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Everything You Need to Know About Spaying and Neutering

A vet’s take on why it’s a smart choice. Snip, snip!

by Oneal Bogan, DVM
April 1, 2021
black scruffy dog wearing cone of shame

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If you’ve arrived at this page, you are probably the proud new parent of a puppy — congrats! You are also probably overwhelmed by all the decisions you need to make: kibble or wet food, collar or harness, daycare or dog walker? Hopefully we can make this one easy for you: yes, you should spay/neuter your dog. Even though dog adoption is on the up and up, overpopulation remains a huge problem and many pups born on the street meet poor fates. Spaying or neutering dogs can really turn this problem around, but beyond doing it for the greater good, there are pretty compelling health benefits. Keep reading, I’ll explain everything.

The health and behavioral benefits

Neutering a male dog can prevent prostate and testicular cancers, and spaying a female dog can prevent pyometras, which are serious uterus infections, and breast cancer — yes, dogs get breast cancer too. Unspayed female dogs also go ‘into heat,’ i.e. they get their period, twice a year, when they’ll have to wear a diaper for three weeks. And unneutered male dogs are more likely to ‘mark’ or lift their legs everywhere to woo said females. Charming!

The surgery itself

Let’s talk surgery specifics. A neuter is the removal of a male dog’s testicles, which halts testosterone production and renders them sterilized. Most vets will remove the whole, er, package, while shelter vets or those at low-cost clinics often leave behind the scrotum. A spay removes either a female dog’s ovaries or both the ovaries and uterus, so she cannot get pregnant. If this is all starting to stress you out, don’t worry, the surgeries are done under anesthesia so your pup won’t feel a thing.

The timing

As if the why wasn’t controversial enough, when to spay/neuter your dog is also a hotly debated subject — even among vets. The general consensus on the best age to spay or neuter a dog is six months old, which is when female dogs are fertile and, as such, at risk of mammary cancer. If you adopted a pup from a rescue organization, they were likely spayed/neutered at three-four months old, which is standard (and safe), and meant to prevent pregnancies among puppies sheltering together. Size also matters: It’s safer to wait until a dog is at least five pounds to go under anesthesia, so if you have a small-breed puppy, your vet will probably recommend waiting until they’re bigger. Studies have also shown that waiting until large-breed pups (more than 65 lbs) are at least one year old to neuter them lowers the risk of bone cancer because hormones influence bone growth and, naturally, Doberman Pinschers have a lot more growing to do than their Min Pin cousins.

The cost

Costs can vary depending on where you live, but most clinics tier surgery costs based on your dog’s size (the bigger the dog, the more anesthetics, IV fluids, and surgical materials are needed). Neuters range from $200-500 and spays from $300-700 because they are more invasive. On that subject, some vets offer laparoscopic surgeries which are less invasive still but more expensive. If surgery is out of your budget, some pet insurance plans cover it; if not, ask your vet about Care Credit or look into local low-cost spay/neuter services, such as the ASPCA’s mobile units.  

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Oneal Bogan, DVM

Oneal Bogan, DVM, is a mixed animal veterinarian from Colorado. Dr. Bogan loves the variety of animals she gets to work with. She owns her own mobile practice which provides at-home care to large and small animals. Dr. Bogan also works at a local small animal clinic. In her free time, Dr. Bogan loves to hike, ride horses, and read. She also loves writing and hopes her advice helps all pets live a happy, healthy life.