I do sometimes come across pet owners who are unsure about spaying, and I am always happy to discuss with them the pros and cons to be sure that their decision, whatever it might be, is based on facts.
Every time I see an older unneutered bitch suffering from a pyometra or from mammary cancer it feels like a personal failure. If only at some earlier point in that pet’s life I had succeeded in explaining the choices in a better way, this pet need not suffer these very serious illnesses.
Of course, neutering prevents the risk of pregnancy. With every rescue centre in the UK bursting at the seams with pets awaiting a home, unplanned pregnancies are very important to avoid.
And another huge advantage is the absence of female cycles or heats, which can be a messy inconvenience, attracting male dogs for three weeks.
But to my mind, the advantages for the dog’s long term health make neutering an obvious choice.
An unneutered bitch still has all her female organs, including her ovaries and womb, whereas a neutered one has had these removed.
In middle to old age, there is a very common infection of the womb called pyometra. The womb fills with pus, swelling as if it were full of puppies. That amount of infection swiftly becomes toxic, and blood poisoning follows. The bitch will die unless a spay procedure is briskly performed. But this spay is so much more dangerous than one done when she was young and fit.
I have to operate on an elderly, near-death patient, and remove an organ swollen with additional blood supply and at risk of bursting and flooding the belly with infection.
The other huge disease associated with not spaying is mammary cancer. Many research projects have confirmed that neutering a lady dog in good time, dramatically reduces her risk of mammary cancer later in life.
It makes me feel so sad when I have to break the news that a much-loved pet has a cancer that could have been avoided if only she had received the spay procedure as a youngster.