Archived Story

Spay: An Explanation

Published 12:33am Wednesday, February 13, 2013

With spay/neuter awareness month well into gear, many questions are brought up to veterinarians. What does spay mean? Why should I do this to my pet? What is involved with spaying my pet?

First of all, a common term used by many people to spay or neuter an animal (this author is just as guilty) is “fix” my pet. Your pet is not broken! Let’s start using the terms spay (female) and neuter (male).

Spaying and neutering is a surgical procedure to reproductively sterilize an animal. These procedures prevent unwanted births as well as have effects in behavior modification and medical benefits. The key point is no matter how routine and how often this surgery is done, it is a surgery. And yes, there are always risks with surgery.  We, as veterinarians, do everything we can to minimize the risks, so much so that spaying and neutering has become a standard in veterinary practice. Overnight fasting prior to surgery, pre-anesthetic bloodwork, pre- and post-surgical examinations, overnight hospitalization, are all integral parts of minimizing risks and ensuring surgery success.

Unless there are plans to have a new litter of puppies or kittens, there are many benefits to spaying and neutering your pet. Urine marking, aggression, roaming and mounting legs and other animals are some of the behaviors that may be reduced or eliminated completely. Is this guaranteed? Absolutely not! But, since these particular behaviors are common reasons why animals are surrendered to shelters and euthanized, spaying and neutering gives the animal a fighting chance.

On the medical side, neutering particularly has been shown to reduce the chance of prostate infection and an enlarged prostate, thus preventing urinary problems related to the prostate. For spaying, one primary concern for prevention is cancer, breast cancer specifically. The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (December 2011) sited studies showing dogs spayed before their first heat had a relative risk of 0.5 percent to develop breast cancer. Dogs spayed between their first and second heat, the relative risk was 8 percent. When dogs were spayed after their second or third heat, the relative risk shot up to 26 percent! Of those diagnosed with breast cancer, an average of 47 percent were reported as a malignant tumor. This alone is a great reason to spay early. Along with other medical and behavior benefits too long to list, take this advice and support spay and neuter.


Boorus Yim BS, MS, DVM

Pamlico Animal Hospital

Associate Veterinarian

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