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We recently rescued a three-year-old French bulldog that was fully intact (not spayed). While we planned to get her spayed quickly, it needed to be done sooner than we thought because she went into heat about a week after we got her (diapers are not fun for her or us). This got me thinking—why do we do it? So, I did a little research.

First, we say spay and neuter all the time but what do those terms actually mean? I think most people know you spay a female and neuter a male, but here’s what that really means.
Spaying, or ovariohysterectomy, is a veterinary surgical procedure performed under general anesthesia. It involves the removal of a female dog’s uterus and both ovaries through an incision made in the abdomen. A spay can also be performed laparascopically (usually with ovariectomies).
Neutering, or castration, is the surgical removal of a male dog’s testes. Also performed under general anesthesia, it is a simpler surgery than a spay. An incision is made near the front of the scrotum, then the testicles are removed through that incision.

After reading that I’m sure all women will once again turn to their partner and say, “we always have it harder” and, once again, they’re right. But in general terms when you spay/neuter your dog you are removing the ability to reproduce.

So, why do it? We all love puppies, right? Why would we take that ability away? I wrote a post a few months ago talking about shelter statistics throughout the United States. 3.3 million dogs enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide each year. 3.3 million! And 670,000 dogs are euthanized every year because of overpopulation and lack of homes. There is a place for breeders in the overall dog dynamic but if you’re just buying a pet, there’s no huge downside to getting your dog fixed. I have also done a few posts on fostering dogs. I can tell you that every puppy we get is from one specific area near us that doesn’t seem to believe in spaying and neutering their dogs. Thankfully the shelter we support helps out and mandates that the adult dog get fixed before they will take the puppies but it’s a problem.

What happens when a dog goes into heat?
Like humans, dogs have hormones and female dogs go into heat. The cycle differs by size of dog with small breeds generally going into eat three times per year and larger breeds sometimes only once. The timing can be irregular but on average a female dog will be in heat for 1.5 to 2 weeks each time. This entails vaginal discharge that changes color as the cycle progresses starting with bloody and transitioning to watery. Female dogs in heat will often urinate more often as a marking behavior. This urine also contains pheromones and hormones that signal her reproductive state to other dogs. No kidding, when I was in high school my friend’s golden retriever went into heat and my other friend’s male golden lab that lived on the other side of the cul-de-sac dragged a five foot tall, completely full filing cabinet that he was chained to across the cul-de-sac trying to get to the female. You should have seen the determination in each step. It was like super-human dog strength. The pheromones are real, and so is the male desire to… In simple terms, when a dog goes into heat it’s messy and it causes behavioral changes in the female and every dog around them.

Is it dangerous?
There is risk with any operation so I won’t say there’s no risk. Any time you put a dog under anesthesia there is a risk of even death but these are operations that are done daily across the U.S. The total complication rate is extremely low with most complications being very minor and requiring no treatment. Reported death rates are less than 0.1%. Basically, your dog has a higher chance of death going for a walk than getting spayed. That doesn’t mean it’s not a serious operation, it should be taken seriously, and you want to go to someone you trust. In fact, complication rates are generally reported to be higher with surgeries done by students in training. Do some due diligence before scheduling.

How much?
Many times it all comes down to cost. That area I spoke of near me where the practice of spaying and neutering seems to be non-existent also happens to be a lower income area. The cost will vary by state, by city, by vet. Where we live the cost ranges from about $200 to $500. We just paid $242 to get our French bulldog spayed but then there were other costs that increased the price quite a bit, like a blood sample, $13 for the cone around the head, etc. Make sure you look at the itemized costs before sending your dog in so you can avoid some of the less urgent/necessary things that some vets add in. When thinking about the cost, also remember the alternative. The cost of your pet’s spay/neuter surgery is far less than the cost of having and caring for a litter.

What are the benefits?
Believe it or not, spaying your female dog can lead to many health benefits. Spaying helps prevent uterine infections and breast tumors, which are malignant or cancerous in about 50 percent of dogs and 90 percent of cats. Spaying your pet before her first heat offers the best protection from these diseases. Neutering male dogs prevents testicular cancer and some prostate problems.

If that’s not enough, remember that vaginal discharge I mentioned? Spaying your dog will avoid that forever. If you’ve ever had to put your dog in a diaper you know why this is a benefit. You also don’t have to worry about keeping your female dog locked up in your house a few times a year to avoid puppies. And remember that filing cabinet? With male dogs the risk of your dog roaming away is significantly reduced. It’s not because they don’t love you, it’s because their natural instinct to procreate is so strong. Neutering a male dog eliminates that natural desire. Male dogs are also generally better behaved after being neutered because of lowered testosterone levels. Your dog might be less likely to mount other dogs, people and inanimate objects after he’s neutered. Some aggression problems may be avoided by early neutering.

When should you do it?
Most vets will tell you to wait until your dog is between six and nine months old. That being said, puppies as young as eight weeks old can be neutered as long as they’re healthy. Dogs can also be spayed/neutered as adults although there’s a slightly higher risk of post-operative complications in older dogs, dogs that are overweight or dogs that have health problems.

So follow what our old friend Bob Barker used to say and “have your pet spayed or neutered.”