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happy Ettie terrier 4 days after spay

Spay – yay or nay? How to decide if neutering is right for your dog

So, I did it! Rather the vet did it. Ettie’s had her keyhole spay. It was done last week and I’m received to say that she sailed through it. 

Don’t overshare

When it comes to medical matters, I learned in the worst way not to overshare. My little foundling Toby, who I spotted wandering on his own at around 5 weeks old, died unexpectedly. He’d been a little unwell and while in surgery to see exactly how bad the problem was, I got the worst phone call of my life. It was discovered that the mass was a large tumour that was partially attached to his spleen. The high chance of rupture combined with the cancerous tumour meant that the kindest option was to authorise the vet not to wake him from surgery. 

Not being with him. Not having said my goodbyes. And not knowing how much longer he could have gone on had I decided to close him back up and bring him home were all devastating to me. I was completely distraught. But my distress was heightened as I’d been posting about his vet visits on social media. I was concerned about him but not overly worried. He seemed pretty fit and healthy for a 13 year old dog. Friends and followers were asking how he’d got on, if he was snoozing on the sofa after his op. 

Telling people he was no longer alive was awful. Everyone was shocked. Nobody, including me, expected to be hearing that news on that day. As I write, I can feel the wave of sadness and dread  start to lap at my memory, threatening to drown me in sorrow all over again. I’m surprised how visceral the sensation is, given that I lost him 10 years ago. 

Happy, healthy Ettie

But this blog is about Ettie. And Ettie is happy and healthy, currently playing bitey games with Tablet as I type. So I hope you will forgive me for not writing about Ettie’s spay day until now, a week later. I had to make sure all was well before following up on my previous post written when I booked the op.

As feared, but expected, due to COVID I had to hand her over in the surgery carpark. But Nikos, the clinical director of Werrington Vets, was so kind with us both that I felt reassured that he and his team would take good care of her. This didn’t stop me from bursting into tears as I drove home, my bravery leaving me as I left Ettie. 

Keyhole spay

I’m a huge fan of keyhole surgery. And here in Peterborough we are lucky to have one of the UK’s first surgeons to have adopted it. Marwan had performed keyhole spays on both of my other girls, Cherry and Ella. And had graciously allowed me to observe both operations. I was working full time in behaviour and rescue and had observed multiple traditional castrations and spays. To have the opportunity to see this new, as it was then, procedure was a privilege. Plus it helped me to understand it better and to be able to talk to my clients about it. 

I see so many advantages of keyhole (laparoscopic ovariectomy) over traditional spays. The operation is generally faster, so the dog is under anaesthetic for a much shorter time. Ettie’s spay took 20 minutes. Traditional spays can take up to 90 minutes. But saying that, I’ve seen veterinary surgeons who work in shelters knock an hour off that! 

Small wound

The wound is so much smaller. As you can see from Ettie’s photo, her wound is only one centimetre long. Much smaller compared to the 6-15cm non-keyhole surgery. Ettie only has one wound, but when the other girls were done they had two small wounds, one either side. I assume this is because she’s so small. Her stitches are internal and so will dissolve in time. This means no big wound or tight stitches for Ettie to pick at or worry. And no cone of shame for her.

According to the Royal Veterinary College  “There is a significantly reduced risk of complications.” And “Bleeding from the surgical site is less due to the surgeon having much better visualisation of the ovaries and using advanced equipment to seal the vessels.” All in all the surgery is much less traumatic as only the ovaries are removed rather than ovaries and womb. 

Speedy recovery

Her recovery has been great. For a couple of days following her surgery, she was a little tender. But nothing that couldn’t be helped by snoozing the days away on a cosy blanket in the sunshine. The classic line of ‘Just keep her quiet for a couple of weeks’ didn’t need to be said as recovery from keyhole is faster, usually around 5 days. I have been carrying her up and down stairs, and on and off the sofa. She didn’t feel like going for walks at first, but she’s now keen to be out and about as before. Though I’m keeping her on lead for now, just to be safe. 

And as an additional bonus, she was good as gold when getting prepped for the procedure. I’m told she wasn’t bothered about the clippers and that she was happy to be handled by people she didn’t know. Caring staff, a highly social temperament and maybe even our clipper comfort sessions all combined to make her model patient.

I made this short video to show how I used a vibrating toothbrush to help prepare Ettie for being clipped for her spay

To neuter or not?

The questions and discussion around neutering are many. Should we do it at all? Why? Population control? To promote more selective breeding to improve health and welfare? To prevent certain cancers and other diseases? Why not? It’s unnatural? It’s done for our convenience not the dog’s? It can cause developmental and/or behavioural issues? How should we do it? Hormone sparing – where ovaries are left while the uterus is removed, or a vasectomy for males leaving the testicles intact. Or traditional castration and spay? Then there is the question of when to do it? When pups are still together in the litter? After the first season? The second? When dogs are fully mature? 

Making the decision requires a lot of thought. There are few right answers. You must do what is right for your dog and your situation. Speak to your vet. But also speak to your trainer/behaviourist. I am not a vet but have been a training and behaviour consultant for a looooong time. Therefore I can speak with some authority about the behavioural consequences of neutering. I can share my opinion, experience and research on the veterinary side, but ultimately in medical matters, you must get your vet’s take. Ask lots of questions, make sure you understand the answers. Do your research. And then make your own decision about what to do. 

Behaviour matters

From a behavioural perspective, neutering is generally best done once the dog is mature. Let them develop and grow, both physically and emotionally. For many bitches, riding the ups and downs of hormones can be difficult. Ettie had two seasons before I spayed her. During both she was much grumpier and more short tempered than usual around the other dogs. For some bitches, resource guarding increases to such a level that they pose a real risk to family members, canines and human, but most especially children. 

The boys don’t have the same problem. But all too often their testosterone is erroneously blamed for behavioural issues. It used to be assumed that all aggressive behaviour would be solved by castration. That testosterone was the root of all evil. But we know better now and understand the pros as well as the cons of this hormone.  For example, depleting it can result in dogs becoming more anxious, less confident, more defensive. Whilst some intact dogs can have lower thresholds for aggression resulting in more fights and bites. Also, testosterone isn’t the only factor that contributes to aggressive behaviours. 

Myth busting

Perhaps the biggest myth is that neutering will calm dogs down. In my experience, positive physical and mental training combined with a secure and settled home life will have much more influence over excitability, energy and boisterousness than castration. 

At the end of the day, I believe you should consider the individual dog. Make your decision to neuter or not based on the dog in front of you. Be informed, be clear about why you want to neuter, or not. Don’t bow to cultural norms or pressure from outside forces. Do what is right for your dog, and your circumstances.

Decision time

The decision to have Ettie, or any of my dogs, neutered is never an easy one. For the girls, I had to decide if I’d want them to have pups. For this to happen I’d have to know that their temperaments were 100% sound, that their health was excellent and that we would be contributing to the betterment of the individual breed or general pet population. Ironically, Ella would have been the best of the three females in that regard. But as I’d promised the rescue that I got her from that I would spay her, I couldn’t go back on that. Had I have been able to find a stud dog with such a wonderful temperament as Ella, I’m sure she’d have made a brilliant mum and had glorious puppies. But it wasn’t to be. 

But from a personal perspective, the main reason I couldn’t breed from my girls is the fear of something happening to them. The fear of losing them just so we could all enjoy their puppies was too much for me, no matter the pull of continuing their lineage. 

Happy home

When Ettie arrived, our household already had an entire male, Tablet. So at each season, poor Amie and her boys had to decamp for a month. Unfortunately both Ettie’s seasons came during the pandemic which made it even harder for Amie. This couldn’t go on every six months. And so knowing I’d never breed from her, wanting to avoid the dreaded pyometra, a life threatening infection of the womb, and wanting our household to be harmonious and inclusive, the decision was made. 

Her seasons had been beautifully regular, which made it easy for me to calculate when to book her in. It’s best to choose the time when her hormones were most stable. So not ‘coming down’ from just having had a season. But also not ‘revving up’ getting ready for the next one. Last week makes the date exactly three months after her last season ended. Despite knowing that I’d made an informed decision for all the reasons that were right for Ettie and for me, the guilt hung heavy.  

The guilt

All operations come with risk. The fear of her having an adverse reaction to the anaesthetic. Or her not coming round. Of her bleeding out. Of her picking up an infection. All because I’d decided to put her through an elective surgery. She was fit and healthy and here was I asking a vet to perform surgery. It wasn’t logical to feel guilty about this carefully made decision. But emotionally it was brutal. Hence you only hearing about it now. Now that she’s back to her normal, healthy, happy self. It was the right decision and we got a great result. But the journey to get here was not easy.        

Wonderful resource – and discount – just for you!

My go to canine behavioural resource for all things hormonal is the fabulous Sarah Whitehead. As I was writing this post it occurred to me that you might want to know more about this huge topic too. So I reached out to Sarah and she has given me a generous offer on her peerless course Canine Sex, Hormones & Neutering. As Sarah says, she has “worked to put together the most comprehensive, in-depth online course on this fascinating subject. It’s the result of hundreds of research papers, thousands of hours of study, questioning and a global search to uncover experts who are pioneering the very best science and cutting-edge data on this subject.” If you’d love to deep dive into this complex and often misunderstood aspect of our dogs’ lives and maybe use it to help decide if you should neuter your dog, click here and then use the exclusive coupon code Talking-Dogs at checkout to get £75 off.

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3 thoughts on “Spay – yay or nay? How to decide if neutering is right for your dog”

  1. I’ve had an entire girl from a ‘family rescue’ (with no contract to spay) so know from the 10 years I had her (but didn’t want to operate ‘for no reason’ – she was my first dog – a JRT!) that managing seasons is possible (if a little tedious!). My 3 Springers I’ve had since have all been spayed at maturity (around 15-18 months old), depending on their cycle. Only the first one would have made a good mum – she had temperament to die for and I’d love to have had puppies from her but was too emotional about the thought of giving them up and also had 2 young children at the time so hadn’t the time or the energy to cope with a litter as well. The second one had temperament issues as a youngster that would not have been a good idea to pass on – although we managed them with help and careful training and she went on to be a qualified Search and Rescue Dog (of which paramount importance is the right temperament with people!). This current one had suspected hip dysplasia so she was spayed too, after her first season resulted in a long phantom pregnancy which was so heart-rending to watch. The HD was confirmed by xrays taken whilst under GA for her spay so doubled my resolve that I knew it was the right decision. I would still take each dog on its individual merits but would likely spay again to avoid long-term pyometra etc and as I have no desire to add to the quantity of dogs needing homes when there are so many in rescues already and people seem to be adding to these willy-nilly at the moment – I see so many videos of litters on Facebook, which are all lovely of course, but I’m satisfied with looking at those rather than adding to the problem! I’m glad Ettie’s op was trouble free and she’s making a great recovery. Sorry, probably should have said that first!

    1. Sounds like you’re making great decisions based on each individual dog, so great to hear. To get confirmation that we’ve made the right decision helps it settle better, even when that come in the form of diagnosing an issue. My vet found an issue with Ettie that confirmed my decision too. But she’s grand, back to her usual cheeky self!

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