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To spey or not to spey: the pros and cons of neutering your bitch

“Spey” is the name often used to describe the sterilisation of a female animal. The procedure itself – referred to by vets as an “ovariohysterectomy” - involves an open abdominal surgery under general anaesthetic, during which the reproductive system of the bitch is removed.

The pros

-        One of the biggest advantages to speying your bitch is the reduction in the incidence of mammary tumours that results if it’s done early.  Bitches speyed before their first season very rarely develop malignant breast cancers. The reduction in the incidence of mammary tumours will be less for every season the bitch has –   if the bitch is speyed after the third season the risk of breast cancers will be the same as for an un-speyed bitch. 

-        Speying also prevents pyometra; a very severe infection of the womb (uterus) which can be life threatening.

-        Having your bitch spayed means that she will not come into season, which confers a number of benefits in itself. You will not have to clean up after the bitch whilst she is in heat, she will be less likely to wander, and you will be able to exercise her freely without concerns about unwanted pregnancies if she is taken to public areas.

-        A speyed bitch will not experience false pregnancies. These can sometimes be distressing for the bitch, as she may lose her appetite and/or become aggressive.  False pregnancies can occur repeatedly in entire (unspeyed) bitches.

-        Speying your bitch is largely thought of as being part and parcel of responsible pet ownership – leaving your bitch entire can result in unwanted pregnancies which further contribute to the dog overpopulation problem, increasing the burden on pet charities.

The cons      

-         Whilst there are some disadvantages to spaying your bitch it is generally viewed that the pros significantly outweigh the cons. 

-        There is always a risk associated with any general anaesthetic or surgical procedure. For most vets, however, this is a very familiar and routine surgery.  If you have reservations about the surgical risk we strongly advise you to discuss these with your vet so that an assessment about the size of that risk can be made for your dog specifically, taking into consideration its age, breed and previous history.

-        Speyed bitches are also at an increased risk of developing urinary incontinence later in life compared to intact bitches. This condition is usually readily treatable with prescription medicines.

-        Often, spayed bitches are more inclined to becoming overweight, but this is easily corrected through proper management of their diet and exercise regime.

The best time to do it

Most bitches in the UK are neutered between 5 and 8 months of age ie. before the bitch comes into season for the first time. Recommendations on the correct age at which to spey your bitch will vary slightly from vet to vet, but it is generally thought that speying prior to the first season is the best option. This is because of the reduction in the risk of breast cancers, as well as the numerous other social, behavioural and hygiene-related advantages, associated with speying the bitch at this time. It is true that bitches speyed after the first season are less likely to develop urinary incontinence, but as this condition is not life threatening and is readily treatable most vets do not feel that the risk of incontinence warrants delaying the procedure until after the first season.