Everything You Need to Know About Desexing Your Dog

What Is Involved in Desexing a Dog

Many years ago, desexing your dog involved removing the ovaries and uterus in a female dog and both testicles in the male dog but times have changed. Today there are not only questions about the best age to desex, but about the best technique to use.

Traditional desexing in the female dog still involves removal of the uterus and both ovaries. It not only prevents them coming into season, but they won’t be able to fall pregnant or carry a litter. Castration, or removal of both testicles in male dogs, will render them completely infertile and remove the hormones that may contribute to unwelcome behaviours.

Tubal ligation, vasectomy and ovary sparing spay (removal of the uterus only and leaving the ovaries behind) are alternatives to the traditional complete removal of reproductive organs. They will prevent a dog producing puppies while allowing them to benefit from the effect of their reproductive hormones on their growth. Removal of the reproductive organs can then be done at a later date when they are mature.

However, these procedures do come with disadvantages:

  • Female dogs will still have oestrus periods, where they will bleed from the vulva and be attractive to male dogs. If a female dog has had her uterus removed but her ovaries have been left, she will still mate and is at risk of severe trauma to her reproductive tract.
  • Female dogs are still at risk of pyometra, an infection of the uterus that occurs in undesexed dogs that have repeated oestrus cycles without being bred. This condition may be life threatening and an affected dog may need to be desexed as an emergency.
  • Removal of the ovaries and uterus at a later date may be a more difficult surgery due to the presence of scarring and adhesions from the previous procedure.
  • Male dogs will still mark their territory and may be more likely to escape if they smell a female dog on heat.

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What Age Should You Get Your Dog Desexed?

In the past all dogs were desexed at six months of age, with some rescue groups desexing puppies as young as eight weeks, but recently this broad recommendation has been questioned. We do know that desexing dogs before maturity results in increased length of the long bones of the legs. This may be associated with joint problems such as cruciate disease. It’s important however to keep in mind that joint disease in dogs has many causes including obesity, trauma, nutrition and genetics. Age of desexing is only one small part of the problem and its significance is not yet fully understood.

Some studies have been published that show specific suggestions for the best age for desexing a dog of various breeds. They recommend some breeds be desexed as late as two years of age, while others are best not desexed at all. It is thought that following these recommendations reduces the risk of some cancers and orthopaedic diseases. The studies are interesting, and we do need to take them into consideration when planning the time of desexing a dog, but they have limitations in that in most cases there are not enough individuals of each breed in the study to draw concrete conclusions.

Another factor that needs to be considered is that some studies evaluated younger dogs, before the age that many cancers are diagnosed. We need to keep in mind that two of the biggest risk factors for cancer in dogs are genetics and age, and these are completely unrelated to desexing.

It’s important to remember that these studies are only guidelines about when should you desex your dog. However, when all is taken into consideration, the literature suggests that overall, desexing does increase lifespan in dogs.

Benefits of Desexing Your Dog

Most dog owners find that there are a number of benefits to desexing, both for the dog and their family and community.

  • Desexing eliminates the risk of contributing to unplanned litters, which can add to the burden of already overwhelmed rescue groups. There is a thought amongst some dog owners that allowing a female dog to have a litter will make her a better dog. This is not the case and is not a reason to let your dog breed.
  • Female dogs have no risk of suffering from an infected uterus, or pyometra, and depending on the age of desexing, it can also offer some protection from developing breast cancer later in life
  • Male dogs are less likely to have disease of the prostate gland.
  • It’s possible for male dogs to have one or two testicles that haven’t descended into their scrotum. These testicles are at greater risk of becoming cancerous so they do need to be removed.

One thing to keep in mind that after desexing your dog, their metabolism changes. This can make them more prone to gain weight. You will need to make some adjustments to how much you feed them and how much you exercise them to avoid them becoming overweight. Obesity can also lead to adverse effects on their health.

A question on every dog owner’s lips is how much does it cost to desex your dog? This can vary from hospital to hospital and can be discussed with your vet prior to making your appointment for surgery. Most veterinary hospitals have a set fee for desexing based on weight and maturity. If your male dog has undescended testicles, then you can expect an increased cost due to the additional time it takes to locate and remove these testicles.

How To Look After Your Dog After Desexing

Correct post-operative care after desexing a dog will help with healing, will minimise the risk of needing repeat surgeries to correct any damage and will also speed recovery.

Desexing a dog is quite a major procedure especially for a female. Dogs of both sexes will undergo a general anaesthetic and have their reproductive organs surgically removed. Most dogs recover quickly and are back to their normal behaviour within a few days. They will want to do the same things as they did before their operation. It can be very difficult to keep a dog quiet after surgery. Crate rest and leash walks will allow them to recover well. If you have a busy dog, you can offer games and mental stimulation to tire them out. Activities such as nose work and using food dispensing toys will keep their brain active while their body recuperates.

It's important that any medications are given as prescribed by your vet. Pain relief may need to be given with food to avoid gastrointestinal upset. Some dogs may be prescribed tablets to help them relax for a few days after surgery so they don’t do themselves harm by being too active.

Your dog shouldn’t be allowed to lick their wound. An Elizabethan collar can be frustrating for both a dog and their owner but is important to prevent them traumatising their surgical site. Dogs should also be kept dry: no swimming or bathing until sutures or staples are removed. There’s usually no need to bathe or cleanse the wound unless directed by your vet.

Your veterinarian will advise you on when your dog should return for suture or staple removal. This will also give them the opportunity to examine the wound and make sure healing is complete.

Check their surgical site daily. Watch for excessive swelling, redness or discharge. It’s vitally important that if you are concerned at all about your dog after desexing surgery, have them examined by your vet to make sure all is well. They will only be too happy to check your dog and set your mind at rest.

There are also human factors that need to be considered when planning on desexing your dog.

One thing that hasn’t yet been discussed is a dog owner's situation and way of life. This has a huge impact on working out the best time to have this procedure done. If the studies we’ve mentioned suggest that your dog be desexed at two years old but you don’t have secure fencing, there is the risk of an unwanted pregnancy in a young dog which is not ideal. If you have a busy lifestyle, young children, work commitments and just don’t have a lot of time, cleaning up after a female dog in season may not be possible for you. Under these circumstances it’s appropriate to chat to your vet about when to desex your dog so that you keep your dog as healthy as possible but the timing fits in with your existing lifestyle and commitments.


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