Traditional folk wisdom tells us to spay or neuter our dogs when they are 6 months of age. Our reliance on folk wisdom from the early 20th century was based on little other than our general ignorance of the way things work, and on the limitations of veterinary science at the time. Cowed thus by lack of understanding, we also once believed that if we made silly faces, they’d remain forever contorted. Thankfully, we live, we learn, and the arrow of progress moves in one direction only.
What, then, is the optimal age for a female puppy to be spayed, or for a male puppy to be neutered? According to the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States, as long as they are otherwise healthy, puppies of both sexes may safely be fixed at eight weeks of age. Not only does getting our dogs spayed or neutered prevent shelter and stray dog populations from growing even more unwieldy, there are a range of benefits associated with the procedure.
For girl dogs, being spayed eliminates the estrous cycle, when they are sexually receptive or “in heat.” There is no universal standard for the time frame during which a female dog goes into heat. Depending on the size and breed or mix of the dog, the estrous cycle generally occurs between once and twice each year. Spaying a female dog confers additional benefits. Removing her ovaries and uterus means that these reproductive organs cannot develop or be afflicted by cancer later in life.
Where boy dogs are concerned, neutering renders them unable to impregnate a fertile female dog in a chance encounter. Just as spaying a female dog precludes the risk of reproductive cancers, so too does neutering a male dog avoid all chance of testicular cancer. While it cannot also obviate all chance of prostate cancer, it does reduce the risk of inflammation in a dog’s prostate as he ages.
Further benefits of spaying or neutering dogs? We’ve all seen nature programs that detail the trials and tribulations of mating rituals. These habits tend to include aggression and fighting among animals of both sexes. In the wild, such aggression proves the worth and health of males to females. Our dogs are household pets in domestic situations, not wild beasts struggling for dominance in a savage world. Spaying and neutering reduces the source of aggression stemming from sexual competition.
If you adopt an older puppy or an adult female dog, it is perfectly normal to be curious about potential risks of spaying in the midst of an estrous cycle. Doing research on spaying and neutering protocols, the question was one I found immediately fascinating and compelling. Can you spay a female dog who is in heat? How can you tell if your dog is in heat? This article covers the topic in greater depth.
The entire estrous cycle of the average female dog lasts 180 days, which is why most only go into heat once or twice each year. The period during which a dog’s body prepares and is primed for fertilization lasts anywhere from a week to three weeks. During this small window, she may experience greater blood loss during surgery. Rest assured, though, because the staff at your veterinarian’s office are seasoned professionals who perform this procedure on a daily basis, and are well prepared for all contingencies.
In the current state of veterinary medicine, it is perfectly safe to spay or neuter a puppy as early as eight weeks after being whelped. If you adopt an older puppy or adult dog who has not been fixed, your veterinarian may require that the dog be current on her vaccinations before being sterilized. Such was the case with my own dog. I adopted Idris when she was already 6 months of age. She’d had her initial vaccinations, but was not yet spayed. Our veterinarian required an initial checkup, during which follow-up vaccinations were administered. I then made a second appointment to have her spayed.
The process was very simple and not time consuming on my part. I dropped her off at 7:30 a.m. on the day of her surgery, and brought her home around 3:30 p.m. that afternoon. She wore an Elizabethan collar for several days to prevent her from following a dog’s natural inclination to lick or disturb the incision as it healed. Her veterinarian recommended that her activity be limited for 7 to 10 days after surgery, which we followed to the letter. There have been no complications whatsoever, from that time to this. My baby is healthy, happy, and as energetic as she was on the day she came into my life.
I give my dog a measured and regular diet, and she gets plenty of exercise. In the 7 months since she was spayed, Idris has experienced no unusual weight gain, nor displayed any atypical behaviors. I rest easy that there will be no accidental pregnancies, and that she is at decreased risk for cancers that may have developed in her reproductive system as she grows older.
Though we commonly and colloquially refer to the post-surgical Elizabethan collar as the “cone of shame,” there is no shame in getting your dogs fixed. There are so many dogs, of every age and variety, waiting for forever homes at shelters nationwide. There is no need to let a female dog go into her first estrous cycle before getting her fixed. Male dogs are under no such imaginary prohibition, and neither are females. At what age did you adopt your dogs, and when did you have them fixed?
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About the author: Melvin Peña trained as a scholar and teacher of 18th-century British literature before turning his research and writing skills to puppies and kittens. He enjoys making art, hiking, and concert-going, as well as dazzling crowds with operatic karaoke performances. He has a one-year-old female Bluetick Coonhound mix named Idris, and his online life is conveniently encapsulated here.