As the owner of a female dog you are going to come across the question of whether you should be spaying her, and if so, why, and at what age. Many people appear to be conflicted over this decision so I thought I would give you some relevant information to help you make this decision.
What Age should you Spay a bitch Dog? You should spay your bitch dog at about 6 to 12 months of age ensuring that it is AFTER she has had her first season. Performing this operation too early and not allowing her to reach some sexual maturity can lead to problems with correct bone growth, correct levels of hormones and additionally create urinal problems.
What is Spaying?
The medical term for spaying is ovariohysterectomy. It involves the removal of both the ovaries and the uterus by surgery. This is the main type of surgery performed in the USA, UK and Australia, although some vets are now performing ovariectomies (removal of the ovaries only, leaving the uterus in place). In human terms a total or partial hysterectomy.
Female Dog’s Heat Cycle – Understand this first
Bitch or Female dogs do not menstruate in the way that human women do. Instead of a Menstrual cycle, dogs have an estrous cycle, or more commonly known as the heat cycle.
Sexually mature female dogs go through heat once or more commonly twice every year. This generally starts between 9 and 12 months of age, although varies considerably.
Female dogs have heat cycles throughout their lives, unlike human females who go into menopause as they age. Instead of a menopause a dog’s heat cycle gradually stretches out in length.
There are four stages to a dog’s heat cycle consisting of proestrus, oestrus, dioestrus and anoestrus. Different physical and hormonal events happen during each of these stages. For more info on this check out our page on When is a dog in heat?
There are three hormones which are essential to a dog’s heat cycle:-
1) oestrogen, responsible for starting the heat cycle
2) luteinizing hormone (LH), responsible for causing ovulation
3) progesterone, responsible for maintaining any pregnancy.
Clearly there is a lot happening during this period which is why your veterinarian will want to know at what stage of her cycle she is on.
See more on the Heat or Season cycle Here
When is the right time to Spay?
When your bitch has completed her first season, then is the time to visit the vet and organise a time to have her spayed. This ensures that she has reached the important milestone of sexual maturity before spaying.
This also ensures that your vet can calculate where she is in her oestrogen cycle, making sure that she is spayed between cycles. To perform a spay operation while a bitch is in heat or who is on the verge of a season can be dangerous for her. Vets will not spay a bitch in heat except in an emergency.
Spaying under six months old has become increasingly more common within the UK, the USA and Australia.
There are though, a range of problems that can be caused by spaying your bitch while she is very young.
It is vital that female dogs produce the T3 and T4 growth hormones that are needed to grow and mature correctly including their impending sexual maturity along with oestrogen for normal development and hormone regulation. In humans if a woman has her organs removed she has to have HRT, to enable the bodies stabilisation.
A bitch that is spayed too young will not have the opportunity to begin producing oestrogen and other essential hormones, this can lead to a range of problems in later life.
Urinary incontinence can result from incorrect oestrogen production, a condition that cannot be reversed and will require ongoing oestrogen supplementation (HRT) for the rest of their lives. As an owner, dealing with a dog that has incontinence can be difficult.
I will say here that when we had Rose spayed she was about 18 months to 2 yrs old, she had had 3 seasons by then and this has not had any adverse effects, so unless you are concerned about having a litter then I don’t believe there is any rush to get this done at 6 months.
Recovery After Spaying
This is a major surgical operation, when Rose had her op the vet kept her at the surgery for a minimum of 24hrs and would only release her if all her vital signs were good.
When she came home, she was a bit under the weather for a couple of days but after that she was soon back to trying to bounce around like Tigger. This was mainly down to her breed as she is fairly rugged.
The advice from the vet was to keep her on a leash for at least 48hrs to ensure that she was not jumping and stretching the scar and causing splitting of the stitches. If necessary wash the wound with clean warm water.
Have a Litter First?
Many people have said to me that they feel their bitch should have a litter first. I don’t necessarily agree with this and neither did the vet when I spoke to her about our American Bulldog cross called Rose, what the vet did say was that Rose should at least have a season or two first, before spaying.
In the polar opposite our little Terrier Cross called Bella had in fact had several litters before being spayed by the vet at the rescue centre where she came from, and he stated that he felt that any more litters would possibly have caused her hips to displace causing unnecessary damage and stress.
In another wife’s tale, the perceived wisdom used to dictate that, a bitch should have a litter before being spayed, however I could find no good basis for this fact and nor could the vet.
In fact, she thought it may be more traumatic for a dog to have a litter first.
Spaying for Behaviour
After roughly 6 months of age your bitch will go into heat for a 2 to 3 week timeframe, usually repeating this about twice a year, this of course can vary dependant upon size and breed.
Some bitches can be troublesome during this period of time, others will not. During her heat periods Rose created no problems at all yet other bitches I have seen have spent time barking or howling and urinating inplaces where they normally wouldn’t such as in the house.
A tell-tale sign of this time can be the swollen glands at her rear, lots of licking in this area followed by a leaking of blood, not something to be concerned about, it IS normal.
Recent Information on Spaying
Some studies have started to link early spaying to a number of other health risks for your bitch dog if spayed before their sexual maturity. These studies are claiming that there is an increase in cranial cruciate ligament disease or lymphomas which is lumpy swelling, usually on the head. It would seem that may be a possible link but they are unable with the studies thus far too clinically establish the point.
Getting Fat After Spaying
Unlike male dogs, some bitch dogs WILL put on some weight, generally broadening around the hips. As ever correct diet and exercise will help but you cannot always avoid it. Some bitches will never seem to put this weight on, it is very much a lottery with no scientific reason as to why or why not except to the possibility that some breeds are more likely to and some not.
If you want to know about neutering a male dog, you can get to our article on this by clicking here.