Later this month (28th) it’s going to be World Spay Day - which rather ironically falls in the same month as Valentine’s Day! - so in this blog we’re going to be looking at the advantages and disadvantages of getting your bitch neutered.
What is neutering in a bitch?
“Neutering” a bitch describes any technique that will irreversibly remove her fertility, and her production of sex hormones (oestrogen and progesterone). In the UK, we call the surgery a “Spay”. However, there are two types - a traditional spay (an “ovariohysterectomy”) removes both the ovaries, and also the uterus (womb). The more modern approach, a Laparoscopic Spay (or “Lap-spay”, an “ovariectomy”) uses keyhole surgery techniques and involves the removal of the ovaries only - the uterus stays inside.
Either way, the bitch’s fertility is removed (the eggs in the ovaries), as is her ability to produce oestrogen (and therefore come into season) and progesterone (and have a pregnancy or false pregnancy).
What are the advantages?
There are a number of significant advantages to neutering your bitch. The major ones include:
● No more puppies - an unexpected litter of puppies can range from the embarrassing, to the expensive, to the tragic. However, there are already more dogs in the UK than there are good homes - do you want to add to that problem? Unless you are specifically preparing to breed from the bitch (and have done your homework and research, know what that entails, and have good lifetime homes for the puppies), neutering is the wiser course.
● Elimination of seasons - many bitches are harder to manage when in season, and often become very messy. In addition, it’s always awkward to have to fight off your dog’s suitors (i.e. every entire male dog for about 5 miles around) every time you open the door…
● Elimination of pyometra - this womb infection is genuinely life-threatening, and studies suggest that 1 in 4 bitches will suffer one by 10 years of age. Whether a traditional or a lap spay, there is no risk of a true pyo in a neutered dog.
● Reduction in risk of mammary tumours - breast cancer is common in bitches, and frequently malignant. A bitch neutered before her first season is reported to have the risk of mammary tumours reduced by 200x; although the protective effect is reduced the longer she stays entire.
Are there any disadvantages?
Any medical or surgical procedure has potential disadvantages. For spaying, the risks involved appear to be:
● Risk of major complications during surgery - this is very low, and we almost never see dangerous let alone fatal complications.
● Altered behaviour - in the vast majority of bitch spays, there is no alteration, as personality does NOT depend on sex hormones. However, there have been a few papers suggesting a very slight increase in bad tempered behaviour after neutering; this may or may not be significant, but it isn’t something we’ve seen.
● Risk of osteosarcoma (bone tumours) - doubled by neutering. This sounds like a massive increase; however, the actual number of dogs who develop osteosarcoma after neutering is about 12 in 10,000 - it isn’t a very common tumour. In addition, the studies that report this increased risk include bitches neutered very young (3-5 months old), which is thought to increase the risk. For most dogs, this isn’t a significant worry - however, for dogs with a high breed- or bloodline risk of osteosarcoma, it might be worth neutering them a little older, once their bones have stopped growing, as this is thought to be the mechanism.
● Risk of haemangiosarcoma (blood vessel tumours). One study has reported a slight increased risk in Golden Retrievers; however, this altered risk is not shown by other research, so it is likely that there is an underlying genetic reason here.
● Obesity - it is certainly true that neutered bitches are more prone to being overweight. However, this is easily managed - feed them less! This increase in obesity probably explains most, if not all, of the increased risk of cruciate ligament injuries.
● Urinary incontinence - some (very old) studies suggest that neutering increases the risk of incontinence in later life. However, modern research doesn’t always back this up. Sadly, more research needed here!
● Juvenile genitalia - the vulvas of bitches neutered before puberty can be small, predisposing them to infections. However, we do not recommend neutering before puberty anyway, which eliminates this problem.
● Coat changes - certainly some bitches, especially those with longer coats, undergo a slight change in coat quality. This isn’t true of every dog, but it does happen occasionally. Sometimes it reverses itself after a moult or two, but sometimes the change is permanent.
What should I do?
Unless you want to breed from your dog, we’d recommend you neuter her. The reason is that, when you balance out all the risks both ways, neutered bitches live on average 26% longer than entire bitches.
That said, there may be some situations where that isn’t appropriate, due to the health status, genetic heritage, or use of a dog, and as such we’d always recommend that the decision be made on an individual basis.