Dog: Female Spay

Other common/scientific names: ovariohysterectomy, surgical sterilization, Neuter


  • Sterilization: Any procedure which eliminates an animal’s ability to reproduce.
  • Spay: Sterilization by surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus of a female.
  • Ovariohysterectomy: Surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus.
  • Castration, Neuter: Sterilization by surgical removal of the testicles of a male or the ovaries and uterus of a female. Is more commonly used in reference to males.
  • Orchidectomy: Surgical removal of the testicles.

General Information

In the United States, millions of dogs and cats, including purebreds, are euthanized or end up homeless as a result of pet overpopulation. Additionally, surveys of pet owning households that have litters of puppies show that 56 percent of these litters were unplanned. Even the most conscientious owner may have difficulty preventing an unwanted canine pregnancy. Female dogs can escape from a yard or kennel in search of a male. Male dogs will break into the yard or stand vigil outside your door when your female is in heat. Therefore, when you become a dog owner, one of the decisions you may face is whether to spay your female dog. Unless you are a dog breeder, the benefits of spaying your dog far outweigh the risks.


  • Prevent unwanted puppies: The number of unwanted dogs in the US is quite large and increasing. As a responsible dog owner, you will not want to add to the overpopulation of dogs.
  • Decrease the risk of mammary cancer: Dogs that are spayed prior to their first heat cycle have a significantly reduced chance of developing mammary (breast) cancer compared to dogs who have had even one heat cycle.
  • Prevention of pyometra: Pyometra is an infection of the uterus which can be quite severe and life-threatening.
  • Prevention of pregnancy and whelping complications: Having a litter of pups carries some risk to the female. Whelping or birthing difficulty can be life threatening. It is not uncommon for female dogs to require an emergency Cesarean surgery to deliver the pups.
  • Prevention of heat cycles: A female dog will have a heat cycle twice a year lasting three weeks. During this time, she will have a bloody discharge which can stain carpet and furniture. Spaying your female dog eliminates this inconvenience.
  • Prevention of false pregnancy: Unspayed females may develop signs of pregnancy and whelping without being pregnant.


  • An ovariohysterectomy requires general anesthesia. While this procedure is relatively safe, there is always a risk when a dog is anesthetized. Bloodwork performed prior to anesthesia can help assure that your dog is healthy enough to undergo the procedure.
  • An ovariohysterectomy involves abdominal surgery. While the chance of complications are slim, there are inherent risks with any surgery.
  • An incision is made when a dog is spayed. There is the possibility of healing complications such as infection and/or dehiscence.
  • Spayed females have an increased incidence of developing urinary incontinence.
  • Because of declining hormones, spayed females have the tendency to gain more weight than un-spayed females. This can be easily avoided by reducing the amount of dog food.
  • Canine breeds that have long, double-coated hair may experience a change in their haircoat after spaying. Although unproven, this change is attributed to hormonal changes resulting in a heavier, softer coat.

Surgical Procedure

It is recommended that young female dogs are spayed before their first heat which occurs between six to twelve months of age. Large breed dogs are slower to mature and often do not cycle until they are close to a year in age. However, a female dog can be spayed at any age. It is best not to spay a dog when she is in heat. When a female dog is in heat, her ovaries and uterus are more engorged with blood making the surgery more difficult.

Food should be withheld from the dog for ten to twelve hours prior to surgery. This results in an empty stomach and less chance of vomiting during anesthesia.

Under general anesthesia, an incision is made through the skin and tissue on the abdominal midline to open the abdominal cavity. The ovaries and uterus are ligated (tied off) to prevent bleeding and removed. The abdominal cavity and body wall are closed with one to two layers of sutures. These sutures are not seen because they are beneath the skin layer. They are absorbable, meaning they dissolve on their own without the need for removal. The skin is closed with sutures which will need to be removed ten days post surgery. Generally, the dog will not need to be hospitalized overnight and can return home the same day as the surgery.

Medication for pain is dispensed to the owner for five to seven days post surgery.

Abb. GGTFG2BT: Schematic illustration of the canine female reproductive organs.
Both ovaries, both uterine horns and the uterine body are removed when a female dog is spayed.

After Care

Some dogs will experience mild nausea from the anesthesia. Because of this, the dog should be offered only a small amount of water and food. Normal feeding can resume the following morning.

It is very important that the female does not lick or pull at her sutures. A second surgery can be necessary if the dog removes the sutures too soon. A special collar (E-collar or Elizabethan collar) is worn by the dog to prevent this. While this collar may seem uncomfortable, most dogs tolerate it well. It may need to be removed to allow the dog to eat.

Activity should be restricted during the week following surgery to allow proper healing.


Most dogs tolerate this surgery well. Veterinarians have sophisticated anesthetic units, safe anesthetic medications and cardiovascular monitors to minimize surgical risks. Advancements in pain control allow dogs to recover pain free. As with any anesthesia and surgery, there are risks associated with the procedure. Older female dogs, obese dogs or dogs which are in heat have an increased risk of complications.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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