When Should a Dog Be Spayed?

The routine spay surgery yields a short recovery and long-term benefits.
Thinkstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

When you present your female puppy for her final vaccination boosters, your veterinarian may advise you to schedule her spay procedure for just a few weeks thereafter. By following his recommended time frame when scheduling your puppy's operation, you will be taking a proactive step toward preventing the stresses of heat cycles and pregnancy as well as preventing some types of cancer later in her life.

Long-Term Benefits of Spaying

A routine spay, also called an ovariohysterectomy, is the surgical removal of your dog’s ovaries and uterus. For you, benefits include not having to deal with her messy heat cycles and the male dogs who come calling, and not having to find homes for a litter of puppies in the event of an unplanned pregnancy. More important are the health benefits for her: A reduction in risk for mammary tumors, elimination of risk for ovarian and uterine cancers, and prevention of a life-threatening uterine infection called pyometra. Many of the undesirable behavioral traits that can appear when a dog is in heat, such as irritability or aggression, roaming and frequent marking with urine, will also be deterred if your dog is spayed at the recommended time.

The Ideal Time for Spaying

When a puppy is adopted through a shelter or rescue organization, she will usually be spayed prior to release from the facility, even if she is as young as 2 months of age. If your puppy came from a breeder or other venue, the responsibility for spaying will be on you with the guidance of your veterinarian. The most opportune time to spay a dog is before her first estrus or heat cycle. For a smaller breed, this occurs between 5 and 6 months of age. For a large breed, it can occur well after her first birthday. Most veterinarians recommend that females be spayed by 6 months of age to ensure the best chance of preventing her first estrus.

The Importance of Preventing Estrus

The incidence rate of breast cancer is the reason why so much stress is placed on spaying dogs before their first heat cycle. When a dog is spayed before that first heat cycle, her chance of developing mammary tumors is close to zero. After one heat cycle, her risk goes up to 7 percent. If she experiences two heat cycles, her chances rise to a staggering 25 percent. These figures are a compelling reason to be proactive in preventing her risk by spaying her sooner than later. Dogs go into heat approximately twice a year. If your puppy goes into heat just before her scheduled appointment to be spayed, reschedule the procedure for a month later. This will give her time to finish the cycle and for her uterine swelling to normalize.

The Spay Procedure

Spaying and neutering are the most common routine surgical procedures performed by veterinarians. Your dog will receive a pre-anesthetic examination prior to surgery. Some veterinarians recommend pre-anesthetic blood panels to ensure that a patient is in good health for processing the anesthetic agents. Many veterinarians recommend placing patients on intravenous fluid therapy to keep their blood pressure and hydration optimal during the procedure and recovery. Patient vital signs and anesthetic depth are fully monitored during the operation, and pain medications are administered throughout surgery and recovery. You will be given home care instructions when the pooch is discharged. When you pick up your furry princess, she likely will be excited to see you -- your challenge will be to keep her calm and rested for her week of recovery.