The Spay surgery is one of the most common surgical procedure performed on pets in the United States, with the main benefit being population control and the reduction in euthanasia of unwanted dogs.
The traditional spay, which involves removing the ovaries and entire uterus, is the most common method of sterilizing female dogs. However, there are other methods that may be more beneficial to your female dog.
Why Should I Spay My Dog?
Sterilizing your dog, whether through spaying (for females) or neutering (for males), can have several benefits for both the dog and its owner. Neutering stops the production of hormones, which can cause aggressive behavior, and can also reduce a dog’s tendency to roam in search of a mate, and remove your dog’s seasons (heats),
Spaying and neutering can help control the population of stray dogs and reduce the risk of certain reproductive-related health issues, such as uterine infections and mammary tumors (breast cancer) – and you may want to really consider this if you have a dog breed prone to cancer like golden retrievers.
Additionally, sterilizing your dog can also help reduce the likelihood of certain behavioral issues, such as marking and humping, and can make training easier. It’s important to note that there are alternative sterilization methods, such as ovary-sparing spaying and hormone-sparing sterilization, that preserve certain hormones and can have additional benefits.
Why I Think It’s Important To Know Your Options
We all want to prevent unwanted litters and keep dogs out of animal shelters, but there’s a way to do that with our dogs reproductive organs that can help minimise health risks, and negative impacts on behavior.
I’m a passionate believer that we, as responsible dog owners, need to know our options so we can make educated decisions about our dogs, because our decisions have consequences, and no one has a more full picture than you. You can tell whether your dog needs their sex hormones like intact dogs, or not. You also know if that’s something you can deal with, or if the supposed health benefits are likely to be impactful for your dog.
So let’s look at the options to sterilize your dog.
1 – Traditional spay
The traditional spay involves removal of the ovaries and uterus. This method eliminates the risk of developing reproductive cancers and prevents the occurrence of “heat” cycles. However, it may also result in an increased risk of obesity and changes in behavior.
Certainly! Here are some of the pros and cons of traditional spaying:
- Reduced risk of certain reproductive cancers: traditional spaying involves removing the ovaries and uterus, which eliminates the risk of ovarian and uterine cancers.
- Elimination of the risk of pyometra: pyometra is a serious infection of the uterus that can be life-threatening, and traditional spaying eliminates the possibility of this condition.
- Elimination of heat cycles: spayed dogs do not go into heat, which can be a relief for owners who do not want to manage a dog during this time.
- Improved behavior: some dogs may exhibit less aggressive or anxious behavior after a traditional spay.
- Increased risk of certain health issues: some studies have shown that spayed dogs may be at an increased risk of certain health issues, such as obesity, urinary incontinence, and certain types of cancer [read more].
- Increased risk of joint problems: studies have shown that female dogs who undergo traditional spaying before 12 months of age may be at an increased risk of joint problems later in life.
- Increased risk of aggression or fearfulness.
- Longer recovery time: traditional spaying involves a more invasive procedure than other sterilization methods, which can result in a longer recovery time for the dog.
2 – Ovary sparing spay
This method removes the uterus and cervix while leaving one or both ovaries intact. Some pet owners prefer ovary-sparing spay because it can reduce the risk of urinary incontinence and allows for the continued production of progesterone, which can have a positive impact on bone density and behavior. However, this procedure does not eliminate the possibility of developing certain reproductive cancers and may result in the continuation of “heat” cycles.
- Reduced risk of urinary incontinence: leaving one or both ovaries intact can minimize the risk of urinary incontinence, which is a common side effect of traditional spays.
- Continued production of progesterone: the ovaries produce progesterone, which can have a positive impact on bone density and behavior in female dogs. An ovary-sparing spay allows for the continued production of progesterone.
- Reduced risk of certain cancers: because the ovaries are not removed, the risk of certain reproductive cancers, such as ovarian cancer, is reduced.
- Reduced risk of obesity: some studies have shown that dogs who undergo traditional spays may be at an increased risk of obesity. Ovary-sparing spays may help mitigate this risk.
- Continued “heat” cycles: because the ovaries are not removed, the dog may continue to experience “heat” cycles, which can be inconvenient for pet owners.
- Possibility of developing certain reproductive cancers: while the risk of certain reproductive cancers is reduced, an ovary-sparing spay does not eliminate the possibility of developing these cancers.
- Cost: ovary-sparing spays may be more expensive than traditional spays due to the increased complexity of the surgery.
3 – Tubal ligation
This is, basically, the tying of the tubes, and is equivalent to a vasectomy for males.
Tubal ligation does not remove the ovaries or uterus but instead blocks or severs the fallopian tubes, preventing the eggs from reaching the uterus. This method is less invasive than a traditional spay and still allows for the production of hormones, but it does not prevent the occurrence of “heat” cycles and does not reduce the risk of certain reproductive cancers.
- Allows for the dog to maintain heat cycles and produce a steady level of hormones
- Less invasive than ovariohysterectomy, with a shorter recovery time
- Does not prevent the possibility of pyometra, a serious infection of the uterus
- The dog can still mate during her heat cycles
- May not be the best option for certain dogs, especially if they are at high risk for developing pyometra or other reproductive health issues
It’s important to note that the decision to choose tubal ligation over other sterilization methods should be made after a discussion with a veterinarian, taking into consideration the individual dog’s breed, health, and lifestyle.
4 – Hysterectomy
Hysterectomy involves removing only the uterus and leaving both ovaries intact. This method eliminates the risk of uterine cancer and the occurrence of pyometra, which is a life-threatening uterine infection. However, it does not eliminate the risk of ovarian cancer and may result in the continuation of “heat” cycles.
Certainly! Here are some of the pros and cons of hysterectomy spay:
- Reduced risk of certain reproductive cancers: because the uterus is removed, the risk of developing uterine and ovarian cancers is eliminated.
- Reduced risk of pyometra: pyometra is a serious infection of the uterus that can be life-threatening, and hysterectomy spay eliminates the possibility of this condition.
- Improved behavior: some dogs may exhibit less aggressive or anxious behavior after a hysterectomy spay.
- Reduced risk of obesity: some studies have shown that dogs who undergo traditional spays may be at an increased risk of obesity. Hysterectomy spays may help mitigate this risk.
- Increased risk of urinary incontinence: removing the uterus can increase the risk of urinary incontinence, which can be a frustrating and difficult condition to manage.
- Early onset of joint problems: studies have shown that female dogs who undergo hysterectomy spay before 12 months of age may be at an increased risk of joint problems later in life .
- Increased risk of certain cancers: while the risk of uterine and ovarian cancers is eliminated, some studies have suggested that removing the uterus may increase the risk of other types of cancer, such as bone cancer .
Does Chemical Birth Control Exist For Female Dogs?
Yes, there are chemical birth control options available for female dogs. One such option is Mibolerone, which is an androgenic steroid that is used to suppress the estrus cycle of female dogs by counteracting the effects of estrogen and progesterone.
It is administered orally or as drops one month before the beginning of the proestrus stage of the dog’s heat cycle to be effective. 
It’s good to note though, that currently in the US and Canada there is no approved method of chemical birth control for dogs to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
What If My Vet Won’t Do These Surgeries?
Sometimes the less ‘regular’ option isn’t taught in veterinary school, so some of our vets (certainly in North America) tend to be more cautious about different procedures. But all of these surgeries arent’ typically that difficult, you may just need to find yourself a vet who specialises in surgery to ensure whether it’s surgical removal, or a small incision and some tube tying, that it’s done the very best it can be.
Importance of researching your options.
It is important to research spay options because choosing the right option for your dog can significantly impact their health and well-being. There are several factors to consider, including the dog’s breed, age, and current health status. Ultimately, it is important to work with a veterinarian to determine the best option for your dog’s individual needs.
Researching spay options allows you to make an informed decision and understand the benefits and risks associated with each method. Some spay options carry a higher risk of certain health issues, such as obesity, hip dysplasia (certainly in large breed dogs) or urinary incontinence, while other options may be more suitable for dogs with certain health conditions.
Additionally, spaying a dog is a permanent decision, and it is important to understand the consequences of the procedure. For example, spaying eliminates the possibility of pregnancy and can impact the dog’s behavior and overall health. Understanding the long-term effects of spaying can help you make the best decision for your dog’s future.
What About The Effects On Behavior?
The more hormones remain, the less likely it is to change your girls response to things.
According to an article in the Proceedings of the Third International Symposium on Non-Surgical Contraceptive Methods for Pet Population Control, the behavioral effects of spaying or neutering dogs may vary depending on the method used. Specifically, researchers found that “behavioral changes may be less pronounced when sterilization is performed by tubal ligation in females or vasectomy in males, compared with ovariohysterectomy or castration” .
However, it is worth noting that these findings are not definitive and further research is needed to make a conclusive statement.
But it makes sense, right? The more hormones that remain in place, the more consistent our dogs behavior will be.
Depending on how your vet is comfortable doing the surgery (e.g. laparoscopic spay) may result in a quicker recovery time.
What about Age? What Age Should I Get These Procedures Done?
Another common question, when is the best time to get my dog spayed. And whilst the early spaying of female dogs is commonly discouraged outside of shelters (who are combating the pet overpopulation crisis), That depends on the hormonal impact, essentially. If there is a significant hormonal impact, I’d consider using the guidance off of Hart et al’s research which I’ve disseminated by breed here.
If there is a hormonal impact, then do consider;
- Health/breeding quality
If there is no impact, then it should be fine to get this done whenever.
Long-term health complications
Finally, remember that any surgery that removes the gonads (ovaries in females) changes the animal in both positive and negative ways.
There is mounting evidence supporting long-term health complications associated with surgical sterilization that includes gonad (ovaries) removal. Pet owners should be aware of the risks and disadvantages associated with each sterilization method and discuss the best plan for their dog’s lifelong well-being with their veterinarian.
Be Informed, Make Your Choice
In conclusion, sterilizing your dog, whether through spaying or neutering, can have numerous benefits for both the dog and its owner, including controlling stray dog populations, and minimizing health risks related to reproduction.
However, it’s important to remember that different sterilization methods may have varying effects on behavior.
As a responsible pet owner, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons of each method, chat to your breeder, chat to your trainer, chat to your vet and conclude for yourself determine the best course of action for your dog’s health and well-being, and so you know you’re doing the right thing for your dog.
If you want more info on spaying and neutering, head to the spay neuter info center for more reading.
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Author, Ali Smith
Ali Smith is the Positive Puppy Expert, dog trainer and is the founder of Rebarkable. She is passionate about helping puppy parents get things right, right from the start. To help create a puppy capable of being a confident and adaptable family member and keep puppies out of shelters.
Ali has won multiple awards for her dog training, and has had her blog (this blog!) rated as 2021 & 2022 worlds’ best pet blog!
Thanks to depositphotos.com for the images!