Thoughts About When To Spay or Neuter and How To Manage the Post-Surgical Dogs
Updated: Jan 23
This question comes up frequently. I’d like to take a minute to give you my personal views on this issue and what my experience has shown me.
Most veterinarians advise leaving large breed dogs intact longer than with average-sized breeds. In the case of a pair of male/female pups working together, this goal must be tempered with consideration for the safety of the female.
Accidental breeding to a sibling is a much bigger risk factor than spaying early, to the dam, and to her inbred offspring, as is accidental breeding to any dog. One of the worst pairings I have ever heard of, and one that is common, unfortunately, is that of an LGD crossed with a stock dog such as a Border Collie. The poor pups have a confused mentality and an uncertain future because they are difficult to live with. So, no accidents, please…zero tolerance for that.
Separating a pair of intact dogs on the same property can be incredibly difficult! In 2019, Centurion taught me a lot about the determination of a motivated male. This good dog went through under or over almost every fence on my property in an effort to get to Blush when she cycled just six months after having twelve puppies.
So she had twelve more puppies despite my huge efforts to prevent this from happening. We have substantial fences, and until this year, I had never had a problem with keeping my intact dogs apart. Centurion amazed me, even going so far as to bloody his mouth by gnashing on the fencing separating him from Blush. I ended up boarding him off the property until Blush finished her cycle, but that was too little too late. So, back to planning ahead….
I prefer to neuter the male of the pair first; my veterinarian prefers that I spay the female first.
If I neuter the male first, I usually do that at 7-9 months of age. Male pups have the potential to be fertile by 10 months of age, and the females normally cycle by the time they are one year old, so waiting longer than this is risky. Often my decision is made for me. If the male begins to show me undesirable behavior changes that I know I can curtail by neutering him, I would rather do that than take a chance that the pup's learned behaviors may become a problem.
My female dogs have never given me a run for my money from a behavioral standpoint like some of my male dogs have, but if they did, I would have no problem with switching this order. My veterinarian prefers I spay my females in that 7-9-month-old age window because she says that this is a simple surgery for a dog this young.
I followed her advice with our 2021 pups, and I have certainly seen a difference in how quickly the young females bounce back from their surgery in comparison to the same surgical procedure done on a more mature dog. The younger dogs hardly seem to notice anything happened, other than showing a similar desire to get to their sutures.
I would not do surgery with both dogs of the pair at the same time because that would leave their livestock unprotected while the dogs recover from their surgery. On our property, accidental breeding from a wandering dog is very unlikely because of our fencing and because the partner male would not allow the presence of an interloper.
I have never experienced post-surgical problems with my male or female dogs.
There is often a balance to be sought when supporting an animal through a difficult time. Forcing a dog to do something it really doesn’t want to do or understand can result in a loss of trust in an owner that lasts far beyond the time of confinement. It is imperative to support your dog’s emotional health as well as his/her physical health in this post-surgical situation.
I really, really love using Trazodone during these times. It is a safe, well-tolerated drug. It is similar in use to Valium for people. This inexpensive drug can help your dog through challenging times. I also use it when I transport dogs and sometimes for grooming.
It is very important that a dog wearing an Elizabethan plastic cone, or any other type of cone/collar, be housed alone. They can't see as well when they are wearing a cone, or hear as well. They are vulnerable, and the cone may be viewed as a chew toy by a dog that is in with the dog wearing the cone.
When I spayed my Lilliana, it was critical that she leave her sutures alone because her surgery was extreme, so an actual plastic awful cone was necessary. She absolutely went crazy when I put it on her. I gave her Trazodone throughout the 14 days she wore her cone to mediate her anxiety. That made a huge difference for her.
I use a plastic cone after neutering a male for the first 24-48 hours, but I don't usually need to use it longer than that. If I need to mediate a dog's efforts at getting to his sutures, I use a moderate dosage of Trazodone for another day or two rather than continuing the use of a cone.
There is a collar I prefer to use that is called a Zen collar. It is canvas, so it is better tolerated by the dogs than the typical hard plastic ones. Often it is possible to put the collar on facing backward across the shoulders. This will prevent the dog from getting to his stitches while allowing him to see and eat normally. This canvas collar will not provide enough protection for a very motivated dog, but the risk to a male dog of getting to his surgical site is less than is true for a female dog, so I often switch to this collar on day two, post-surgery, for my male dogs.
This video provides a lot of information about how I manage my female dogs after they have been spayed.
The choice to spay or neuter a dog is a personal one, but not something to be fearful of. Go into it with a plan in place, and a backup plan if Plan A proves to be flawed. Have at least 2 cones on hand (2 different kinds in case one doesn’t work out well) before you head to the vet, and for sure, come home with Trazodone. Talk with your vet about this prior to scheduling the surgery.
Your dog will need a sheltered place to be for the 24 hours post-surgery because the anesthetic prevents the dog from thermoregulating normally.
Keeping the dog in a livestock area is critical; bringing him/her into the garage overnight can cause you huge lasting problems.
The dog will be comforted by being close to his/her partner, but not in with the partner for the first few days. When the dog appears to feel normal, the partners can be together, but the activity level of the dog that had surgery needs to dial back, so if partners are rambunctious, they’ll need to put up with sharing a fence line for a few days longer.
The good news is the spay/neuter process is usually more stressful for owners than it is for dogs, and the stress of the owner can be alleviated through education. I hope this blog was helpful!