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Spaying Your Dog: The Procedure


Spaying has become more common practice in recent years thanks to shelter laws and the increased popularity of adopting rather than purchasing pets. The procedure itself is relatively painless, and the benefits far outweigh the risk in almost cases. Before we delve into the pros and cons of the procedure in later posts, I thought I should at least cover the bases of what actually occurs while your dog has her day at the veterinarian's office.

The medical name for surgically sterilizing a female is an ovariohysterectomy. Ovario (ovary) + hyster (uterus) + ectomy (removal) = removal of the ovaries and uterus, and that is exactly what your veterinarian will do. (Interesting side note: In Europe the veterinarians only remove the ovaries, in what is called an ovarioectomy) Females reach sexual maturity any time in between 6-12 months, and can experience their first reproductive, or "estrus", cycle during this time. Pets can be spayed as young as 8 weeks, but it is most often done between 6-8 months.

Exactly when your vet will request that you begin fasting your pet may vary, but usually it is between 8-12 hours beforehand. Upon arrival at the office, depending on the surgical electives you selected and your veterinarian's preferences, your pet may have a few different things occur.

  • Pre-anesthetic bloodwork: This can include a variety of different tests, and can vary based on place to place, but usually checks at least liver and kidney function (both are part of filtering the anesthetic from your pet's blood stream), and Packed Cell Volume, PCV, which can indicate anemia, and poor blood clotting ability.

  • IV Catheter placement: Elective in some facitlities, this is the same thing when humans get surgery. Having an IV means less needle sticks for the pet, but also provides medical staff with a direct line to the pet's veins should life saving medications need to be administered.

  • Pre-surgical injections: These help make the pet sleepy and help with pain.

Assuming the examination and pre-surgical blood screening are completed and normal, your veterinarian will then place your pet under general anesthesia. Pets are usually placed on a heating pad on the surgical table, and intubated once sedated to stabilize the pet's airway. A dose of anesthetic is mixed in with the oxygen being administered, based on the pet's age/size/medical risks as determined by your veterinarian, to keep the pet fully sedated. Oxygen levels and heart rate are monitored throughout surgery, and IV fluids may be given to help replace any blood lost. Technicians then shave the pet, while the veterinarian scrubs up.

The surgery itself can take anywhere from 20-90 minutes, depending upon veterinary skill, weight of the dog, whether or not the dog is in heat, or has had a litter previously. (The reproductive tract is more fragile during the heat cycle, due to the increased blood flow, and requires a more delicate hand. Your vet may recommend waiting until after the first cycle is completed to perform the procedure)

The incision is made just below the belly button, into the abdomen, and usually isn't very large. Once the reproductive organs have been removed, two layers of sutures are used to close the incision; one that is under the skin that will be dissolved and absorbed by the body over time, and one that closes the skin. Skin sutures may or may not be dissolvable (often an elective part of surgery staff offer so you do not have to return to have them removed), and some offices may use staples or surgical glue as well.

Post operatively, your pet is monitored and extubated when staff deems appropriate, and usually still on a heating pad, roughly taking 15-30 minutes to recover enough to be moved back to their cage. Their vitals, including temperature, are still closely monitored. Injections for pain that last 24 hours can also be given at this time, as well as antibiotic injections.

There are other electives your veterinarian may offer, such as post op laser therapy to help reduce pain and inflammation around the surgical site, dissolvable sutures as I mentioned above, and the all too familiar lamp shade/Elizabethan collar/cone.

Most offices will notify you once your pet has completed the procedure, and provide a time at which they can go home. Again, in most cases spaying only requires a day's stay at the vet, but if there are complications or the pet takes a while to fully recover from anesthesia, your vet may require an overnight stay.

A staff memeber will then review post op instructions with you when you come to pick up your sleepy little house mate. Things like restricting activity for 10-14 days, how and when to check the incision for swelling, redness or irritation, preventing your pet (or sibling pets) from licking the incision, medication administration, and when to reintroduce food are covered.

Spaying is a very standard procedure, one a vet with perform countless times over his/her career. Like any trip under anesthesia, it is not to be taken lightly, but it is about a routine a surgery as can be. Always talk to your vet before hand and present any concerns you may have. While we reviewed the procedure here, it is no subsitute for specific medical advice given by your veterian.

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