Spaying and Neutering

Sometimes referred to as “altering,” spay or neuter surgery is the removal of a dog's reproductive organs (the uterus and ovaries in a female and the testicles in a male) to prevent it from producing litters of puppies. Spaying (also referred to as an ovariohysterectomy) is the procedure used for female pets, and neutering generally refers to the procedure used for male pets. Both surgeries offer health benefits beyond the prevention of unwanted puppies.

One of the greatest health benefits of spay surgery for females is the reduced risk of breast cancer, especially if the surgery is performed before the first heat cycle. Spayed females also run no risk of developing uterine or ovarian infection or cancer. Neutering of males results in reduced risk of testicular and prostate cancer, less desire to roam, and a reduced incidence of aggressive behavior.

Spaying a female before her first heat can reduce the risk of mammary cancer to as little as 5 percent. The risk increases to 8 percent if she goes through one heat cycle and 26 percent if she goes through two or more heat cycles.

Myths about Spay/Neuter Surgery

Despite these benefits, many myths exist about spay and neuter surgery that may make you reluctant to go ahead with it. Among these myths are “My Lab will get fat,” “My Lab's personality will change,” “My Lab should have a litter before she's spayed,” and “Surgery is dangerous and painful, and I don't want to put my Lab through it unnecessarily.” Let's take a look at each myth realistically.

My Lab Will Get Fat

Spay and neuter surgery is usually scheduled when a dog is six to nine months old, just when growth is beginning to slow and hormonal balances change, influencing appetite. Young animals naturally start to put on weight during this time, especially if they're still getting the same amount of food and not enough exercise. It's understandable that people might associate spay/neuter surgery with weight gain, but it's not the surgery that causes the problem. Adjusting a dog's diet and providing plenty of exercise will prevent obesity.

My Lab's Personality Will Change

Yes it will, for the better. Spayed or neutered dogs are more bonded to their owners, less likely to roam, less given to marking territory by lifting a leg and spraying urine around the house, and less likely to develop aggressive behaviors. Spaying and neutering doesn't affect retrieving ability.

My Lab Should Have a Litter Before She's Spayed

Having a litter has no positive effect on a female's emotional state. Dogs don't dream about someday having puppies and don't feel deprived if they don't have them.

Anesthesia Is Dangerous

The risk from anesthesia is much less than it used to be. The drugs used today are very safe, and many veterinarians use high-tech equipment to monitor heart rate and breathing during surgery. If you're concerned, ask if the clinic uses a reversible gas anesthesia, and if the dog is hooked to a heart monitor. These safety features are more expensive but worth the money.

The average cost for neutering a male is $80 to $150. The average cost for spay surgery ranges from $100 to $250, depending on whether it takes place before or after the first estrus cycle. Some veterinarians charge according to the size of the dog, since a larger dog requires more anesthesia than a smaller one.

Surgery Is Dangerous and Painful

Veterinarians use the same high-quality instruments and take the same precautions as medical surgeons. If you're concerned about cleanliness, ask if the instruments are sterilized after every use, if the incision is closed with multiple layers of sutures or staples, and if the veterinarian scrubs between each surgery.

Surgery is performed under full anesthesia, so your dog doesn't feel a thing. Soreness is normal after surgery, but veterinarians today are much more knowledgeable about pain prevention in dogs than they were just five years ago. Medications are also available that can help your dog be more comfortable during the week or so it takes to recover.

When to Spay or Neuter

Most veterinarians recommend that spay or neuter surgery be scheduled at six to nine months of age. In females, it's best if it takes place before the first estrus (heat) cycle. The advantage to surgery at this age is not only because of the decrease in risk of mammary cancer, but also because young dogs are resilient and recover more quickly from surgery. When a male is neutered before puberty, his sexual urges don't develop.

Your veterinarian may recommend running a blood panel before spay/neuter surgery. This is most commonly done if your Lab is middle-aged or older, has a previous history of health problems, or has a current health problem, such as obesity. A blood panel helps ensure that there are no underlying problems that could cause trouble during surgery.

Spay/neuter surgery is generally low risk. Recovery usually takes one week. Keep your Lab quiet during this period. Sedate walks on leash are fine, but hold off on letting the dog chase tennis balls or jump around. If your Lab tries to bite at its stitches, you may need to block the biting with a cone-shaped Elizabethan collar around the neck. When the incision has healed, the veterinarian will remove the sutures unless they are self-dissolving.

Withholding food and water for twelve hours before surgery helps ensure that the dog doesn't vomit and aspirate food into the lungs while under anesthesia.

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