This article was updated on June 11th, 2023
For the owner of any female dog, deciding when to neuter them is a big decision. Complicating matters, there is no definitive ‘right’ answer and the best time will depend on many factors, including the dog’s breed and lifestyle.
As a vet, I will discuss the neutering surgery with every owner of a bitch I see during their routine six month checkup. We discuss if the owner is planning on breeding their dog, and what the benefits of neutering are. We also consider when the ideal time for neutering them may be.
Best age to spay a dog
Frustratingly, there is no ‘best’ age to spay a female. In fact, in one survey of UK vets there was ‘very little agreement’ as to whether a female should have a season before she is spayed. The average age advised for neutering was about 6.5 months. 16.9% of the vets surveyed recommended a female always have a first season before neutering while 20.6% never recommended this.
Complicating matters, bitches do not always go into season when we would expect them to. While we can roughly predict when this might happen based on their breed and mother’s history (if known), each dog is an individual and can start cycling earlier or later than expected.
To determine what age to spay your female, have a chat with your vet about her individual circumstances. An early spay may be advised, for example, if she is living with an intact male and there is risk of her becoming pregnant.
Spaying a dog during her heat cycle
Many owners will want to know if it is an option to have their bitch spayed while in season. They may be concerned about a pregnancy risk or are unhappy dealing with the mess and hormonal changes that occur during a heat cycle.
Can you spay a dog during her heat cycle?
While it is technically possible to spay a female while she is in season, this is rarely done. The main reason for this is that there is a higher risk of complications, including excess blood loss and infection.
Having practiced for 10 years, I can count on one hand the number of bitches I have spayed that were in heat. It is much safer to wait until 2 to 3 months after season, when their uterus is smaller and less vascular.
Why is it more expensive to spay a dog while in heat?
The cost of neutering a female in season will inevitably be more as the procedure takes longer and is more complex. This means more anesthetic is needed and the staff spend longer with the patient.
What are the disadvantages of spaying a dog while in heat?
The disadvantages would include:
- Longer surgery and recovery time
- Increased cost
- Higher risk of bleeding and infection
Given the above, some clinics will not spay females while in season as a blanket rule.
What can you do to avoid dog pregnancy?
If your bitch does come into season, you may be focused on preventing pregnancy. This can be achieved by keeping your female well away from other dogs.
Walk your bitch at quieter times of the day, keeping her on a short lead. As she will be attracting local males, be prepared to go home early if there are uncastrated males about who are bothering her.
If you have an intact male in the home, consider having someone else look after him while your female is in season, as she will be driving him crazy and he will try to get to her and mate at any opportunity.
Monitor your female when in the garden and triple check that all walls and fences are secure.
Spaying a dog after her first heat cycle
When is the best time to spay a dog after the first heat?
One extensive study took a close look at the best stage to neuter a female, taking into account their breed and considering the risk for e.g. joint diseases and cancers.
Neutering larger breeds early (before six months of age) has been shown to increase their risk of certain joint diseases, such as hip dysplasia and cruciate ligament disease. It can also affect the chance of them developing a number of cancers, such as osteosarcoma.
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
Spaying before the second season is known to decrease the risk of mammary cancer.
Risks are highly dependent on the dog’s breed, which is why we need to consider each decision on a case by case basis.
Is it safe to spay small dogs after their first heat?
Smaller dogs seem less affected by the decision to neuter earlier in their life, and often (depending on breed), there is no increased risk of them developing joint disease or cancer, even when spayed before the age of one.
Many vets will advise spaying smaller females after their first heat.
How to make your decision about the best time to spay your dog after first heat
The best way to make an informed decision, is to discuss things with your vet. They can present both the benefits and downsides of the timing, so you can decide what is right for you and your bitch.
Spaying your dog in heat: what it looks like
When you arrive at the clinic, most vets would want to confirm your female is NOT in heat. If she is, they will discuss why it would be better to wait a few months before carrying out the procedure.
Beforehand, your dog will be checked over and weighed, and you will be informed of the potential risks of the surgery. You will also be asked to sign a consent form, confirming you are aware of the complications that can occur.
What you should know about the recovery
For most females, recovery is straightforward. Owners are asked to rest their dog for a period of one to two weeks and to ensure they cannot lick or chew at their sutures. This can mean the use of a buster collar and/or pet t-shirt.
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Walks will be shortened, and dogs should be discouraged from jumping up or using stairs. We want them to rest, to allow their body to heal and to prevent the wound from opening.
Spaying surgery costs
The cost of spaying a female depends on the clinic you go to, her weight and whether or not you opt for ‘extras’ such as a pre-op blood test and intra-op IV fluids.
As a rough guide, the average cost is around $250-350.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the health benefits of spaying? What are the benefits of waiting until after the first heat to spay dogs?
Spaying ensures our female will not experience a pyometra (uterus infection) in later life. It also reduces the risk of a female developing mammary cancer, as long as it is done before their 3rd season.
Waiting until after the first season can decrease the risk of certain joint diseases and cancers in some breeds.
Can dogs experience behavioral changes after spaying?
Given the altered hormone levels, behavioral changes are possible. Some studies have shown that anxious and reactive females may be harder to train after being spayed.
Do female dogs get periods after a spay surgery?
No, females do not experience seasons or vaginal bleeding once they have been spayed. If a spayed female is bleeding from her vagina, a vet visit is needed to determine why.