FUNNY ANSWER: No; let your vet do it.
SERIOUS ANSWER: If you own a female dog or cat, you will be faced with the question of whether or not to spay your pet. Many animal shelters make that decision for the prospective owners, as they often will not adopt out an intact pet. Cats that come in and out of heat every few weeks, yowling, rolling, and trying to escape outdoors, are typically spayed in a hurry, so the owner can relax.
But female dogs can be quiet about estrus*, perhaps not shedding much blood or making a nuisance of themselves. Male dogs jumping the fence in search of a mate may be the worst part of the problem. Still, pet owners wonder whether the risk of spay surgery is acceptable. Spaying – at least for now – is still an elective, rather than a legal mandate, in most places.
[*Italicized words are defined in the glossary at the end of this article.]
For the purposes of this post, we will consider as a “spay” an ovariohysterectomy, in which the uterus and ovaries are removed. Another type of spay surgery is the ovariectomy, in which only the ovaries are removed.
What are the benefits of spaying?
- Reduced risk of mammary cancer
- Eliminated risk of uterine and ovarian tumors
- Eliminated risk of uterine infection (pyometra)
- Eliminated risk of unwanted litters
- Financial incentive, i.e. greatly discounted rate for city license fees
- Fewer unwanted “suitors” coming to call
Focus on pyometra
Pyometra is a preventable disease, in that it can be prevented through spay surgery. Intact (non-spayed) females are at risk for pyometra, which often presents 1-2 months after estrus (or “heat”). Elevated hormone levels can lead to greater than normal secretions in the uterus, providing a breeding ground for bacteria.
Affected dogs may have an “open” pyometra, in which pus, mucus, and blood may be seen draining from the vulva. In a “closed” infection, the accumulated pus does not drain, and the pet may show more severe signs of illness. In either case, look for lethargy, anorexia, depression, excessive thirst. Pets with ”closed” infections may exhibit vomiting and diarrhea, shock, and collapse. Interestingly, fever is not always present.
In most cases, spay surgery is the preferred remedy for pyometra. Due to the illness, the risks of surgery are elevated. To wit: the infected organ must be removed from the body without introducing its contents to the body cavity. Adding to the risk is the pet’s poor general health as a result of the infection. For these reasons, prevention through early spay surgery is recommended.
- anorexia – loss of appetite
- estrus – the portion of the reproductive cycle in which female animals will accept a mate; “heat”
- intact – not spayed or castrated
- lethargy – tiredness, reluctance to move or engage in normal activity
- ovariohysterectomy – surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus; “spay” surgery
- pyometra – infection of the uterus
- vulva – the external female genitals
Saunders Manual of Small Animal Practice (Birchard, Sherding)
Saunders Comprehensive Veterinary Dictionary (Blood, Studdert)
This article was originally posted on January 30, 2012.