Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
What Does It Mean If a Dog Has Been Spayed?
A dog who has been spayed, or fixed, has gone through a surgical procedure that is technically known as ovariohysterectomy, also more commonly known as spay surgery. This means that the female dog's reproductive tract has been completely removed, including her ovaries, oviducts, uterine horns, and uterus.
Without these reproductive organs, the dog cannot get pregnant and can no longer get twice-a-year heat cycles (or once a year, depending on breed) that are triggered by hormones.
If you don't know if your dog has been spayed or not, don't worry—you're not alone! Countless new dog owners go through this exact same dilemma. The shelter may claim that the previous owners had the dog spayed. However, can you trust this statement alone? What if the owners didn't know for sure? What if they were trying to hide the fact that their dog wasn't spayed? This is important information to know, especially if your neighborhood is full of intact males.
Signs a Dog Has Been Spayed or Fixed
Unfortunately, there are no outwardly visible signs that indicate if a dog has been spayed or not. However, there are some clues that can help you figure this out, including:
- A spay incision
- Smaller secondary sexual traits
- Absence of heat cycle
- Medical records
- Information provided by a tattoo or microchip
- Hormonal tests
- Exploratory Surgery
Your vet, of course, would be more experienced in detecting these signs and determining which tests may be most appropriate. Let's take a closer look into several of these signs and "diagnostic tests."
Signs That a Dog Has Been Spayed
Unfortunately, your dog won't tell you if she is spayed or not. Even if she could talk, she wouldn't even be able to remember the procedure. Nowadays, dogs are spayed often when they are very young (especially if you got your dog from a shelter) and they are put under anesthesia. However, there are some clues to help you figure it out.
Look for a Spay Incision
Spay surgery requires the dog's abdomen to be opened in order to remove the reproductive parts. In most cases, the dog will have had stitches that might have been taken out or absorbed. Because of this procedure, most spayed dogs will have an incision.
This incision, however, may not be easy to detect. It is quite small and difficult to see. You may need to shave your dog's belly to see the scar. The scar is located in the dog's ventral midline.
If you do happen to see or feel an incision on your dog's abdomen, consider that a prior hernia or a cesarean surgery may have left a similar scar. It's best to see your vet for confirmation rather than end up with a litter of unexpected puppies!
Check for Secondary Sexual Traits
You may notice how a spayed dog's mammary glands, nipples, and vulva are smaller compared to those of intact, non-fixed females. However, according to the ASPCA, there is no concrete evidence that grants any significance to this size difference.
Wait for a Heat
In some cases, you may just want to wait until your dog displays signs of a heat. Of course, during this time, treat her responsibly, as if she was intact.
Dogs generally go into heat every six to seven months, but there are many exceptions, depending on the breed. For instance, if you own a female Basenji, you may be forced to wait a whole year if she recently went into heat before you got her, as these dogs tend to go into heat just once a year (generally in the fall).
Of course, even in this case, there are exceptions. Sometimes, a dog who has been spayed will still go into heat if some ovarian tissue was left behind during the surgery. In this case, the dog may still produce hormones that cause the symptoms of a heat cycle to kick in, even if the dog has been spayed. This is quite rare, but it's worth a mention!
Investigate the Dog's Medical Records
This may be a bit tough, but you may be rewarded if you can find your dog's medical records. For instance, if you know the name of the previous dog owner, you can call several vet offices in your town and see if they still have the dog's medical records.
While client confidentiality must be maintained, sometimes people are willing to tell you if a dog has been spayed or neutered once you tell them about your dilemma. If your town requires dogs to be licensed, you may also get some help by calling animal control or the local city hall, as they often record this type of information.
Check for a Tattoo or Microchip
In some cases, dogs are tattooed for identification purposes. Along with their identity, their reproductive status is also recorded. And don't forget to check for a microchip—this little chip can contain important information, including if your dog has been spayed or not. You'll need a universal reader, which can be found at your local vet or shelter, though the shelter should have checked for microchips before giving the dogs up for adoption.
As you can see, there are several ways to determine if a dog has been spayed or not. A combination of these factors is a good indicator that your dog cannot give birth. Always consult with a veterinarian to determine your dog's reproductive status and never make assumptions—they can end up being costly.
Ask Your Vet for Hormonal Testing
Your vet may provide some options should a spay incision be difficult to detect. In some cases, the vet may check for a specific hormone, or they may take a look at cells collected from the vaginal wall.
For example, you can tell if a dog is fixed by measuring the amount of luteinizing hormone present in the dog's blood. A great percentage of spayed dogs have high levels of this hormone in their blood, whereas intact animals have lower levels.
However, keep in mind that about 22% of tested intact dogs also have high levels of this hormone. This is because intact dogs undergo brief episodic surges in the luteinizing hormone concentrations.
Alternatively, the vet may inject a hormone and then take a few blood samples afterward to check for ovarian activity. While these tests are not fool-proof, together they can help provide a clearer picture that, according to the Oklahoma State University Boren Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, can save a dog from undergoing an exploratory surgery.
In general these tests can be used to gain some insights about a dog's hormonal status: vaginal cytology sample (to check for cornified epithelial cells indicative of estrogen stimulation) luteinizing hormone test, serum progesterone concentration and anti-Müllerian hormone assay (measures Anti-Müllerian hormone, AMH).
Ask for an Ultrasound
Although an ultrasound can provide insights on whether a dog was spayed or not, it can be challenging checking for those cases of dogs who have been spayed but have some ovarian tissue left behind. Ovarian remnants may be located virtually anywhere in a dog's abdomen and can be challenging to find even by the most experienced ultrasound users.
Finally, as a last resort, the vet may decide to go into surgery and do an exploratory surgery. Most often, this is the case of a dog who is spayed and has some ovarian tissue left behind which is difficult to detect and may need a more "hands on" approach to detect and remove.
© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 08, 2019:
Your vet should be able to tell whether she is spayed or not by looking for a scar and additional testing. I am not aware of the exact costs for checking her hormone levels, you can try to call around your local vets as prices may vary considerably based on location. An ultrasound can come handy as well to check for reproductive organs.
Laswanson57 on November 07, 2019:
Three years ago I adopted a female dog. Her nipples and vagina were very pronounced. I was told to wait for her to go into heat because we weren't sure that she was spayed (I took her to the pet store for vaccinations). A few months later, she went into heat and I took her in to be spayed. Her vagina and nipples receded after the surgery, and she has a tattoo. Now I've adopted a foundling. Again, extremely pronounced nipples and vagina. There is no sign of a tattoo and considering how traumatized she was when I got her, it's a pretty sure bet that her former owner, whoever that may be, didn't get her spayed. What if she doesn't go into heat? With my other dog, I was told to just wait to spare her the pain and trauma of surgery in case she had been spayed. Is the hormone test to determine ovarian activity expensive? I've always spayed/neutered my dogs for their health.
Andy on May 03, 2019:
anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) test.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 05, 2013:
Thanks for stopping by Midget38! I went through this puzzle as well a few years ago with a dog I fostered.
Michelle Liew from Singapore on May 04, 2013:
Great tips especially for those who are thinking of adopting, but not sure how to go about it. Thanks for sharing!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 04, 2013:
Thanks for the votes up Eiddwen. I dealt with this situation with a foster dog and wasn't sure if she was spayed or not as the rescue had no clue.
Eiddwen from Wales on May 04, 2013:
So very interesting and also so useful to all dog owners. Voting up.
What to expect when spaying a female dog
Spaying is for females while neutering is for the guys. While the expected outcome is the same, the procedures are very much different.
Neutering is simple and fast. Spaying on the other hand is major surgery that sees the ovaries and the uterus removed. However, it should not scare you because your beloved pet will only be affected for a few days, maybe a little longer but not more than a week.
After that, she will have healed and things will be normal, except for the many benefits she will enjoy.
What To Know About Dogs in Heat
In this Article
In this Article
In this Article
There comes a time in the life of an intact female dog when they’re ready to breed. This period is called being in heat. The stage of heat, also called estrus or season, has distinct physical and behavioral signs.
Many of the estrus factors, such as frequency, length of time, and severity, are dependent on your dog’s age and breed. Your dog may have symptoms that are particular to them.
Spaying Your Dog: What To Expect & Post-Op Care
The thought of your dog having surgery is a scary one. Sure, there are some surgeries (like spaying a female dog) that’s become so common, many tend to think of it as routine. But spaying a female dog is major, invasive surgery! To put it in perspective, think about a human having a hysterectomy. It’s the same procedure. In most cases, the surgery entails removing the dog’s ovaries and uterus. So, it should be no surprise that little Fifi will need ample down time to recover and plenty of care.
Proper post-surgical home care for your dog is crucial to her recovery. The best way to recover safely and uneventfully is to first understand the procedure and then get familiar with your veterinarian’s post-op instructions. Read on for some basics on spaying and what to expect.
What Is Spaying?
When your dog is spayed, she will be put under general anesthesia. So, your dog will be fully asleep and intubated (AKA a breathing tube will be put down her throat). While she is under, the veterinarian will make an incision just below your dog’s belly button into the abdomen. Through this incision, she will remove the dog’s reproductive tract, both ovaries, and the uterus. Then, she will stitch the incision closed — those stitches will eventually dissolve. The exposed skin will also be closed with either skin glue, stitches, or, in some cases, staples.
Most often, female dogs are spayed to prevent unplanned pregnancy. After spay, a female will no longer have heat cycles and will be unable to get pregnant.
Then there are intact dogs who need to be spayed for medical reasons. Veterinarians say spay surgery decreases the chance of mammary/breast cancer and other reproductive cancers, as well as eliminates the possibility of pyometra (a potentially deadly uterine infection).
Scheduling The Appointment
If you haven’t already gone over the details, ask your vet to explain what you should expect on the day of surgery. Your vet will discuss eating/drinking restrictions the day before surgery, drop off time, surgery time, what exactly she’ll undergo, and the waking up process (more on this in the next section).
This is also a good time to discuss pain management. Request a basic copy of post-surgical instructions so you can get familiar with them. Being knowledgable and prepared always helps things go smoother when you get home.
Usually, your veterinary staff will schedule drop off for early in the morning (around 7 -8 am). However, your dog’s surgery may not actually take place until a few hours later. Meanwhile, you’re at home worrying and the surgery hasn’t even started. They request such an early dropoff for a few reasons: to ensure your dog doesn’t eat or drink anything, run any necessary tests, get the IV started, etc. To alleviate your own worries, ask your vet when your dog’s procedure is scheduled to start. Also, give them your phone number and ask the staff to keep you updated — when the surgery begins and as soon as it’s over.
When the surgery is over, your little girl will be taken to the post-op area where she will be monitored very closely. The staff will keep her warm and she may still get some fluids in her IV. Slowly, she’ll wake up from the anesthesia.
Most times, the techs will try to get her to urinate before going home. Sometimes a dog will go home without peeing first just because things could be slowed down after anesthesia. If that’s the case, make sure she passes her urine at some point later that same day.
Discharge To Home
Take someone with you when you go to pick up your pooch. This way one person can drive and the other can take charge of her.
Don’t be surprised if she is somewhat whiney when you get her. She’s been through a lot — physically and emotionally! You’ll also notice she’s still a bit groggy and wobbly from the anesthesia. It’ll likely be 12 to 24 hours before the full effects wear off. This is a good thing, though, because rest and quiet time are best for your recovering girl.
As far as pain meds, your vet will have already medicated her for pain. But she will send you home with additional pain meds for the next few days. Depending on the circumstances, you may also be sent home with anti-inflammatory medication and maybe even an antibiotic. The doctor will decide what’s best for your dog.
When you get home, you’ll want to get your girl settled. Hopefully, you’ve already set up an area where she can rest safely and comfortably. She is going to need a lot of rest now.
Keep Her Warm
As I mentioned a minute ago, after anesthesia, it can take approximately 12 – 24 hours to clear your dog’s system. During this period she won’t be able to regulate her body temperature normally so it’s important to keep her warm enough. You don’t want to overheat her, just give her some blankets and monitor her so she doesn’t get chilled or too hot.
If you ever had a surgical procedure yourself, you know that you can feel a bit nauseous after having anesthesia. Go slow with the food. Your vet will give you guidelines on how to feed her when you get home. She’ll probably tell you to feed her 1/4 to 1/2 of what she would normally eat. If she is feeling good enough to eat … go slow. If not, she may need a little more time for her appetite to return.
Before you leave your vet’s office the day of surgery, take a good look at the incision. Having a baseline and knowing what’s normal is the easiest way to detect if something starts to look wrong. During the next few days (and even next few weeks), you’ll need to keep a close eye on the incision. Monitor it several times a day.
The suture line should appear as a clean line where both the edges of the skin sutured together touch neatly. There may be some redness and a small amount of bloody or liquidy seepage on the day of surgery.
There should never be a lot of drainage from the incision line, swelling, bumps, or any open areas. Monitor your dog for any increased bleeding, drainage, separating of the incision, swelling, redness, pain, odors, or smelly discharge. Notify your vet immediately if you notice changes.
Also, never allow your dog to lick or gnaw at the incision.
Most vets will have you leave with an Elizabethan collar. This is to prevent your pooch from licking or chewing at his incision. It’s natural for her to want to try and lick her wounds, but the last thing you want is for your dog to pull her stitches out. This can become a medical emergency. The skin is one of the bodies first lines of defense. Intact skin helps keep the microbes out. Keeping your dog’s cone collar on so she can’t accidentally disturb the healing process of the incision will help in preventing potential infection. Your vet will tell you how long to keep the collar on, but it’s usually for about 10 days.
Daily Activity While Recuperating
The best thing for your pooch for a quick and uneventful recovery is going to be rest. Just like with a human, the more she rests the quicker things can knit themselves back together and heal. Limiting activity is a little easier during the first couple of days because she’s not feeling very well. But, after that, when she starts to feel a little better, she’s going to want to get back to business. Yep, she’s going to want to play. Whatever you have to do, do it to keep her calm. Maybe you can have some lazy days and just watch tv with her. I know my pooches love when I lazy around – they’ll stay in bed all day if I do.
Make Sure There is NO:
- Jumping onto or off of the couch.
- Jumping onto or off of the bed.
- Running up or down the stairs.
- Activity at all of any kind that will put a strain on the incision! An open incision can quickly escalate and become a medical emergency.
- Playing around with other dogs or pets for up to two weeks.
- Running off-leash.
- Extendable leashes.
- Bathing the dog for at least 10 days
Bathroom walks should be brief and taken on a short leash. At no time should your dog be allowed to run free off of her leash to relieve herself – even if it’s only in your backyard. To limit exposure to extra contaminants, walk your dog in the cleanest area you can find (where not too many other dogs relieve themselves). This is especially important for small dogs whose bellies aren’t too far off the ground. You have no idea of the bacteria and parasites that could be lurking on that grass, which can brush against her wound. The last thing you want is an infection! If you have a backyard that only your dog goes, that’s the best. But remember … on a short leash!
Although post-op complications from spay surgery are rare, they can happen. Your best defense to ward off possible complications would be to follow your vet’s instructions and monitor your girl closely. Taking it slow for a couple of weeks will be well worth it in the end. I can’t stress enough — rest, rest, rest!
Possible disadvantages of spaying your female dog
Most of the following statistics come from a 10-year study at the University of California (Davis) Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The study was headed by Dr. Benjamin Hart and study results published in 2013.
Spaying doubles the risk of obesity.
Extra weight leads to debilitating joint disease, arthritis, heart disease, pancreatitis, and diabetes.
Spayed dogs become overweight when owners feed the same amount of food as before their dog was spayed. Spaying, you see, changes a dog's hormonal make-up and metabolism so she doesn't require as much food.
Monitor your dog's shape as you feed her. Keep adjusting the amount you feed so she stays on the slender side, and provide plenty of exercise. Then your spayed dog will not become fat.
Spaying increases the risk of a deadly cancer called hemangiosarcoma.
Apparently the reproductive hormones offer some protection against this cancer, because spayed females are twice as likely to develop hemangiosarcoma of the spleen and five times as likely to develop hemangiosarcoma of the heart, compared to unspayed females.
Hemangiosarcoma is much more common in certain breeds, especially the Afghan Hound, Belgian Shepherds, Bernese Mountain Dog, Bouvier des Flandres, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Bulldog, Doberman Pinscher, English Setter, Flat Coated Retriever, French Bulldog, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Labrador Retriever, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Rottweiler, Saluki, Scottish Terrier, Skye Terrier, and Vizsla.
Spaying triples the risk of hypothyroidism.
The loss of reproductive hormones appears to upset the endocrine system. This can result in low thyroid levels, which causes weight gain and lethargy. Fortunately it can be treated with a daily thyroid supplement for the rest of your dog's life.
Spaying is major surgery requiring general anesthesia.
Studies show that about 20% of spay procedures have at least one complication, such as a bad reaction to the anesthesia, infection, abscess, etc. But most of these complications are minor. Less than 5% are serious, and the death rate is less than 1%.
If done at the wrong age, spaying increases the risk of hip dysplasia, torn ligaments, bone cancer, and urinary incontinence.
The reproductive hormones help your dog's bones, joints, and internal organs to develop properly. If you remove those reproductive hormones too early, they don't have enough time to complete their valuable work.
- Early spaying causes the leg bones to grow unevenly. This leaves your dog more vulnerable to hip dysplasia and torn ligaments.
- Early spaying triples the risk of bone cancer, a deadly cancer that mostly occurs in large and giant dogs.
- Early spaying causes urinary incontinence in up to 20% of spayed females. If your dog is spayed before her bladder is fully developed, weak bladder muscles may start to leak in middle age. This is stressful for both you and your dog, who is understandably upset at "having accidents" when she can't understand why. Lifelong supplementation with estrogen will be required and getting the medication properly balanced can be tricky.
- Early spaying can affect the size and shape of a female's "private parts." The vulva of a dog spayed early remains small and may even be recessed inside her body instead of protruding as it should. An abnormal vulva has folds of skin that can trap bacteria, leading to recurrent infections.
The moral is. Don't spay or neuter before your dog's reproductive hormones have had time to do their valuable work. And when is that? It depends on her size or breed, which is completely covered in my dog care book. Please don't spay your dog before you read Chapter 10.
So. should you spay your female dog?
Uterine infections are very, very bad. Mammary tumors are bad. false pregnancies are bad. heat periods are a nuisance to live with. and it can be harder than you think to prevent accidental breeding. Lusty males can smell a female in heat from a mile away.
And you really don't want to breed on purpose. You don't want to risk your dog's life to bring more puppies into the world, taking homes away from the poor dogs who are already here.
So yes, I recommend spaying.
The only breeds I might hesitate to spay are those most prone to hemangiosarcoma (scroll up to yellow box), since spayed females are the most likely to develop this cancer. But I believe I would still spay, and then cross my fingers.
Spaying at the wrong age can have unwanted consequences for the rest of your dog's life. So don't hurry your dog off to surgery. Get the facts first.
Remember, your dog can develop health problems if spayed too early. She needs her reproductive hormones for some time so her bones, joints, and internal organs can develop normally.
So don't rush to spay. There's a right time and many wrong times to have the surgery done.
And don't forget that spaying is major surgery under general anesthesia. You don't want to just drop off your dog expecting all safety precautions to be taken. In fact, those safety precautions are often not used unless you specifically ask for them.
There are 6 questions you should ask and 6 answers you want to hear to make sure your dog will be as safe as possible during the surgery.
When to spay. safety precautions to insist upon. 6 specific questions to ask your vet, and the 6 answers you want to hear. plus more info on breeding. all covered in Chapter 10 of 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy.
About the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.
Check out my other articles on health & feeding
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