Desexing (neutering) a female dog is often recommended by veterinarians for female dogs belonging to non-breeding owners. It is a permanent and irreversible procedure. All owners of female puppies or adult dogs should discuss desexing with their veterinarian. Desexing a female dog can have numerous long term health benefits for the dog, especially if the surgery is performed on a young animal.
Female dogs will come into season (on heat) from 6-7 months of age but this can vary with some larger breed dogs not beginning to cycle till 18-20 months of age. They will have a cycle every 5-10 months but there can be significant variations between individual animals. Female dogs in season will be attractive to male dogs and will have a blood discharge from their vulva for a period of their season. This can be an inconvenient situation for owners to manage if they do not want their dog to be mated.
Desexing a female dog involves a surgical procedure performed under a general anaesthetic. The surgery is called an ovariohysterectomy and involves removal of both ovaries and the uterus. Post operative care involves rest, minimal exertion and care/regular examination of the suture wounds.
Although owners often refer to desexing a female dog as a routine procedure, it is a major internal surgery requiring a general anaesthetic. Any general anaesthetic carries innate risks. However your veterinarian will assess your individual dog prior to surgery and offer any additional tests or procedures which may reduce the risks for your dog. Desexing female dogs is a commonly performed procedure in most veterinary surgeries.
Female dogs can be at risk after desexing of developing some side effects such as urinary incontinence and a propensity to carry excess weight. Alterations in your dog's diet post-desexing can help avoid weight gain and your veterinarian can discuss treatment options for urinary incontinence if it develops.
The benefits of desexing your female dog are numerous. They range from reducing the number of unwanted puppies through to pet care health benefits for your dog. It is generally recommended to desex your female dog at approximately 6 months of age, before the first season. Studies suggest that desexing female dogs before 3 months of age may increase the risk of urinary incontinence in these animals.
Animal shelters are overburdened with unwanted puppies and dogs which cannot be homed. Many of these animals will end up being euthanased. Desexing your female dog if you are not a registered breeder can help reduce the number of unwanted puppies being born. Given that female and male dogs will escape to allow a successful mating, any female dog not intended for breeding should be desexed to remove the risk of unwanted pregnancies.
Un-desexed female dogs are at risk of developing a potentially life threatening disorder known as pyometra. Pyometra involves the uterus filling with fluid, usually with bacterial infection present. The owner may or may not notice a vaginal discharge in affected dogs as some cases still have a closed cervix so no discharges can escape from the uterus. Dogs suffering from pyometra can be inappetant, have a fever, vomit, and suffer from shock and death. Pyometra is treated surgically via an ovariohysterectomy, combined with medical treatment for shock and infection. The development of pyometra is thought to involve a complex system involving sensitivity of the canine uterus to reproductive hormones. The risk of your dog developing this disease is avoided by surgical desexing. Although there are chemical means of preventing pregnancy in un-desexed female dogs, these medications can increase the risk of pyometra developing.
A further benefit to female dogs desexed young is a lowered risk of development of mammary tumours in later life. The risk of developing mammary tumours in female dogs desexed prior to their first oestrus (season) is 0.05%, 8% after second oestrus and 26% if desexed after their second oestrus, compared to the risk of mammary tumour development in intact female dogs.
False pregnancy (pseudo pregnancy) is another disorder seen in undesexed female dogs. False pregnancy involves the female dog displaying all the signs of pregnancy such as abdominal distension, enlargement of mammary glands and even lactation in some, but in the absence of conception.
Owners of all female dogs which are not breeding stock, or have finished their breeding years, should discuss surgical desexing with their veterinarian. It is widely recommended that female dogs be desexed before coming into season for the first time, but after 3 months of age. Many veterinarians recommend desexing at 6 months of age. Whilst all surgeries performed under general anaesthetic carry some risk, the benefits of desexing female dogs are numerous and should be seriously considered for all non-breeding female dogs.