Spaying : Should Have Had Her Spayed!

By | December 12, 2009

Owning a dog is a huge responsibility. Basic care and maintenance are sometimes equivalent to a full time job, so if you consider the decision to breed your female and raise a litter, you’ll really have your hands full!
For some Gundog owners the decision not to breed their female dog is simple and decisive… and the young dog has surgery before her first heat cycle. But for others the finality of having their female “fixed” is just too uncomfortable. What if she turns out to be that once-in-a-lifetime super dog and everyone who sees her in the field wants a pup at a “name-your-price” fee?
Lots of questions, lots of “what ifs”, and lots of advice from other dog owners…. let’s take a few minutes and make some spaying facts clear; any decision is made more convincingly if at first we get the data right. To spay your female dog is to remove both ovaries and the uterus; the medical term is ovario-hysterectomy. (There is no such thing as SPADE or SPADED, the correct terms are SPAY or SPAYED). It is major intra-abdominal surgery performed under general anesthesia. If it isn’t done precisely and in a sterile environment the outcome can he disastrous. During my career I’ve never considered any spay “routine”; every one is different and each presents a challenge.
Usually the procedure is done prior to the first estrus (heat) cycle and having it done at this time greatly lessens the dog’s chances for later development of mammary gland cancer. Some dog owners, for various and often unfounded reasons, want their dog to have one estrus cycle or even one litter of pups before she’s spayed. Probably 80% of dog spays are done prior to the first heat cycle. The other 20% will go into their first heat around 9 -12 months of age and then about every 6 to 7 months thereafter until about 9 or 10 years of age.
An unspayed dog does incur some special health risks throughout her life. Mammary cancer, unwanted pregnancies, ovarian cysts and cancer, difficult pregnancies … oh, yea, and fights with wandering male dogs who seem to appear from nowhere during the three week estrus cycle are a few troubles that readily come to mind.

Here’s a real nasty problem … pyometra.
This term means pus in the uterus. Any time a veterinarian is presented with a dog suffering from pyometra the condition is considered serious and immediate surgery is nearly always indicated. This pus formation in the uterus results from infection, hormone imbalance or mucous buildup inside the uterus. Most dogs suffering from pyometra are presented because of loss of energy, increased thirst and poor appetite. Plus a good tip-off would he a foul smelling, purulent (means pus) vaginal discharge. Most of the cases of pyometra I’ve seen occurred about six weeks after the bitch’s last heat cycle. They may not look it on the outside, but on the inside these dogs are really sick! If that swollen, enlarged uterus happens to rupture internally, the dog will rapidly go into endotoxic shock and whatever the veterinarian does may not be enough to save the dog.
Normally, even in a large dog, the uterine horns aren’t much thicker than a pencil. When pyometra is present the uterus looks and feels more like a stuffed venison sausage. I’ve removed eight-pound uteruses that should have weighed no more than eight ounces!
For whatever reason, if your female dog hasn’t been spayed be alert for pyometra. The condition is more probable in females eight years or older and who experience infrequent or irregular heat cycles or episodes of false pregnancy. Poor appetite, increased thirst, poor stamina and vaginal discharge are cardinal signs. And some patients’ white blood cell count can go from a normal of 9,000 all the way up to 150,000. X-rays often reveal two large sausage-like structures in the abdomen … time for surgery! These patients should almost always he operated on right now, not after work, not in the morning, not after a few days of antibiotics “to build her up.”
The surgery is not a minor procedure. A patient with a uterus swollen with a foul and putrid soup, is simply carrying a bucket of poison that would eventually kill the dog. Many of these patients require I.V. fluid therapy, antibiotics and nutritional support post operatively. These pyometra patients, once recovered, act like puppies once their near death experience is over!
Every veterinarian has heard the following conversation when the owner is informed that their dog has pyometra and needs surgery:
“I guess, I should have spayed her, Doc, but …
a) I wanted her to have at least one litter first.”
b) She’s got papers a mile long so if I breed her, the pups will be worth big bucks.”
c) My brother-in-law says not to spay her because he heard they can die from the anesthetic.”
d) I was afraid she’d get fat and lazy.”
c) You vets charge too much for just a little poke-and-a-stitch.”
f ) Thought it would ruin her spirit.”

Shall we put one common myth to rest right now?
Here goes … Spaying a dog does not make her get fat and lazy. Twenty six years of practicing small animal medicine and surgery have convinced me that healthy dogs become overweight from either insufficient exercise or consuming too many calories. Unless your dog is sneaking into the fridge at night and making it’s own ham and cheese sandwiches, you the owner are directly responsible for what and how much your dog eats. And I don’t want to bear any excuses because I’ve heard them all. Lots of unspayed dogs are overweight too, so don’t blame the weight on the spay.
You’d be surprised how many dogs (especially Golden retrievers) are hyperthyroid. This condition almost always leads to weight gain. Weight problems should always suggest the possibility of hypothyroidism. Be sure to have your veterinarian check for this. If you choose not to spay your dog, be on the alert for pyometra. It can be a killer.

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