Whether you choose to have your dog spayed, or the decision is forced upon you for health reasons (as was our case), there are several things you can do to help your dog before, and care for your dog after, spaying.
I’ve rescued lots of dogs in my life and have often had the bitches spayed before finding them a home. Not all dogs are the same: I have to say that all the rescues were much more straightforward and less worrisome than my fur-daughter, Toxa. She was spayed 4 months ago and her behaviour post-op still hasn’t returned to normal. Perhaps it never will…
At what age should you spay your dog?
Spaying a bitch can be beneficial for its health. However, if you spay her too early – or too late – it can in fact be counter-productive. A dog that is spayed too young might not produce the necessary hormones that will be needed later in her life, so having the procedure performed at the right age is very important.
The current advice is to have your dog spayed shortly after her first season. This ensures that she is in the right part of her hormonal cycle, and that she has reached sexual maturity.
Should I spay my dog?
However, that is also being questioned these days as newer research helps us understand the consequences of spaying. Your vet of course will advise you if it is the right moment, or the best option, for your lovely girl.
I never intended for Toxa, my gorgeous dobermann, to be spade. The intention was always for her to mate with Mino, my dobermann male. Unfortunately, try as he might, he never had any luck: each time she came on heat, they would spend a fortnight desperately trying – him with his atrocious aim and her chickening out whenever he finally got near ‘the right spot’. This went on for 6 years of twice-yearly seasons, when Toxa suddenly became ill with pyometra.
More on that elsewhere, but suffice to say that a dog with pyometra is in grave danger, and most vets will advise an emergency spaying. If that happens to you, it won’t matter how old your dog is before it can be spayed.
How to prepare your dog for spaying
In a normal situation, your dog shouldn’t have any food after 6pm on the night before the operation, though she can still have water until the next morning.
It’s totally understandable if you’re feeling nervous about her procedure – all operations have a risk after all – but it’s important to stay calm yourself. I say this like it’s easy, but I was well aware of having to steady my own nerves the morning I took Toxa in to the vet. Watching them lead my fur-daughter away to the operating room was heart-wrenching.
How to care for a dog after spaying
Your vet will of course advise you on any specific post-op treatment and handling. The most important aspects of post-op care are: restricting your dog’s movements so she doesn’t open up the stitches or jiggle her insides around too much, and protecting the wound.
A clean bed
Once you get your girl home from the vet, make sure she has a clean, comfy bed ready. Ideally, this should be low to the ground (ie, not up on your bed), so that she doesn’t have to climb up to get into it. Sudden movements like jumping up onto a bed can be problematic for recently stitched up doggies, so best avoid it if possible.
If, like Toxa, your dog needed a drip, you’ll have to remove the bandage on arrival at home
Keeping the wound protected
You might think that you’ll need to care for your dog ‘s wound after spaying, to keep her wound clean, but you don’t, and neither should she. There might be a little weeping from the wound, which is normal, but it shouldn’t be dripping. In the past we always used to torture our dogs with those awful lampshade-style cones to stop them licking their wounds.
Thankfully these days there’s a much more efficient, and more comfortable option following a spaying procedure. Enter the doggy ‘baby-grow’ post-op suit! Toxa’s wearing hers in the photo above.
Toxa’s op was done in the summer, and I was concerned she’d get too hot in this suit, but she didn’t. Hers was made of lightweight cotton, and we bought it in the vet’s practice. You can get them online too. Essentially, it covers her tummy and back end so she can’t lick herself. Since it covers the wound, there’s no need to keep the wound clean: it stays protected and clean.
Weeping wound after spaying
The weeping from the wound did stain the suit though, so I washed it every other day and quickly dried it whilst leaving her in one of her pyjama suits. This wasn’t ideal, given the warm weather at the time, but thankfully her post-op baby-grow suit dried super fast.
The only downside to covering your girl up in this way is when she needs to go and do her business, you have to undo the closure at her back end and temporarily tie it out of the way – you don’t want her peeing all over her lovely new baby-grow now do you?
Toxa’s suit had popper buttons to close it over the rear end, or ‘pop’ it up onto her back to leave her free to go toilet. Honestly, it’s no different to us ladies wearing dungarees or a catsuit – you have the annoying faff of undoing it and putting it back on once you’ve done your thing.
How long will my dog be in pain after spaying?
According to my vet, a hysterectomy is far less painful for a dog than it is for a human. She explained that the operation is not as invasive as the human equivalent. All the same, the vet prescribed Tramadol for Toxa, noting that it would probably not be needed.
The problem is, how do you know when your dog is in pain? There are some tell-tale signs, but many of those are also characteristic of having just had an operation which leaves you feeling like, well… crap.
It’s super important to make sure no one pesters her, especially children and other dogs. Believe me, I speak from experience here.
I have just 3 scars on my body. In reverse chronological order they are:
Scar # one, on my nose from a blocked tear duct operation. Prior to the op I was constantly crying in just one eye. Post-op I looked like a crash victim.
Scar # two, on my shin from when I was a teenager doing a paper round. There was a row of houses that were set back a long way from the street. I thought it would be a good idea (ie lazy) to avoid having to walk back to the street after delivering to each house. Instead, I figured it would be really smart to run across the front of the house, ducking down as I crossed in front of the window, and passing straight over into the next door garden. In the dark I didn’t see the wire that had been stretched out as a boundary between the 2 properties. Ouch. Moral of the story: don’t be so lazy.
Scar # three, my first ever scar. I was 8 years old and our family pet labrador, Sasha, had just been spayed. My parents warned me to leave her in peace, but I thought she’d really benefit from some ‘get well soon’ snuggles. Yep, I didn’t appreciate at the time that if you’ve just had someone poking around your insides, the last thing you want is an 8 year old pressing upon said insides in an attempt to hug you. Doh! Sasha lashed out in her pain, undoubtedly the only time in her life she was ever aggressive in any way.
The bite perforated my upper eye lid, but thankfully didn’t damage my eyeball or eyesight. Lesson learned. Moral of the story: if you have kids at home and your fur-daughter is being spayed, make sure that your kids really, really give the poor dog some space. You too.
How long does it take for a dog to recover from being spayed?
It’s not just people that you’ll need to protect your dog from. Other dogs can cause havoc with your girl’s recovery. The moment I got Toxa home, Mino began pestering her. He didn’t usually pay her much attention, except when she was in season, so it was unusual for him to be so interested in her. For her part, Toxa snarled and growled at him each time he tried to get close. This lasted for at least a week.
Unable to settle
She was terribly unsettled and couldn’t get comfortable in any one place or position. Usually, both she and Mino sleep on my bed, but thankfully she didn’t even try to jump up on to the bed or the sofa. For the first few days she drifted from one part of the house to another. I just provided blankets on the floor in each room.
Difficulty going to the toilet
She also struggled to go to the toilet for the first few days. She clearly wanted to go, but she couldn’t crouch, so she ended up doing it almost standing up.
I also found her shaking quite a lot. Given that it was summer, it wasn’t that she was cold. I comforted her by gentle stroking.
What worried me most though was her loss of appetite.
My dog won’t eat after spaying
In the first week after the spaying, Toxa ate very little. Every day I tried her on some new food to see what might interest her. If she ate a little of something one day, say, liver, I’d try it again the next day, but she’d refuse it. I was making daily trips to the butcher in a quest to find some kind of protein that might awaken her appetite.
She had a check up with the vet scheduled for 48 hours after the procedure. They checked her out and all her vitals were fine. She wasn’t dehydrated. They weren’t too worried.
Try a bit of everything
She continued to eat very little for the rest of the first week. I was worried she’d waste away. All the usual things she loved – like cheese – just got left in her bowl. For the next couple of weeks she still wasn’t eating ‘normally’. She was still super picky, and often left food. I prepared lots of different home-made treats, to try and find something new each day that she might eat. See here for home-made dog treat recipes.
Eventually, she began to eat a little bit more each day. She became less picky and would eat the same protein 2 days in a row. Gradually, her appetite returned to normal. However, she continued to be picky for a couple of months. There would often be days that she just wouldn’t touch her food.
I tried to give her quiet time, plenty of rest, and affection when she wanted it, just like any of us ladies would want if we’d just had a sterilisation operation. Only now, 4 months after the op, is her appetite back to how it was pre-op.
Exercise after dog spaying
It’s important that your girl doesn’t overdo it after having the procedure. She shouldn’t be jumping up on things, running around, or going out for walks for 10 to 14 days post-op. So what can you do if you can’t exercise your dog for the next 2 weeks?
Clearly you’ll have to take her out to do her business, then straight back inside. In the house there are lots of activities you can offer her to keep her mentally stimulated, rather than physically active. See here for a list of mentally stimulating games you can play with her.
A fantastic, low impact option to replace her walks at this time would be to do some enrichment free work – if you’ve never done it with your dog, take a look at his article. It’s very rewarding for them, both physically and mentally.
No, this isn’t me being lazy and leaving my bed unmade…
The final negative aspect of the sterilisation was the phantom pregnancy. If you spay your dog at the wrong moment in their reproductive cycle, there can be a risk of them having a phantom pregnancy. That’s why your vet will advise you to do it at certain moments in your dog’s life and not others.
Given that Toxa’s procedure was an emergency, we didn’t have this luxury though, and she did suffer a phantom pregnancy afterwards. After the op, she immediately began to ‘nest build’. Once she was able to jump up on the bed, I’d find it unmade: pillows everywhere and the duvet pulled up. I’d remake the bed and she’d just make another nest again. Some days, I just shut the bedroom door so she couldn’t get in, as I’d be re-making the bed several times a day.
This habit has lessened over time, but she still does it. Instead of 10 times a day, she’s building nests once a day, or every other day. I’ve accepted that this is an aspect of her post-op behaviour that looks like it’s here to stay. I put a big cover on the bed now and try to tuck it down the back of the pillow so she can’t easily dig it all up.
Otherwise, her health, appetite and energy are all great. Given that the op saved her life, I figure that having her try to build nests for the rest of her life is a small price to pay to still have my girl with me.
Whether you choose to have your dog spayed, or it is done as part of an emergency procedure, there are lots of ways you can care for your dog after spaying, from keeping the wound protected to handling her feed and exercise needs.