What Is a Dog Spay?

Cute dog with lamp shade on giving puppy dog eyes.
Jeff Rutherford/Moment Open/Getty Images

You have probably heard people talking about spaying dogs. Someone might have even asked you if your dog has been spayed. But what is a spay and how does it affect dogs? Why do people spay their dogs? Should you spay your dog?

What is a Spay?

The word "spay" is a common term for ovariohysterectomy? This is a surgical procedure during which a female dog's ovaries and uterus are removed. A spay must be performed under general anesthesia by a veterinarian.

The procedure will permanently stop the dog from having heat cycles and being able to reproduce.

Why Do Dogs Get Spayed?

Dogs are typically spayed in order to eliminate the possibility of reproduction and estrus/bleeding. Spays are often performed on puppies around the age of six months (sometimes earlier) before the reproductive system is active. Spaying a dog as a puppy will eliminate the possibility of diseases like pyometra (abscessed uterus) and cancer of the ovaries or uterus. It is also believed to reduce the risk of mammary cancer in dogs. Some owners wait until their dogs are older before they choose to have a spay performed. In some cases, an adult dog must be spayed in order to treat a serious medical condition like pyometra. 

What Are the Risks of a Spay?

Complications are not common during a routine spay. However, the procedure is not without risks. As with any surgical procedure, potential complications include anesthesia reaction, excessive bleeding, bruising, and infection.

Some dogs will develop hormone-related urinary incontinence, but this is also uncommon.

It's important for a veterinarian to thoroughly examine the dog and perform lab work prior to surgery. This allows the vet to identify health issues that may increase the dog's risk of complications during and after surgery.

 Overall, the prognosis for a full recovery is excellent in healthy dogs. 

What Happens During a Spay?

Before surgery begins, the dog is put under general anesthesia. Most vets use an injectable drug to induce anesthesia, often through an intravenous catheter. Pain medication is often started in advance. Next, a breathing tube is placed in the dog's trachea to maintain an open airway and deliver gas anesthesia (inhalant). The gas is used to maintain an optimum level of anesthesia.

Once the dog is under anesthesia, technicians typically place monitors and take measures to keep the dog warm (body temperature drops during anesthesia). Intravenous fluids may be administered as well to maintain blood pressure, prevent dehydration, and offset blood loss during surgery. Vital signs are monitored constantly to make sure the dog is safe during the procedure.

Next, the dog is placed on her back on the surgery table in the operating room. A technician shaves the hair on her abdomen, then scrubs the skin with a special surgical cleanser that removes dirt and germs. Meanwhile, the veterinarian scrubs her hands and arms with surgical cleanser, then puts on a sterile surgery gown and sterile gloves. Staff members in the operating room wear caps to cover their hair and masks to cover their mouths and noses.

Before making the first cut, the veterinarian covers the dog with sterile drapes to keep germs and debris from getting into the surgery site. Then, a scalpel is used to make a small incision through the layers of skin and body wall over the location of the uterus and ovaries. Using special surgical instruments, the vet navigates through fat and other tissue and isolates the uterus and ovaries. The blood supply to the uterus and ovaries is skillfully tied off with suture before the vet carefully cuts them away. The abdomen is then closed with many layers of internal sutures. Some vets use special skin glue to close the outer layer of skin while others use visible external sutures (this is a matter of the vet's preference and the dog's specific needs).

After the surgery is complete, a technician will clean the abdomen gently and move the dog to recovery.

Additional pain medication may be given depending on the dog's needs. The goal is for the dog to wake up in a soft, warm bed with as little pain as possible. 

In general, the full process around the spay will last about 1-2 hours (from the time anesthesia starts until the dog is awake). The spay surgery itself typically takes about 30 minutes. 

More Spay Details

Pronunciation: spey (rhymes with "play")

Also Known As: ovariohysterectomy (medical term), OHE for short; sterilization

Common Misspellings: spade, spaded, spayded

Examples:

  • My dog had no complications during her spay.
  • Most female puppies are spayed at six months of age.
  • Will you have the vet spay your dog, or will you keep her intact?