Ideally a bitch should be spayed at around 4-5 months old. This should be before their first heat and can reduce the risk of serious health conditions like mammary cancer later on.
However, there are circumstances that may prevent you from spaying or fixing your dog before the first heat. Sometimes money is tight, sometimes the dog just isn’t ready, or sometimes, most of the time, life gets in the way.
If your dog has already started her first heat you might be under the impression that you need to wait for the cycle to finish before getting her fixed. This is a common rumor that persists in the dog world.
But is it true?
Let’s take a look.
The truth is, you can have your bitch spayed even if she is in heat. It doesn’t matter whether it’s her first heat or her third heat.
However, there are more risks associated with spaying a dog in heat. Often, vets will recommend you wait until the end of the cycle but if needs be they will spay while she’s on.
Before we take a look at how spaying on heat is different, let’s first look at spaying normally. You see, dog anatomy is different from human anatomy. Who’d have thought it?
We say a dog is in heat when they have their estrus cycle. It is similar to the human menstruation cycle. However, unlike humans, dogs only menstruate about twice a year. The lucky creatures.
Smaller dogs may have 3 or 4 cycles a year while giant breeds like Great Danes may only have one cycle a year.
When a bitch begins her cycle the first thing you may notice is her swollen vulva. This may not be visible on all bitches. It really depends on the kind of fur and body shape your dog has.
If you don’t notice the swollen vulva then your first sign will be some bloody vaginal discharge. Some don’t start to bleed until a few after the cycle has started, others start on the first day.
The amount of blood depends on the dog. The larger the dog the more blood you’ll notice. This is a generalization but it tends to hold true.
The blood will change in color and viscosity throughout the cycle. You can tell where in the cycle your bitch is by looking at her discharge.
Early in the cycle, the discharge will be mostly blood. It will be quite red and can be quite alarming to see if you’re not informed. As time goes on, the discharge will become more watery. It will go from red to a pinky-red color.
During the bleeding phase, a bitch will urinate more frequently because she is trying to get her scent out there for all those male dogs to sniff.
Generally, your bitch will be in heat for about 10-14 days. They are most fertile when their discharge becomes more watery and this will be when they mate.
Spaying is a process that sterilizes female dogs. What we call spaying is a serious operation more correctly called an ovariohysterectomy.
During an ovariohysterectomy, the ovaries and womb are removed. Without these organs, the dog no longer produces eggs and can no longer carry pups. It also stops the dog from producing the hormones that trigger the heat cycle.
In human females, ovariohysterectomies are rare. They are only performed for medical reasons.
Women who wish to be ‘sterilized’ will have tubal ligation which is often referred to as ‘having your tubes tied.’ In this procedure, the fallopian tubes are blocked or severed from the uterus. In most cases it is reversible.
This is not the same for dogs. Once their womb and ovaries are removed they can’t be replaced.
Why Should Dogs Be Spayed?
The major benefits of spaying your dog include reduced health risks and reducing the number of stray dogs.
Benefits of Spaying:
- Stops the heat cycle – This is a good thing because a bitch in heat is messy. If you don’t want discharge everywhere you’ll need to get your dog to wear a nappy.
Also, a bitch’s behavior changes when she is in heat. They can become eager to escape and find a mate and can become more territorial.
- Prevents pyometra – This is a nasty infection of the womb that sees the uterus fill with puss. If untreated, pyometra can cause kidney failure and death.
- Reduces the risk of mammary cancer – If your dog is spayed before their first heat, their mammary glands are never activated. This can reduce the risk of mammary cancer later in life.
- Eliminates the risk of ovarian or uterine cancer – Spaying removes the ovaries and uterus. If they’re not there they can’t develop cancer.
- Improves life expectancy – Spayed dogs tend to live longer. This is likely to do with the reduced risk of cancer.
- Reduces separation anxiety – Spayed dogs are no longer producing hormones that can increase separation anxiety. It also reduces the likelihood of fear elimination.
- Fewer strays – A spayed dog can’t bring more puppies into a world that already suffers from too many stray dogs.
Risks of Spaying
Spaying is overall the best option for your dog. However, as with any surgical procedure, there are some inherent risks.
- Anesthetic is required – While incredibly useful, anesthetic comes with some risk. It may cause an allergic reaction. If your dog has never had an anesthetic before then you may not be aware of the allergy.
The death rate is pretty low, with only 1 in 2000 dogs dying due to anesthesia.
- Reduced metabolism – Spaying does reduce your dog’s metabolism which puts them at an increased risk of obesity.
Regular exercise and a balanced diet are enough to keep them healthy. You don’t usually need to put them on a diet after they’ve been spayed.
- Stalling bone growth – This generally only affects larger dogs. If you spay them before their bones have finished developing they do have a slightly increased risk of a knee injury.
Spaying in Heat
The issue with spaying a dog in heat is that the uterus and ovaries are swollen. This makes it harder for the vet to safely locate the ovaries. They are not as close to the uterus as in humans.
Also, the increased blood flow to the area when in heat means your bitch has a higher risk of severe or fatal blood loss.
Spaying your dog in heat is not an ideal scenario. It can be done if medically necessary but vets will usually advise against it.
It is much better to have your bitch spayed before her first heat which usually occurs at around 6 months of age.
Spaying might seem like an optional procedure but it really is in the dog’s best interest to get it done as early as possible.