on Monday. She is doing very well and the wound is healing great. She is feeling good in herself. It is difficult to put a puppy through such an operation but I know it is better for her in the long-run. With having two other dogs (boys) it was my only option anyway. It’s difficult taking the boys out for walks without her, but they need to have a good run. She’s going for her check up on Tuesday. At least she will be well over it for the Summer!

  • sally crowther says:

    my dog as just been spayed she is 11 and all she wants to do day after op is eat grass she is throwing up after eating grass. will not take a drink or food. need to get the prescribed anti-biotic into her.
    can you advice if I give her a trimacare tablet will this settle her gurgling stomach.

  • Susie says:

    @sally crowther You need to take her to the vets asap, it is not normal for dogs to be so poorly the day after the op. Please don’t give her any medications (unless she is on them usually) until you have seen your vet.

  • Debbie Taylor says:

    Thank you so much for this article it has helped me understand what my 11 yr old bitch will be goinng through tomorrow and what i will expect she has a pymetra therefore we have no option but this hashelped me to settle my mind

  • sooklian says:

    My dog is 6 years old. Is she suitable to be spayed at this age
    ? Thank you.

  • andy says:

    My bitch is a 2 and a half miniature dachshund called Tia, and is currently being spayed as I type. The article is very informative and has reasurred me that I have made the right decision.

  • Diane says:

    I recently got a 3 year old rescue collie and I had booked her in to be spayed next week but she has just started bleeding. I presume it is not advisable to have her done at the moment, but how long do I now have to wait?

  • Phill says:

    What an excellent web page, so much information and really informative. Thank you!

  • Judd says:

    We have a 6 yr old (this May) Cocker bitch with a heart murmer. Is it too much of a risk do you think – to have her spayed? She is not coping very well with her seasons! Any advice would be great..
    Many thanks,
    Judd

  • Mandy says:

    Hi my pet’s 9yrs in Jul of this year.. i’m wondering if its a good idea to get her spayed … she has never been crossed … a Spitz healthy but very hyper… my only concerned is what if she gets Cancer at a later stage … Also the surgery part is something i’m very nervous about .. till date she has been in the best of health never had an accident on a bruise just nothing … Any advise would be gr8..

    Many thnx

    Mandy.

  • Dave says:

    Mandy, making the decision to have her spayed is only one you can make – however we would strongly suggest having a long chat with your own vet, as they will know her medical record.

  • b.once says:

    i have a 14 month old English bulldog 20kg her spaying apt is in 2months is that too heavy or is she good? shes all i have bulldogs are known to not be ale to give natural births does this translate into more difficulty? id rather live with mopping up blood blotches on my floor for a week than lose my lilly

  • Dave says:

    The spay should not be more difficult because of her breed, but weight does play a part when any surgery is performed. Our advice is to speak to your vet as they are the people who will be operating. Tell them your concerns and ask them the questions you have thought of, if you speak to them today, you have 2 months leeway if they thing she should lose a little weight.

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