Vet holding puppy

Key takeaway

'Spay' or 'ovariohysterectomy' is the surgical sterilization of female dogs or cats. The dog's reproductive organs (both the ovaries and uterus) are excised or removed during this procedure. Spaying your dog can offer many health benefits for your pet and help reduce the consequences associated with the overpopulation of pets.

A "spay" is also known as "ovariohysterectomy" or "ovariectomy." During the surgical procedure, dogs undergo surgical sterilization by removing all or part of the female reproductive organs. While all surgical procedures come with inherent risk, spaying your dog has a number of benefits that, in most cases, outweigh the potential drawbacks.

In this article, we’ll explain how spaying works, its advantages and possible risks, and more. 

What Does It Mean To Spay A Dog?

Spaying a dog means that the female dog will be surgically sterilized through the full or partial removal of reproductive organs. This prevents the dog from reproducing, ends its heat cycle, and reduces mating urge, among other benefits. There are two methods used to spay dogs, ovariohysterectomies, and ovariectomies, both of which use general anesthesia.1

Ovariohysterectomies and ovariectomies fulfill the same objective—sterilizing the female pet—but use different procedures to do so. Here’s how the two methods work:  

  • Ovariohysterectomy: This surgical procedure removes the total reproductive system, including both ovaries and the dog's uterus. 
  • Ovariectomy: This surgical procedure is done to remove both the ovaries but not the uterus of the dog.

Note: We’ll discuss the surgical specifics of ovariohysterectomies and ovariectomies a little later on in this post.

While you may hear the terms “spaying” and “neutering” used interchangeably, there’s a simple difference between the two: spaying is for female dogs and neutering is for male dogs.

Puppy with Elizabethan collar after spay surgery

When Should You Spay Your Dog?

Wondering when to spay a dog? The American Animal Hospital Association says small-breed dogs (under 45 pounds) should be spayed before their first heat, usually between 5 and 6 months old. Large-breed dogs (over 45 pounds) should be spayed between 5 and 15 months old, depending on factors such as your dog’s disease risk and lifestyle.2  Ultimately, the decision if and when to spay your dog should be a conversation between pet parents and their vet.

Why Spay Your Dog?

An estimated 80% of dogs in the United States are spayed and for good reason.3 Spaying your dog offers a variety of benefits for you and your pet:4

  • Spaying increases the lifespan and promotes the good health of your female companion.
  • A spayed dog will not escape outdoors searching for a mate when in heat.
  • After spaying, chances of diseases like cancerous tumors in the breast, uterus, ovaries, or uterine infections like pyometra get reduced or eliminated.
  • Spaying plays an essential role in controlling rapid births and overpopulation.
  • Spaying stops female dogs from entering the estrous cycle, during which their genitals get swollen.
  • Since spayed dogs will not experience heat (an estrus cycle), they will not face the bleeding associated with it.

Benefits of spaying your dog

Potential risks of spaying

Spaying and neutering are extremely common procedures with minimal overall risk. However, all surgeries come with the possibility of surgical and anesthetic complications. Additionally, spaying and neutering remove reproductive hormones that may play an important role in your pet’s general health. In some cases, the elimination of these hormones can result in an increased risk of some cancers, urinary incontinence, and other health problems.5

Spaying is generally recommended for all female dogs. However, it’s up to you and your vet to discuss the benefits and potential risks of the procedure before moving forward.

Procedure & Recovery

As we mentioned earlier on in this post, there are two procedures that vets follow to sterilize female dogs. The ovariohysterectomy is the most common spay surgery. It involves the excision of both uterus and ovaries. On the other hand, ovariectomy only involves excision of the uterus and a small portion of it.

Graphic showing procedural differences between ovariohysterectomy and ovariectomy

Ovariohysterectomy vs. ovariectomy

Let’s take a look at the procedural differences between the two6:

  • In an ovariohysterectomy procedure, first, the vet starts by incising the abdomen near the belly button. The large blood vessels are clamped to restrict blood flow and loss. Then the ovaries and uterus are excised. Finally, the skin is stitched back. These stitches may dissolve on their own. Or your vet may ask you to revisit in a week or two to remove temporary stitches.
  • In an ovariectomy procedure, the vet cuts through the abdominal wall. The ovaries are then excised. A tiny portion of the uterus may be excised as well. The skin will then be closed with the help of stitches.

Note: Dogs that undergo ovariectomies maintain the risk of developing uterine cancer because the uterus is not be removed during the procedure.

Spay Recovery

Pet parents need to take especially good care of their animals after they are spayed. Here are some ways to help you look after your dog during her recovery period:

  • Limit Excess Motion: You need to ensure that your dog takes complete rest after surgery. To do so, you’ll need to restrict activity for 10-14 days after their procedure. Ask your veterinary surgeon for specific guidelines to help you keep activity to a minimum.
  • Use a Pet Cone: Licking or playing with surgical stitches can cause infection and irritation around the incision site. Pet cones, also called Elizabeth collars or E-collars, help prevent your dog from reaching the stitches.
  • Avoid Baths: You should not give a bath to your spayed dog until the stitches are healed.
  • Daily Examination of The Spay Stitches: Make sure to check your dog’s stitches daily. If you notice open stitches or any swelling, discharge, or inflammation, call your vet immediately.
  • Check Signs of Internal Bleeding: After they’ve been spayed, your dog may experience internal bleeding during the recovery period. You can determine internal bleeding with signs such as wheezing, having a swollen belly, blood seeping out of the stitches, lethargy, unconsciousness, or pale gums. If you notice these signs, contact your vet immediately.

Recovery tips after spaying procedure

  • Check for Signs of Surgical Complications: If your pet refuses to eat, has pale gums,, is lethargic, or they’re experiencing abnormal breathing, contact your vet immediately. Bloody discharge and swelling near the stitches may also result from surgical complications.
  • Check Stool: Check if your dog cannot defecate, has loose bowel movements, is vomiting, or hasn’t urinated in 24 hours. Immediately go to a vet if you notice any of these signs. 
  • Get Feeding Guide from Your Vet: You must follow the feeding instructions provided by your vet. Your dog may not take her meal post-spaying but must eat within 24 hours. Notify your vet if you notice appetite changes after surgery.
  • Pain Management: Vets usually prescribe medications to help your pet feel more comfortable after surgery. Follow proper medication guidelines to ensure the medicine is being used safely and effectively.

How Long Does It Take For a Dog to Recover From Being Spayed?

The spay surgery of a female dog is 20 minutes to 90 minutes long. This depends on various factors, like if the dog is in heat, it may take longer to tackle the surgery delicately. Also, age and size are other parameters on which the surgery duration depends. They will regain consciousness after 15 to 30 minutes of their sterilization.

The dog spay recovery period is very critical. It must be well-kept and looked after by the pet owner. Thus, it will take two weeks or more to heal completely.

Puppy at vet appointment

Do female dogs change after being spayed?

Female dogs experience hormonal changes as they go into the heat cycle. This variation can make some dogs angry or agitated, and they may react as a result. Hormones in an unspayed female dog may also trigger defensive behavior. After a female has been spayed, its conduct usually becomes more even, calm, and stable.

What should I expect after my dog is spayed?

Look after your dog well after being spayed. Follow the instructions regarding your dog's diet, medications, habits, daily activity, and incision site  protection measures your vet provides. Your pet's incision site  will heal within two to three weeks. 

However, you need to monitor certain conditions, including blood discharge, low energy, swollen incision site  or abdomen, abnormal breathing, gum color, appetite changes, urination, defecation habits, etc. Make sure to immediately report any abnormal symptoms to your vet.

When should a female dog be spayed?

Veterinarians recommend that the best time for your female puppy to be spayed is within six to twelve months. Depending on the dog's breed, it is helpful for pet owners to get their female companion spayed before the first heat cycle. It is noticed that dogs getting spayed after maturing may act more irritated or annoyed at first. However, some recent studies state that early spaying before maturity may cause medical or health conditions in some breeds. 

So, remember to work with your vet! It’s best to consult your vet for personalized recommendations about the right time to get your female dog spayed.

Do spayed dogs have periods?

No, spayed dogs will no longer have periods (heat cycles). Periods occur due to the presence of ovaries. Female dogs will not have periods in the absence of ovaries and uterus. 

Owner holding up puppy, looking lovingly

Final Notes

Every dog parent's priority is to keep their pet healthy and happy. Pet owners must consider getting their dogs spayed early. Spaying surgery is inexpensive and has many health and developmental benefits. However, you should always consult your vet on when to get your dog spayed. 

If you have any queries about efficient pet care, visit Dutch.com. As a resourceful platform for all pet owners, Dutch will pair you with licensed vets to ensure your pet’s getting the attention they deserve. Offering treatment for dog anxiety, allergies, and numerous other health issues, Dutch-affiliated vets can help you care for your dog without leaving the comfort of home.