When to Spay A Puppy: Optimal Spay/Neuter Age for Puppies

When to Spay A Puppy
John Walton
Written by John Walton

Spaying or neutering a puppy is one of the best methods of extending the life of a dog and improving its health. When deciding to take this step, it is important to know when to spay a puppy or neuter it. Normally, at the vet, this type of surgery is done before the first heat cycle of the female dog, which occurs around the age of 6 months. In this way, the female dog is unlikely to ever develop mammary tumors or pyometra (infection of the uterus) and the male dog is not prone to testicular cancer anymore.

However, the spaying and the neutering processes should not begin without a thorough examination of both the female dog and the male dog.

Theories regarding optimal spay/neuter puppy age

What age to neuter a puppy? Not even doctors agree when it comes to establishing the optimal spay or neuter puppy age.

Importance of spaying and neutering your puppy

Several theories circulate in the medical veterinary world, theories which are accepted and practiced by some and rejected by others.

  1. Spaying or neutering is recommended after the dog reaches maturity, period which varies depending on each dog breed. Doctors who believe this option is the best sustain their theory by explaining that the body of a dog is not fully developed until it reaches maturity and the sex hormones play an important role in the development of a dog’s body. So, if the puppies are spayed or neutered too early, then they might not fully develop and might not reach their maximum potential from this point of view.
  2. Sterilization or castration is recommended before the first heat cycle of a female dog and before the male dog begins to manifest sexually. Those veterinarians who support this option motivate their choice by saying that dogs are developed enough by that time and that they cannot be negatively influenced by the elimination of the gonads.
  3. Sterilization or neutering can be done at the age of 4 to 5 months and, in special cases, even earlier. Those specialists who agree with this option believe that there are no risks associated with sterilization or castration at a young age and that the dogs that were neutered or spayed at the age of 4 to 5 months had no underlying conditions.

The best thing to do in this situation is to take your female or male dog at the vet for him or her to decide the best spaying or castration period according to your canine pet’s characteristics. The vet’s opinion is very important because he or she can assess the health condition of your dog, its robustness and a few other factors that might influence when to set the time of the surgery.

Contraceptive methods for female dogs

The female dog’s reproductive system consists of the ovaries, where the ovules are produced, and a system of conductive pathways that comprises the oviducts, the uterus, the cervix, the vagina and the vaginal vestibule. When a female puppy is born, her ovaries are full with ovules that are present in an immature form and that require further development in order to reach the stage when they can be fertilized by sperm.

When a female dog goes into heat, the hormones that are produced during that phase stimulate the maturation of some of the ovules. The eggs are then released from the surface of the ovary and passed into the oviducts. The latters are small tubes, which connect the ovaries to the uterine horns. Here is where the fertilization of the egg by a sperm is produced.

Megestrol acetate

During pregnancy, most puppies develop in the uterine horns, but they can also be inside the uterus. In order to avoid fertilization, there are a few contraceptive methods as it follows:

  1. Contraceptive pills. There contraceptive pills and different kind of medication made specifically for female dogs not to get pregnant. Most of these products that should be administered orally could have serious unwanted side effects, they are very expensive, and usually cannot be used for long periods of time.
  2. Surgical sterilization. Since the contraceptive pills are not a viable option as a form of permanent sterilization, there is another option, namely the surgical sterilization. Ovariohysterectomy or spaying, hysterectomy (when only the uterus is removed) and tying the oviducts or oophorectomy (the removal of the ovaries only) are the options available for female dogs. Each involves different types of surgeries, but all can prevent future pregnancies if they are performed correctly. Spaying is the only procedure that actually guarantees long-term health for the female dog.

Ovariohysterectomy or spaying is a surgery that consists of the removal of the entire female dog’s reproductive system, namely the ovaries, the oviducts, the uterine horns and the uterus. Not only does this procedure prevent a possible pregnancy of the female dog, but it also completely removes her ability to go in heat.

This surgery removes the source that produces hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are those that stimulate the heat cycle and play a major role in pregnancy. However, they also have other effects on the body of a dog and some of them can be harmful.

The advantages of spaying in female dogs

The ovariohysterectomy operation is known to remove almost all if not all female hormone production in dogs. In humans, the hormone production in the body is really important, but dogs are actually happier and healthier without the production of hormones.

Young puppy spay

Moreover, the production of hormones in dogs can actually make them act unpredictable and generate states of agitation that are unnecessary. The side effects are the following:

  1. Estrus. The heat cycle, also called estrus, may cause behavioral and hygiene problems. Female dogs that are in heat will seek male dogs, trying to leave the house or the yard where they are held, putting their lives in danger due to traffic, fights with other animals and so on. Often, they can attract male dogs around the house or the yard. Dogs in heat leave numerous droppings and spray plants and trees with urine in an attempt to mark their new territory. Owners have to deal with vaginal bleeding, which usually lasts between 4 to 13 days.
  2. Breast cancer. Estrogen is one of the main causes of breast cancer in dogs, the most common malignant tumor in dogs. The female dogs that are sterilized before the age of 1 year rarely develop this malignancy. Sterilization before the first heat cycle is often recommended in order to significantly reduce the chance of having breast cancer. The risk of malignant mammary tumors in female dogs spayed before the first heat cycle is 0.05%, 8% for those spayed after their first heat cycle and 26% for those spayed after their second heat cycle.
  3. Tumors of the reproductive tract. Tumors can occur in the uterus and the ovaries of a female dog. An ovariohysterectomy surgery excludes the possibility of developing these tumors.
  4. Uterine infections. Many female dogs have problems with a severe uterine disease called pyometra, which can occur after the first heat cycle. Undiagnosed, this disease is fatal. Its treatment requires either the use of expensive hormone therapy and intravenous fluids or a more complicated ovariohysterectomy. Such complicated surgery costs 3 times more than a normal sterilization intervention. Even if the infected uterus is removed, the affected female dog might have kidney and heart problems for the rest of her life.
  5. False pregnancy. Some female dogs might have a false pregnancy after 30 to 60 days after their first heat cycle. Due to hormone imbalances, the body of a female dog acts like she is pregnant. The female dog might have abdominal expansion and/or swelling of the mammary glands. Most of these dogs do not present serious long-term problems and their behavior returns to normal once their hormonal levels regulate.

The neutering process of male dogs

Things are different when it comes to male dogs. Medically speaking, male dogs are not prone to the development of cancer if they are not neutered. In fact, a neutered male dog has more chances to develop prostate cancer than a male dog that was not castrated. Almost all male dogs affected by this terrible disease were castrated. In case of testicular cancer, the chances of getting it are small and they often turn to benign tumors.

Among the reasons one would want to castrate a male dog is aggressiveness, especially in a house where several dogs live together. Many owners of quadrupeds castrate them before they reach sexual maturity, hoping that in this way they can correct their behavioral problems. For example, neutered male dogs will no longer roam the streets in search of female dogs in heat. However, this type of behavior can also be corrected through training.

Male dogs that are not neutered may try to escape and find a female to inseminate. It is not important if these dogs live in apartments or yards. Their tendency will be the same, every time they are in heat. Many owners might find it difficult to handle their male dogs when they go through this period. After castration, male dogs do not have these habits anymore. Moreover, neutered dogs will never manifest aggressively in the presence of other dogs.

Care for puppies after surgery

Puppy spay recovery is not easy and it requires a few measures of special care. The process of spaying is performed under general anesthesia, in a special operating room from a veterinary clinic. Before going into surgery, a female dog or a male dog are clinically examined by the veterinary surgeon in charge with their case. After the surgery is done, the dog is usually withheld for medical supervising, at least 24 hours.

In order to benefit of after surgery care, all dogs should remain in the clinic until all the unwanted effects of the anesthetic substances disappear. Many dog owners refuse postoperative care and supervision, fact which endangers the quadruped’s health condition. For example, hypothermia and hypoglycemia, which are more common in young patients with low weight, can only be detected and combated by a veterinarian, not by a dog owner.

Sprayed dog at the clinic

The disorientation and confusion states manifested by a dog that has been anesthetized are often interpreted wrong by its owner. A dog cannot control its movements and swallowing reflex for a few hours after the surgery.

Therefore, it is forbidden to feed or give water to a dog that is still in the postoperative phase. Hydration is best made intravenously, under medical supervision. Moreover, dogs should not lick their wounds. Its wounds must be protected and moisturized through local care using sterile bandages and/or disinfectant solutions applied in addition to that. Also, the dog should wear a protective collar in order to limit its access to the wound.

After the spaying or neutering processes are done, the vet will recommend a special diet for your dog, according to gender, breed and age. It is known that sterilized or neutered dogs have the tendency to gain weight, so you must be extra careful to avoid that. Also, the vet will prescribe a treatment with antibiotics for a period of at least 5 to 7 days after the surgery was performed. Administering these antibiotics is very important because it prevents possible infections.

Considerate conclusions for spaying/neutering dogs

As said, spaying and neutering a dog are both beneficial processes.

The benefits of spaying neutering

While female dogs have more physical benefits than male dogs, both genders experience significant behavioral changes after such surgery. Some of you might have a very authoritative position towards your male dogs, so you might try training instead of surgery, however, do not hesitate to ask the advice of a veterinarian before you decide.

There are laws regarding spaying and neutering, so make sure to also read through and remember the information you find useful. Your dog’s health is the most important, so try to keep that in mind when you decide what to do!

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.