Spaying is a big decision for any pet parent. But did you know that how you time your pup’s neutering can also have a big impact on their future behaviour? Expert dog behaviourist Philippa Short explains the ins and outs of spaying, so you can decide what’s best for your pooch.
Neutering a female dog (known as spaying) is a way to stop them from getting pregnant or having phantom pregnancies. It can also reduce the risk of your girl developing certain infections and cancers.
Spaying is carried out by a vet and involves surgically removing some or all of your pup’s reproductive organs.
There’s three types of dog spaying and all need surgery:
Before the surgery:
There’s two types of spaying surgery: classic and keyhole (which is a newer option but slowly becoming more common).
The classic way of doing spaying surgery involves:
Your pup will then be taken into recovery to come round from the anaesthetic. If all goes well, you should be able to pick her up later that day and take her home.
The cost to spay your dog varies based on their breed and your individual vet.
Get in touch with your local vet practice to find out how much they charge. For example, dog spaying costs at this Northampton-based vet practice start from £244 (as of 23 February 2023, discounted for registered pet health club members).
Aside from plenty of careful cuddles when she wants them, your girl needs to be:
Depending on how determined your dog is to reach her stitches, you can use an Elizabethan collar, doughnut collar, or vest.
Your pup will have a check up three days after surgery (and again at 10 days post-surgery if surgical glue was used). Her stitches come out around 10-14 days after surgery.
You can start building your dog back up to her previous fitness levels from day 10 post-surgery.
Spaying recovery time can vary if your pup is too active too soon or is able to get at her stitches.
Your dog is unique, so the choice to spay is completely based on your individual circumstances.
Before deciding, think about your home environment as well as your dog’s breed and health.
Some benefits of spaying include:
Dog behaviourists will likely recommend spaying if a female dog shows increased reactivity and aggression only around the time of their season.
Generally, spaying won’t improve negative behaviour. In fact, it may actually make things worse if she’s:
Under confident or generally fearful dogs (of public places, people, being handled) first need behaviour modification. This will help to reduce their fearfulness before being spayed.
Let her have a few seasons, bring up her confidence levels with being handled, then come back to spaying.
Vets may take two approaches when recommending the timing of spaying:
Behaviourists will always warn against spaying before the first season or 12 weeks from the start of the season, as a mistimed spay can cause lifelong problems. Your pup needs her hormones through adolescence to properly grow and mature.
It’s recommended to wait at least three months (preferably four) from the end of the season or as near to the next season as possible. But this relies on you know the timings of your girls’s cycle.
Dr Caroline Warnes MRCVS is a retired vet and certified clinical behaviourist who has done pioneering research on pseudopregnancy. She advises that most dogs benefit from having at least one season, especially if they are:
Having their first season allows their joints to grow properly and their vulva to develop better.
The only time you should think about spaying before their first season is if:
The higher hormone levels during a season can increase aggression. Spaying may stop the hormone flares in these situations, but keep in mind there’s no guarantees.
Learning how regularly your dog has her cycle can help you know when her next season is due, and so time her spaying appropriately.
If she’s in season or coming up to her season, her area will be engorged with blood and the blood vessels larger, making surgery more complicated.
Whether she’s showing physical or behavioural signs, you should never spay a female dog having a phantom pregnancy. This can lock them into the cycle and cause massive behavioural problems.
Vet behaviourist Dr Caroline Warnes recommends spaying at the correct time if a female dog has severe behavioural changes with false pregnancy. Sometimes you’ll need to medicate the pup for phantom pregnancy to make sure it’s completely finished, then you can spay.
Spaying when your pup is in the middle of a phantom pregnancy can lock her into that physical and emotional state.
Sometimes she can show physical or behavioural signs of phantom pregnancy days after being spayed because her hormonal flow has been interrupted.
If you don’t wait for the phantom pregnancy to end before spaying, it can lead to:
She can also show aggression or anxiety for weeks and years after being spayed during a phantom pregnancy.
If you’re worried your female dog has gone through misplaced spaying and has new or increased behavioural problems, reach out to a dog behaviourist. She will need to be treated with medication, which can be given up to three years after spaying and still take full effect.
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