Y2SPAY Main : About the Surgery ... : Spay Description

Spay Description
By Monte Gulzow, DVM

The surgery to remove the female reproductive tract is called an ovariohysterectomy (OHE). It is commonly referred to as a "spay." The surgery removes the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus.

When is this normally done?
It used to be recommended to allow the female to have one litter first. This was supposed to 'mellow' the animal out. There was no basis to this thought. Female hormones are cyclical. They rise and fall at various times. The only time that an OHE would have any effect on the animal's attitude would be if the spay was done during the heat period. Removing the ovaries will in fact cause the animal to act like it does most of the time when the estrogens are low.

Then the recommendation changed to allow the animal one heat. The reasoning here was to allow the animal to reach full sexual maturity prior to spaying. This did make finding the ovaries during surgery much easier, but now we know that the change in hormones increases breast cancer risk in later life.

Our current recommendation is to spay your pet between 4-6 months of age. There are many reasons we recommend this now. Research shows that by spaying before the first heat, breast cancer is almost totally eliminated, and uterine and ovarian cancers are eliminated. This will decrease three causes of early death in your pet. Young animals seem to recover quicker from our anesthetic protocol than older animals do and with less post surgical pain (realize that there are no 100 percent safe anesthetics). Some behavioral problems can be prevented if spays are done early, too. And of course, unwanted pet populations drop when you spay your pet.

What is done during the spay?
Ovariohysterectomies are sterile procedures. In other words, they are done in a clean environment with many precautions taken to prevent infections afterwards. You have seen operating rooms in human hospitals or on TV. This is the type of environment where most spay surgeries take place.

The surgery involves removal of the ovaries and uterus. A commonly used approach is a midline approach, but the choice depends on the surgeon's training. The ovaries and uterus are exposed and the blood vessels are clamped and tied to prevent bleeding. When this is done the organs are removed. After checking for any leakage of blood, the surgical site is closed in the manner that the surgeon has been trained. The use of surgical glue instead of external sutures, when possible, will seal and protect the wound and reduce the licking that sutures may cause.

Following anesthetic recovery (usually about an hour after the procedure) she will be monitored for any unusual reactions or bleeding. In most cases, she can go home that evening. Some will eat that night; others will feel nauseated and will not want to eat. She should be eating normally in two days.

What should I watch for after the surgery?
Most animals recover rapidly following surgery. Pain post-op is rare in dogs and cats. Older animals may be sore or lethargic for a few days. Some will not eat for a day or two. Most are up and back to normal within three days.

Watch for swelling of the area. There will be some normal swelling from the incision. It should be normal looking skin or have a slight pinkness to it. There should be no discharge or bleeding from the site. On rare occasions, a little clear yellowish fluid may appear. This is not a problem; however, a bloody or thick discharge should be checked. Also if any foul odors occur or the site swells rapidly or appears dark red or purple, please contact your veterinarian.

If the animal gets the incision open, please contact your veterinarian. Licking an open incision will cause an infection. Try not to let your pet lick the surgery area.

If there are any external sutures, follow your vet's recommendation to have them removed, usually in 14 days.

What if she is in heat or pregnant?
Being in heat (estrus) means that she has a high level of estrogens. Estrogens cause the uterus to enlarge, getting ready for babies. It also slows clotting. These two things will increase surgery time and risk. This increases the cost of the surgery too, as more anesthesia and suture may be needed. Although an animal in heat can be spayed, it is preferable not to. If you can wait until after the heat is over, it would be advisable.

Sometimes, accidental pregnancy occurs. Pregnant animals can be spayed, but risks and surgery time in this case are increased. Charges for spaying a pregnant animal are much higher as well. To prevent this, get your pet spayed before her first heat.

"But I want my children to see the miracle of birth."
Whelping usually occurs in the middle of the night and most children get bored easily or they may become ill. There are many videos available that depict birthing. It would be preferable to rent one of these.

Y2SPAY Main : About the Surgery ... : Spay Description