Veterinary Q&A: Spaying Your Cat or Dog

Gray kitten at vet visit
South_agency/ Getty Images

Spaying your cat or dog not only helps control the overabundance of pets in the U.S., but it also improves your pet's overall health. According to the ASPCA, spaying a cat or dog prevents uterine infections and breast tumors. However, it's normal for a pet owner to have a number of questions about spaying your female pet.

Is spaying a major surgery?

It involves surgically entering the abdomen, so it is considered "major surgery." However, this should not frighten pet owners. as it's routinely performed and very safe. There are inherent risks with any anesthesia or surgical procedure, and talking about your fears and concerns with your veterinarian should help you understand any special risks that your pet may have.

Is spaying expensive?

Costs vary among veterinarians. If it seems too expensive for you, speak with the vet. Some practices offer spay packages as part of a puppy vaccination package, have a "spay day" for reduced-price spays, or a reduced spay fee for those who demonstrate need. Many shelters and humane organizations work with veterinarians to provide spay vouchers and other funding to those who are unable to afford spaying.

Why does my vet want to do pre-surgery blood work on my pet?

Many veterinarians offer pre-anesthesia screening to their patients and may have you sign a waiver if you decline these blood tests. Why is this so important? It provides a way to assess kidney and liver function prior to undergoing anesthesia, among other things. The liver and kidneys are the primary routes that the anesthetics are broken down and removed from the body. If they aren't working well, anesthesia may be more of a risk. There are many anesthetic agents available, so your veterinarian may also use the blood screening information to determine the best anesthetic protocol for your pet.

Cat getting checked while female vet takes notes
Glow Wellness / Getty Images

What happens during the surgery? 

Your pet will be sedated and anesthetized, so she won't feel any pain or be aware of what is happening. Her breathing and heart rate will be closely monitored by the veterinary staff. The surgeon makes a small incision on her abdomen and removes the two ovaries and uterus, usually just above the cervix. All vessels and tissues are tied off to prevent bleeding and lessen chances of post-operative bleeding or infection. Once the ovaries and uterus are removed, the surgeon begins the closure of the body wall and skin, and the muscle, subcutaneous fat, and skin are stitched back together. Your pet may have absorbable sutures, skin staples, or sutures visible in the skin that will need to be removed by your vet 10 to 14 days after surgery.

Does my pet need to stay overnight?

For the exact answer, you will need to ask your vet, but this will vary from practice to practice, vet to vet, and even patient to patient. There isn't a "right" or "wrong" answer. It is important to keep your pet as quiet as possible activity-wise, prevent excessive licking of the incision, and to go slow initially and monitor food and water intake. Also, if your pet experienced any surgical or anesthetic complications, your vet may want to keep her overnight for further observation. If you work or won't be home immediately after picking up your pet, you may want to ask your vet about keeping your pet for a while longer for observation and monitoring.

How soon will she be back to "normal"?

Most people are surprised at how quickly their pets recover from surgery. Most pets are up and alert shortly after surgery, and after resting quietly for a day or two, most are back to their "normal" self. It is important to restrict activity in those pets who are very active, as too much activity can actually delay healing or cause post-surgical complications, such as dehiscence (opening of sutures) or bleeding.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.