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Pet Health

Spay & Neutering

Val Cairney June 26, 2020 247

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Welcome to this episode of Val Talk’s Pets where I talk about Spay & Neutering. 

In one of my past Podcasts, I went over getting a new puppy and what to expect.  So, I thought that I would take this episode to delve deeper into a very important part of getting a puppy, and that is spaying and neutering. I talked previously about the things a new owner would need for a puppy.  In my Podcast called “Did you get a new puppy?” I discussed a fair few of the expenses that a new owner needs to prepare for.  One of those expenses I mentioned was spaying and neutering.  So let’s talk about that. 

First, spaying is done to a female dog and neutering is done to a male dog.  It can be referred to as being fixed, or de-sexing. Sterilization is actually a non-surgical method to stop reproducing and is used more so in Europe.  I’ll touch on that method as well. 

So, what actually happens when a female dog or cat for that matter is being spayed?

A Spay is more invasive than a neuter and here is why.  A puppy or dog or cat or kitten, will be prepared for the surgical procedure by being clipped or shaved in the tummy area particularly below the belly button.  The veterinarian will have set up intravenous lines, anesthetized the patient, and set up oxygen.  The incision is make just below the belly button.  The uterus is located and the point where the ovary is attached to the body wall by what is called the pedicle is located.  This is clamped and two sutures are put in.  This is done on both sides.  Once this is done, the ovaries are removed.  Now, the procedure continues with sutures etc. and clamping off until the uterus is removed and again, sutures and tie offs.  The extra tissue and skin is then closed.  In about 2 weeks the sutures are removed.  So, for this reason, the puppy or dog or cat is limited for exercise while the healing takes place, which actually is quite rapid.

Now this is where we get many requests for collars that are shaped like a cone referred to as E collars or more unaffectionately as cones of shame, or soft collars or air collars.  All of these are supposedly designed to stop the puppy from getting its head turned around far enough to lick at the incision site.  The plastic cone, is effective but it can be very cumbersome.  Most dogs hate this cone, and why wouldn’t they?  The cone can rub on their neck, slam into everything, make it extremely hard to get a drink of water and overall be a real annoyance. 

This is why many pet parents look to alternatives with the blow up collars or softer collars that have some give to them.  The blow up collars really don’t do the trick to be honest if the wound is past their shoulders, which obviously is, when a spay has taken place.  The softer cone collars can work quite well, it’s just a matter of getting the correct size to really stop that reach around that dogs can do to get at the incision.  Usually the real licking issue starts to ramp up when the incision begins to heal and that itching becomes really bothersome.  As humans we know not to scratch or bother an incision site but it is near impossible to get a dog to understand not to lick the area when it is bothering them.  So this is why cones becomes the thing to do. 

There is another alternative to help and that is the pet ointments that are safe for pets if they lick it.  Many of these formulas have witch hazel in them, and I mentioned witch hazel in my podcast on fleas and ticks to help with black fly bites. Witch hazel is an oldie but goodie method to deal with any itch.  Witch hazel is made from the bark and leaves of a plant called Hamamelis virginiana.  It has many uses but the best one is to take out itch.  I had a horse that loved to rub his bum against the stall especially right at the top of his tail.  So, I put liquid witch hazel is a spray bottle and routinely sprayed the top of his tail and it really settled down the bum rubbing.  Now, if you want to try using an ointment for an incision again, make sure it is for pets and hopefully the itch will subside enough that they will not continuously lick the area so you might be able to avoid the cone.  It’s worth a try.  Some dogs are great with not licking their incision but you won’t know until you are at home and hear your dog licking. 

Okay, now what happens when a boy dog is neutered? 

Also referred to as castration or de-sexing, this is the surgical removal of the dog’s testicles.  Similar to a female dog being spayed, the dog will be anesthetized, an I.V will be inserted, most often as with the female dogs, they are intubated so a tube is inserted into their throat, oxygen again can be set up and the dog is laid on his back and the area is shaved and prepared.  An incision is made just in front of the scrotum.  Each testicle is removed and the blood supply and spermatic cord are tied off.  The subcutaneous skin is sutured with an absorbable thread.  The skin is closed with either staples, absorbable hidden sutures, or sutures that have to be removed in 10 to 14 days.   Often the cone of shame is not actually needed with a neuter, but if your dog begins to really lick the area you will have to look at the options I mentioned.  So, as you can see, a neuter is a less invasive procedure than spaying.  But, neither is any less important than the other. 

So, let’s talk about cost. 

The cost of spaying is usually more than neutering.  And you can see why based on the procedures involved.  Let’s go back here for a second, to the time when you decided to get a puppy.  When I discussed the things you need when getting a new puppy in my podcast on getting a new pup, one of the major costs on the list was spaying and neutering.  If you adopted your pup from a reputable rescue or a registered shelter human society, your pup is going to be fixed.  These organizations will not let pups or kittens go out the door with the ability to add to the pet overpopulation.  Your adoption fee will have contributed to the pet being fixed when it arrived at the shelter. 

If you are acquiring a purebred dog from an accredited and registered breeder, it will be your financial responsibility to have the pup fixed.  Many accredited breeders have non-breeding clauses set up in their agreements, to make sure you do fix the pup to allow them to be in control of the bloodlines and their reputation.  But, as we know, people acquire pups in many different ways, and not always from the proper channels.  In this respect, it becomes the new owner’s responsibility to have the pup fixed.

So, here we go back to the cost of getting a puppy.  If you are going to be a responsible pet owner, you will recognize this cost and put it in the budget.  As for the cost of fixing, it ranges dramatically.  Some of the costs I have heard in my area range from, oh that’s not too bad, to, they charged you what???  So, my suggestion here is, phone around.  Ask the clinic what they charge. And I would be a little skeptical if they will not give their rates over the phone.  Why not?  What is there to hide?  Ask other pet owners.  And you should be making these inquiries before you get your pup.  Another option is to call your local humane society, because they often host clinics that do spays and neuters at a reduced cost.  You may have to go on a wait list, but it’s worth it.   

Now, what age should you get your pup fixed? 

Traditionally 6 months is the age that a pup would be fixed.  However, because the pup is quite capable of getting pregnant or getting another dog pregnant some vets have been recommending 5 months of age.  It is not recommended that a pup or kitten have a first heat before being fixed.  Fixing before the first heat can greatly reduce and even eliminate the chance of mammary gland tumors and ovarian and or uterine cancer. As for male dogs, getting them fixed before they start acting inappropriately is a good thing as well, so the six month bench mark works.  Now, there has been quite a bit of discussion lately about neutering male dogs from the large breed categories too soon.  There has been studies showing that the hormones in large breed dogs are needed to prevent bone and joint issues or hip dysplasia.  Some sources are saying to wait until 1 year before neutering a large dog.  I think if you have acquired a large breed dog, it is best that you have a very thorough discussion with your veterinarian about what age to neuter.  Let’s be honest.  It has to be done, the question is when.  Again, have a very thorough conversation with your vet.  Personally, I see the argument here, but I would really have to have some strong evidence about waiting until the dog is a year.  Again, I would be talking to my vet. 

Now there is an alternate method of dealing with fixing and that is sterilization.  In this procedure the sexual organs are not removed.  In male dogs, essentially they have a vasectomy.  The tube that carries the sperm is cut.  In females, they basically have a tubal ligation where the fallopian tubes connecting the ovaries are closed.  The benefit so to speak of this procedure is that the hormone level is not altered, so the dog will keep its mating instinct.  This might be something to consider for the large dog issue, but I’m not sure about this, because the last thing you want is a Rottweiler humping your leg or grabbing your waist.  Plus, isn’t it kind of cruel to let the dog have its mating instinct still in place but it doesn’t get to mate?  Unless you let your dog run around doing whatever, I don’t know, I’m not sure about this, but again, it’s a conversation for the vet.

Now, when it comes to small animals they are not excluded from the idea of spaying and neutering. 

When it comes to fixing a rabbit for example, it is important to find an experienced rabbit vet.  Very similar to dogs and cats, an altered rabbit is calmer and may have less destructive habits.  And of course this means that two bunnies if together of the opposite sex will not make more bunnies. And as with the others, the risk for uterine cancer and ovarian cancer in females is illiminated.   Male rabbits can be neutered between 3 – 5 months of age and females can be spayed between 4 – 6 months of age. In female rabbits the reproductive organs are removed and with male rabbits the testicles are removed.  Interesting fact with male rabbits is that they can have semen stored in their body for up to 3 weeks, so be careful not to put a newly neutered rabbit in with intact females for this first 3 weeks.  Now Guinea pigs can also be fixed.  Again, seek out an experienced veterinarian for this procedure. 

With Guinea pigs it’s important to assess whether your guinea pig has the stamina to withstand surgery.  A skittish, shy guinea pig may not be the best candidate.  Withstanding the anesthetic is an issue as well as recovery, so you need to have a brave little guinea pig. Fixing guinea pigs is more so for the future possibility of disease or prevention of future guinea pigs.  Guinea pigs like company so owners usually have more than one, so this gives them the opportunity to have males and females.  What fixing doesn’t really do with guinea pigs is alter their personality.  As with our other friends part of the desire to fix has to do with getting a calmer more bonding pet, but this isn’t actually the case with guinea pigs.  So, with guinea pigs there really isn’t a right or wrong answer as to whether to spay or neuter or not.  This is definitely a conversation with an exotic pet veterinarian or an experienced small animal vet to decide if fixing is the thing to do with your guinea pigs. 

So what are some of the pros, cons and myths about fixing a dog? 

The two main reasons for fixing a pet are, as Bob Barker always said, help control the pet population, have your pet spayed or neutered. There are a lot of unwanted cats, kittens, puppies and dogs.  Just look at all the full shelters, rescue organizations, and horrible cruel acts we see because of unwanted cats and dogs. 

My dog came from a First Nation Reserve in Northern Ontario, Canada.  He was one of 75 dogs that were by an amazing intervention, transported to the Ontario SPCA.  His lot was slated for a cull and that means that the pack or community dogs had become out of hand, meaning too many of them and were to be shot.  It is actually quite shattering to think of this.  Thankfully, since my dog’s group was saved, there has been several spay and neuter clinics done in that area with wonderful volunteer veterinarians. 

Okay, the other reason to fix, is to decrease or illuminate the chance for certain diseases.  Cancer is a big one.  Other reasons to fix is to have a calmer dog and this does not mean they will not be able to work or be protective.  Loyalty and protection is not the same as being mate aggressive.  This is a myth that a neutered male will not be a protective dog.  I had a Rottweiler from the time he was 8 weeks until he died.  Believe me he was affectionate, calm, fixed and totally protective. For both male and female dogs, fixing helps with the desire to wonder obviously looking for a mate.  Fixed dogs tend to be calmer as stated, more focused and definitely less aggressive.  Un-neutered males have the desire to mark everything.  This can be frustrating when it’s your inside furniture or when on a walk every second step is a leg lift.  There is also the very unwanted humping behaviour of you, your furniture or your cat.  Also, non-neutered males can have enlarged prostrates and also be at risk for testicular cancer.    

Females that are spayed also have less of a drive to wander and are more focused. Females that are spayed have the risk eliminated of uterine cancer, ovarian cancer and cancer of the reproductive tract.  Also, the risk of getting breast cancer is significantly reduced if the spaying is done before 2 and a half years of age.  Also, the rather messy heats that females go through will be eliminated.  Female dogs in heat will drop blood anywhere and everywhere and if this is not one of your champion registered purebreds why on earth would you want to put the dog through the swollen genitals and dripping blood or you for that matter going around cleaning everything or putting her in doggy diapers. 

Some of the down sides to fixing are, weight gain, but that is nothing that can’t be dealt with by exercising your dog and having proper nutrition.  There is the issue with big dogs being neutered too early discussed earlier.   There can be some complications from the surgery but they are not a high risk. 

Okay, so let’s talk a bit about cats and kittens. 

Let’s talk about female cats first.  There are two ways to spay a female cat.  One is the ovariohysterectomy and the other is the ovariectomy.  In the ovariohysterectomy, the uterus and the ovaries are removed.  In the overiectomy, the ovaries are removed but the uterus is left in the tummy.  The thought behind removing the uterus as well is to prevent uterine disease.  Some articles on the subject are suggesting that there is no definitive advantage for removing the uterus so in the scheme of things, if the uterus is not removed, the surgical time is less and the surgery is less invasive.  I’m thinking that this would be another good conversation to have with your veterinarian. 

When a male cat is neutered, similar to dogs, an incision is made in the scrotum and the testicles are snipped out.  The incision is very small so many vets do not actually suture this closed as it heals very rapidly.  A very experienced vet can do a neuter in about 5 minutes.  All the more reason to question the cost you may be paying for kitty’s neuter.  The same with dogs, a cat’s hormone level will drop and this for male cats in particular is vital to stop wandering, fighting, spraying and meowing their head off to go outside. The same with female cats, when their hormone level drops they too will stop yowling incessantly for days on end with their bum in the air while in heat.  Female cats in heat, believe me have no shame!  And the side effect of fixed cats is usually weight gain. So that is something to keep an eye on.  But, there is really no downside whatsoever to having a fixed cat.  All it takes is one small opportunity for an unfixed cat to get out and before you know it there could easily be several litters on the way all over the neighbourhood or your’s just came home with a future litter.  So, fix your cats!! 

The rule of thumb for cats is to fix them around 5 or 6 months of age.  And don’t forget, if you are the lucky recipient of a stray cat to choose you as its family, by showing up at your door repeatedly, it doesn’t matter what age he or she may be, get it fixed.  I have had some amazing strays find me over time, and one in particular came to the house and meowed.  He was a beautiful blue-y grey colour and quite big.  The top of his head was bleached by the sun and he was full of worms.  Of course he was not neutered.  I got him wormed and fixed.  That cat became my shadow and although he still went outside, he never ventured too far from the house.  It’s hard to tell how old he was, it’s always difficult with strays, but it was guess-timated at around 3.  I had him for 6 years until he went off his food and I took him to the vet.  It was difficult to diagnose but he had feline aids, typical of a stray tomcat.  I doctored him and fed him with a syringe until the time came that he died in my arms.  What a wonderful soul he was and I have no idea where he came from. 

My little senior cat, was a stray, but when I took her in to be fixed, her spay scar was evident when they shaved her tummy for the procedure.  I lucked out on that one, but it sure makes you wonder how a wonderful little cat, a rather unusual female orange tabby ended up alone and cold on a frigid January day, who had been spayed, obviously cared for at some point. 

Okay, so overall the procedures for spaying and neutering are something that we can see our pets going through for many reasons.  We want our pets to live long happy lives, free of preventable diseases and we don’t want to contribute to the overpopulation of unwanted pets.  Cost for spaying and neutering is variable, so you will have to do some phoning around to see what the going rates are in your area.  Also, don’t forget to check out humane societies as well for their reduced fee clinics. 

Pet Peeves

So, that brings me to my pet peeves section. This part is reserved solely for opinion and a bit of a vent. 

Spaying and neutering a pet is a responsibility that goes with pet ownership.  There is no reason to torture your pet keeping it intact and not letting it breed.  Dogs and cats are hardwired to reproduce this is why females go into heat twice a year and female cats can go into heat that lasts 7 days and then repeat every 15 days when spring is in the air.  The male dogs and cats are on the prowl all the time smelling for these females that are in heat.  Why would you torture your pet because of your own macho-ism or lack of caring or simple neglect or some other reason that makes no sense. I do not get this? 

There are so many unwanted cats and dogs that I find it actually quite disgusting that there are still people and societies that think that fixing a dog or cat is not necessary.  Yes, there is a cost involved and truth be known I think the vets need to take some responsibility here as well.  It is takes 5 – 10 minutes to neuter a cat, why can’t the charges be more reasonable so that we can get some unwanted cats into homes where they will be safe and cared for by someone on a limited budget.  There are many senior people who would be great parents to a kitten but can’t afford the cost of fixing.  Come on, a few hundred bucks for a neuter?  The bottom line here is that spaying and neutering are part of pet ownership and should be figured into the budget when looking into getting a puppy or kitten.  Hopefully, the first choice is going to your local shelter where your adoption fee included the spay or neuter for your new family member.  There is no reason to turn a blind eye to this responsibility.  Ask your veterinarian for further advice if you have a young puppy or kitten. The more questions you ask the more informed you become because as I say, knowing is caring!

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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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