How to Care for Your New Puppy

All About Spaying and Neutering a Puppy

illustration of why to spay or neuter puppies

Illustration: Melissa Ling. © The Spruce, 2018

Spaying or neutering puppies is the responsible way to care for your pet and it's important to know when to do it. Female pups mature more quickly than you may think. They can become pregnant as early as 5 or 6 months old and most dogs can produce two litters a year.

Spaying and Neutering

The words altering, sterilizing, and neutering all refer to surgery performed by a veterinarian that removes the reproductive organs of either a male or female animal, making them unable to reproduce. Castration removes a male dog’s testicles. An ovariohysterectomy, or spay, removes the female dog’s ovaries and uterus.

Why Spay and Neuter

Surgery prevents unwanted litters. It also eliminates obnoxious romantic behavior such as roaming, fighting, excessive urine marking, and mounting visitor’s legs. The surgeries help prevent aggressive behavior, fight wounds, messy canine vaginal discharges, and uterine infections. Castrating male pets eliminates the chance of testicular cancer and spaying your dog before her first breeding season reduces any risk of breast cancer by seven times. Newer studies also indicate sterilized dogs live an average of a year and a half longer than intact dogs. If you are concerned about sterilizing your dog, speak with your veterinarian about new non-surgical sterilization options.

Personality Changes

Spayed and neutered pets are just as affectionate, protective, and trainable as unaltered cats and dogs—perhaps more so because they aren’t distracted when love is in the air. Reduced interest in roaming often means pets should eat less food or they can get pudgy. Be sure to adjust the amount and frequency of meals if it seems your pup is gaining weight. Additionally, removing the sexual organs can alter the pet’s metabolism, which also can change as the pup matures. Dogs continue to be just as playful, protective, loyal, and smart whether they can reproduce or not.

The Best Age for Surgery

Adult dogs can be neutered at any age but the best time is before sexual maturity. For many years, the recommended spay/neuter age was 6 to 9 months, however, now it is quite common for surgery to take place at 4 months old. If a puppy’s future involves performance competition, ask your veterinarian and breeder about timing. Delaying for a couple of months may allow the pup to attain better physical development which can be important for the demands of competition.

Since dogs can become pregnant prior to 6 months old, an earlier timeframe makes sense for most dogs. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that shelter pets be sterilized by 4 months. Many shelters neuter puppies when they reach 8 weeks of age (or weigh 2 pounds) and before they are placed for adoption. The babies recover more quickly from the surgery than adult animals. They will grow just as much, and sometimes a bit taller than if they were fixed later in life.

The Surgery

Puppies are completely anesthetized during the surgery and won't feel any discomfort. The anesthetic may be injected or inhaled. Sometimes heart and breathing monitors or EKG machines are used. Doctors may prefer absorbable stitches, surgical staples, or even skin glue to close the incision. The specific routine depends on the size and age of the pet and what the veterinarian prefers.

The surgical incision for male puppies usually is made in the scrotal sac, while an older dog’s incision is often at the base of the penis in front of the scrotum. If one or both testicles have not yet dropped into the scrotum, a tummy incision may be necessary. Female pups will have an abdominal incision for the spay surgery.

Home Care After Surgery

Pets often act a bit woozy until the anesthesia wears off. Some will be ready to go home the same day while others must spend the night at the clinic. Most animals are up and running within hours. Limit your pet’s activity for a couple of days post-surgery and keep the puppy inside to allow for healing. Watch the surgery site for swelling, redness, or pulled stitches, but such problems are rare. If stitches are used, your pup will need to return to the clinic to have them removed in about a week.

Unless a puppy is an ideal example of his breed and in a professional breeding program, is a potential show dog or performance prospect, or there is a medical reason to delay the surgery, sterilizing is highly recommended for the average pet dog.