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  • Molly Weinfurter

Spay/Neuter Benefits: When to Spay or Neuter a Dog

Updated: Jun 2

Spaying and neutering are recommended for nearly every dog and cat parent, but why is that? Why should you spay or neuter a dog? For many pet parents, it may seem like an unnecessary procedure while for others, it might seem silly not to do it. So, we’ll look at the pros and cons of spay and neuter so you can decide if/when to get the procedure done on your dog (if you haven’t already).

All the dogs I've owned in my life have been spayed by the rescue before I brought them home. When I foster dogs, I need to take them to the vet to get spayed/neutered if they aren't already fixed. The recovery process is simple and well worth it for all the benefits of spaying/neutering.

Foster dog wearing cone after neuter
Here's one of my foster dogs recovering from getting neutered

Spay or Neuter Definition

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), spaying and neutering are surgical sterilization procedures. The difference between neuter vs spay is that spaying is the procedure for female dogs while neutering is the procedure for male dogs.

During a neuter, the testicles are removed from the male dog. Doing so eliminates the dog’s ability to reproduce, and it may also eliminate behaviors typically associated with reproductive hormones and breeding. 

A typical spay for female pets includes removing the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus. However, in some cases, they may only remove the ovaries. As long as the ovaries are gone, the dog shouldn’t be able to get pregnant and shouldn’t have behaviors related to a breeding instinct.

Pug wearing cone

Benefits of Spaying/Neutering a Dog

The reason so many dog lovers encourage spaying and neutering for dogs (and cats) is because there are lots of benefits, such as the following.

It Provides Health Benefits

Both male and female dogs could live longer if they’re fixed because it can eliminate the risk of some life-threatening procedures. Neutered males are no longer at risk of testicular cancer and they’re less likely to deal with enlarged prostate glands. They may also be less likely to get hernias, and since neutered dogs roam less, they may be exposed to less harmful bugs and parasites.

Spayed female dogs are less likely to develop breast tumors. According to the ASPCA, breast tumors are cancerous or severely harmful in 50% of dogs and 90% of cats. Getting your dog spayed before her first heat cycle (around six months) reduces the risk of breast cancer significantly and protects them from ovarian and uterine cancer.

Females Won’t Go Into Heat

Female dogs and cats typically go into heat at around six months old if they’re not spayed. When in heat, your pet may be more vocal because they’re trying to call for a mate. They may also mark their territory more often and release bloody fluids, causing more cleaning for the owner.

Dogs usually only go into heat twice a year, and a cycle can last for two to three weeks. While manageable, it’s something many new dog parents aren’t prepared for.

Males May Be Less Likely to Run Away

Intact males are more likely to wander away when given the opportunity because they’re determined to find a mate. Some may find creative ways to escape the house in search of a female. Having a dog run away can be devastating because they can travel far in a short amount of time and there are lots of ways for them to get severely injured. If neutered, males are less likely to run off.

Neutered Males May Be Better Behaved

During the search for a mate, intact males may display other unwanted behaviors in addition to roaming. Unneutered dogs are more prone to aggression, especially toward other males as a way to fight for a mate. They’re also more likely to mark their territory and mount other dogs (and sometimes people and inanimate objects).

Poodle mix puppy sitting

You Won’t Have to Deal with an Unwanted Pregnancy

Most dog parents don’t have the time or money to care for a whole litter of puppies. It might seem cute in theory, but it’s a lot to handle, and when all the dogs are cared for properly, breeding isn’t profitable for the owner. So, it’s best to leave it to the ethical breeders who know what they’re doing.

Even if your dog always stays inside and is never alone with other dogs, there’s still a risk of them getting pregnant or getting another dog pregnant. No one expects their dog to run away until they do, and if a dog running loose isn’t fixed, they’re likely to produce some puppies.

It Can Save You Money

Some dog parents avoid spaying and neutering because it can be expensive at some vets. However, getting your dog fixed will typically save you money in the long run because of the benefits. You won’t have to worry about supporting a litter of puppies, and your dog will have a lower risk of some major health problems that would otherwise be costly down the road.

Plus, there are lots of low-cost spay and neuter clinics. If you’re having trouble affording the procedure, talk to your local shelter or rescue to see if they know of any affordable options in your area.

You’ll Be Helping with the Dog Overpopulation Issue

One of the biggest reasons dog lovers urge others to spay and neuter is because dogs are overpopulated. Sadly, many dogs are put down in shelters because of people not getting their dogs fixed (and because of puppy mills creating a surplus of dogs).

Even if your dog only runs away once, a male dog could impregnate several females and a female that gets pregnant could produce a whole litter of puppies that may not get fixed either. So, one mistake could lead to a whole chain of dogs producing unwanted litters. 

No matter how confident you are that your dog won’t produce a litter, it’s always better to be safe than sorry because of how bad the overpopulation issue is.

French Bulldog at the vet

Are There Any Downsides to Spaying/Neutering a Dog?

Like with any medical procedure, there are risks involved. Luckily, the risks are low because these procedures are performed so frequently by vets, so they know what they’re doing. Even so, it’s good to be aware of the potential issues.

Spaying and neutering could potentially increase the risk of incontinence, joint problems, and certain cancers. However, the vet will do a health checkup before the procedure before moving forward. If the vet doesn’t think the procedure is safe for your dog, they will let you know and either cancel or postpone it.

After a spay/neuter procedure, your dog's incision could be at risk of infection if you don't follow the post-operation care closely.

If you’re worried about potential risks, talk to your vet about it. They can give you personalized advice to help you decide if it’s right for your dog.

When to Spay/Neuter a Dog

Luckily, most reputable sources will either spay/neuter a dog before you bring them home or they’ll have you sign a contract to have them fixed by a certain date. At the rescue I volunteer for, we always make sure the dogs are fixed before they get adopted. However, if your dog wasn’t fixed when you brought them home and doesn’t have an appointment already set, you’ll need to decide when to get them spayed or neutered.

A healthy puppy can be fixed as early as eight weeks old, but most dog parents wait until four to six months old. However, there’s no exact timeline for this procedure. The best way to go about it is to talk to your vet and see what they recommend based on your dog’s health history.

Dog after spay or neuter

Myths About Spaying/Neutering Dogs

A lot of dog parents talk to each other about spay/neuter procedures, but sometimes, incorrect information gets spread around. Here are some harmful myths.

Myth: Spaying and Neutering Cause Weight Gain

While some dogs experience weight gain after the procedure, dogs don’t become overweight solely because they were spayed or neutered. The exact cause of a dog becoming obese or overweight can vary, but it’s often related to not having a proper routine.

Some dogs may have different energy levels as they age, regardless of whether they’re fixed or not. So, you will need to adjust their diet and serving sizes to account for those energy changes. Also, puppies and adult dogs need very different diets, so be sure to adjust that as your dog grows to prevent weight gain. When in doubt, ask your vet for advice on how to keep your dog a healthy weight.

Myth: It’s an Instant Fix for Behavior Problems

While dogs may have some positive behavior changes after the procedure, such as reduced aggression, humping less, and a reduced interest in running away, spaying/neutering doesn’t guarantee your dog will behave better. Spaying/neutering should never be used as a substitute for training.

So, to set your dog up for success, make sure you keep up with consistent training. You may need to take a break from training while your dog recovers from their spay/neuter, but be sure to pick up where you left off when they’re feeling better.

Myth: Indoor Pets Don’t Need to Be Spayed/Neutered

Some dog parents question why their dog needs to be spayed/neutered if they’re never left alone outside. The answer is that accidents happen. Even the best-behaved dogs can run off or get lost, which could cause them to create an unwanted litter.

Plus, if you want to take your dog to places with other dogs, such as the dog park or doggy daycare, it’s best to have them fixed (and some places even require it).

Great Pyrenees wearing giant cone

Spay/Neuter Procedure: What to Expect

Since spaying and neutering is a medical procedure, pet parents need to properly look after their pets before and after to ensure they heal properly. Your vet should give you detailed instructions, but here’s what to expect.

Preparing for the Procedure

Pets cannot eat any food after midnight before the surgery. So, if you free-feed your dog, be sure to remove your dog’s access to food at night. Some vets may ask you to restrict access to water too.

Before you bring your dog to their appointment, make sure you take them out to do their business. Stay calm around your dog because sometimes dogs can feel anxious if they sense that their humans are nervous.

Care Requirements After

For 10 to 14 days after your pet’s surgery, you’ll need to restrict their exercise. Specifically, make sure they’re not jumping up on furniture or running up and down stairs. Intense exercise could pull the stitches open and cause infection, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

You will likely need to keep a cone on your dog for that time too. Cones can prevent dogs from biting the incision and ripping it open. If your dog isn’t interested in the incision, you may be able to take the cone off when they’re supervised, but always keep it on when you’re not paying attention to them. 

Check the incision at least once or twice a day to make sure it’s healing properly. Make sure the incision stays dry, and contact your vet if anything looks concerning. Once the incision heals, your dog is free to be as active as they want again.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Much is it to Spay or Neuter a Dog?

A spay/neuter can cost anywhere from $25 to $500 depending on where you get it done. Luckily, there are lots of low cost spay and neuter clinics that offer the procedure for cheap or free to encourage more pet parents to do it.

How Can I Find a Low Cost Spay and Neuter Clinic Near Me?

Search “low cost spay and neuter clinic near me” to see local options. You may also be able to ask local rescues and shelters for advice on low cost spay and neuter options.

At What Age Should I Spay/Neuter My Pet?

Dogs can be spayed as early as eight weeks old, but most pet parents do it around six months old. Ask your vet for personalized advice on when to spay/neuter your dog.

Are There Health Risks Associated with Spaying/Neutering?

Health risks are typically low for spaying/neutering. However, without proper post-surgery care, pets could be at risk of infection.

Will Spaying/Neutering Change My Pet’s Behavior?

Spaying/neutering won’t completely change your pet’s behavior, but it could make them less aggressive, less likely to wander, and less likely to hump objects and animals. While the procedure can help with these bad behaviors, it should never be a replacement for proper training.

Can I Spay/Neuter a Senior Pet?

Yes, you can spay/neuter older pets. However, spaying/neutering is typically recommended before a pet reaches sexual maturity, so talk to your vet to find out if spaying/neutering is recommended for your adult dog. They can do a checkup to make sure your furry friend is in good enough shape for the procedure.

Vet looking at dog

Spaying/Neutering Saves Lives!

Spaying and neutering are recommended for most dogs and cats because they can improve their health and behavior while also preventing unwanted litters. If you’re on the fence about whether or not you should get the procedure, talk about the details with your vet to help you decide what’s best for your furry friend.


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