World Spay Day: what owners need to know

World Spay day

This World Spay Day, Dr Jessica May, UK lead vet at the video vet service FirstVet, gives her insights on the advantages and disadvantages of spaying.

This Tuesday (23 February 2021) marks World Spay Day, which gives pet owners a chance to learn more about what the process means for pets and whether it is the right decision for their four legged friends.

While it has previously been the accepted wisdom that dogs should be spayed or neutered as a routine procedure, pet owners are now being encouraged to consider both the benefits and potential risks of spaying and neutering before judging whether it is best for their pet.

What is spaying?

Spaying is the removal of a female dog’s reproductive organs. Is a serious surgery, so the decision to spay is not something to be taken lightly. Usually, it involves an incision along the midline of the abdomen, through which the ovaries and uterus are removed. More recently, some clinics have offered keyhole surgery, in which only the ovaries are removed (ovariectomy) and the uterus is left in place. However, the procedure for each dog should be considered on an individual basis so that the best option is chosen.

Image by Mirko Sajkov on Pixabay

There are divided opinions about the best time to spay a dog, but it is generally accepted that it is safe to spay dogs after 6 months. This is the time when most female dogs reach sexual maturity. Many dogs are spayed after their first season (another term for being in heat). Female dogs are typically in season twice a year, or every six months; however, some smaller breeds may come into season more frequently, and some larger breeds may come into season less often.

It is important to remember that spaying should be planned at least three months after the end of the last season to reduce the risk of complications. The dog should also be healthy and an appropriate weight.


Spaying can help female dogs to stay relaxed, as it means they do not come into heat and avoid the hormonal fluctuations associated with this. It also means that female dogs cannot get pregnant, which is particularly important for those with both male and female dogs in the household.

The process can also have other health benefits for dogs later in life. Dogs who are spayed before two years of age are at lower risk of mammary tumours and it can also help to control the symptoms of dogs who develop diabetes later in life.

It is far safer to choose elective surgery as a preventative measure in a healthy dog than to operate on a dog in a medical emergency

Another significant health advantage of spaying is that it means that female dogs cannot get a uterine infection (pyometra). A pyometra is a bacterial infection of the uterus, which is most commonly seen in older dogs. It can pose a serious danger to the dogs’ health. The most common treatment is spaying.

However, it is far safer to choose elective surgery as a preventative measure in a healthy dog, than to operate on a dog in a medical emergency as there are more preoperative risks to consider.

 Risks and disadvantages

The operation itself can be a risk for dogs, although a relatively low one. Pre and post anaesthesia checks are designed to reduce these risks, but it is nonetheless something to consider, particularly for dogs with any underlying conditions.

One of the main impacts of spaying is that it significantly reduces dogs’ metabolism. This means that spayed dogs will require a new diet and a reduced calorie intake, which is adapted to suit their new nutritional needs. Owners may have to reduce their dog’s total food intake or, alternatively, there is commercial food available which is made specifically for neutered or spayed dogs.

If a spayed dog’s diet is not managed properly, this can lead to obesity, which comes with a number of potential health issues, such as osteoarthritis, diabetes and heart disease, to name a few.

There can also be rarer side effects after spaying. Some dogs, particularly larger breeds, may suffer urinary incontinence after the operation, although this can usually be medically managed. In some cases, dogs can also develop changes in their coat after spaying, where the coat may become fuzzier or rougher than before.

If you want to fully understand some of the possible side effects of spaying and how they may affect your dog, you should discuss the process with a vet.

Post-op care

If you do decide to have your dog spayed, it is important to know how to prepare and how to support her through her recovery from the operation. Dogs can usually go home on the same day as the operation, although they may be kept in for a few nights as a precaution or if there are complications.

Where stitches or staples have been used, she will have to return to the vet after 12-14 days to have these removed and to check that the incision has fully healed.

The recuperation time after keyhole surgery can be shorter than a month

When dogs do return home, they will be given a buster collar or bodysuit to stop them licking the surgical site, as well as some painkillers for a few days after the surgery. Rest is a very important part of recovery after spaying, as excessive movement may put strain on the delicate tissues and slow down the healing process.

Recovering dogs should be kept on the lead for toileting walks only for the first month, and they must be lifted from the car or sofa, rather than allowing them to jump, due to the risk of bleeding. The recuperation time after keyhole surgery can be shorter than a month, but it is always best to be cautious and check with your vet as to what is best for your dog.

This is a guest essay by Dr Jessica May. Want to write for us? Visit or email


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