Spaying and neutering procedures, which are the surgical sterilization of dogs and cats, are the healthiest choice for non-breeding pets. Although spay and neuter surgeries traditionally take place early in a pet’s life, they can be performed at any age. While you should discuss the timing for your pet’s spay or neuter with our Creature Comforts Veterinary Services care team, we want you to be informed about what these procedures involve, to help you make the best possible choice.

The pet spay and neuter explained

First, understanding the meaning of a pet’s spay or neuter is vital, because the terms are commonly misused.

  • Spay (i.e., ovariohysterectomy) — This abdominal surgery in a female dog or cat removes their ovaries and uterus.  
  • Neuter (i.e., castration) — The surgical removal of a male dog or cat’s testicles involves a scrotal or pre-scrotal incision. However, If one or both testicles are undescended, the pet will require a cryptorchid neuter (i.e., castration) through an abdominal incision.

Spay and neuter benefits for pets

While the idea of surgery and anesthesia often frightens pet owners, spay and neuter surgeries are relatively routine procedures that the Creature Comforts Veterinary Service team performs regularly, with the utmost care. Once your pet recovers, usually in 10 to 14 days, they will enjoy a lifetime of priceless benefits, because they are no longer at risk for the following:

  • Unwanted litters — Pet overpopulation is an ongoing problem, with more than 5 million unwanted and stray pets entering shelters every year, and more than 920,000 shelter animals euthanized annually. Spaying or neutering your pet ensures they will not produce unwanted litters and contribute to this significant problem.
  • Reproductive disorders — Intact female pets can experience life-threatening dystocia or pyometra (i.e., infected uterus).
  • Certain cancers — Spaying and neutering reduces mammary, testicular, and prostate cancer risks.
  • Reproductive cycling — Spayed female cats and dogs do not experience an estrus (i.e., heat) cycle, during which they can exhibit unwanted behaviors, such as vocalization and messy discharge.
  • Behavior-related harm — Unneutered male pets are more likely to roam and fight over territory, causing injury or disease transmission.
  • Behavior-related rehoming — Pets are commonly surrendered to shelters because of unwanted behavior issues, which may be hormonal (e.g., urine-marking, aggression).

Scheduling considerations for pet owners

Your pet’s veterinarian can provide individualized recommendations on when to spay or neuter your pet, based on their age, health status, breed, and lifestyle. As an American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited practice, we subscribe to AAHA’s spay and neuter guidelines. 

  • Early spays avoid heat cycles — Spaying a female puppy or kitten before their first heat cycle virtually eliminates mammary cancer—50% of which is malignant—and avoids the mess and risk of estrus. Contrary to popular belief, allowing a female pet to go through a heat cycle or have a litter provides no health advantages, but rather brings undesirable risks, behavior changes, and health-related consequences. We recommend spaying female kittens before 5 months of age, and female dogs between 5 and 6 months of age. 
  • Spaying and neutering may reduce unwanted behavior — Pet owners often hope that neutering their male dog or cat will eliminate territorial behaviors, such as urine-marking, roaming, fighting, or possessive-aggression. However, neutering will reduce, but may not eliminate, testosterone-related behaviors, and training and management (i.e., confining your pet to a leash, yard, or indoors) are essential for resolving these issues. For the best behavior-related outcome, neuter male kittens before 5 months of age, small and medium-sized dogs before 6 months of age, and large-breed dogs when they are full-grown (i.e., between 9 and 15 months of age). 

  • Hormones affect large- and giant-breed dog growth and development — Dogs mature at different rates based on their breed and anticipated adult size. Sex hormones (i.e., estrogen and testosterone) serve an important role in controlling the growth speed and duration, including signaling when long bones such as the humerus and femur should stop growing. A large- or giant-breed dog who is neutered or spayed before they have finished growing tends to be taller and retain more puppy-like features. Also, inappropriate bone and joint development may increase the risk for orthopedic injuries, such as cranial cruciate ligament rupture (CCL) and hip and elbow dysplasia.

For fully grown male dogs who weigh more than 45 pounds, we recommend neutering between 9 and 15 months of age, after their growth plates have closed. For large- or giant-breed female dogs, you should carefully weigh the options and seek advice from our veterinarian. 

  • Health risks of spaying and neutering dogs early — Recent studies have suggested that early life surgical sterilization and an increased risk for cancer, joint problems, and urinary incontinence in female dogs may be linked. You should consider this information when scheduling your dog’s spay or neuter, but the early research is not conclusive and cannot be extrapolated to the entire canine population.

As your pet’s guardian and caregiver, being informed, and understanding the many areas in which spaying and neutering impacts their life, will help you make the best choice about these surgeries.

No one knows your pet like you do, so we value your input about their health care. But, determining when your pet should be spayed or neutered requires veterinary input. Contact us at Creature Comforts Veterinary Service to schedule your pet’s next visit, and to discuss the importance of their spay or neuter, and the best time to perform the procedure on your pet.