Q: I have a female Rottweiler that is just 15 weeks old and my veterinarian just gave her the last puppy shots. He says it is time to think about getting her spayed. This seems so young. I do not want to contribute to the overpopulation problem, but neither do I want to cause any problems for Kadi now or as she ages. What do you recommend?
A: I would say your veterinarian is “right-on” with his recommendation. We now try to spay dogs somewhere between 4-6 months of age. Kadi likely will start to cycle or go into heat at around 6-8 months of age. Shelters are doing spays on strays at 8-10 weeks of age.
Multiple studies have been done and none have provided any scientific evidence for any detrimental effects, now or in the future, for early spaying.
On the other hand, spaying before the first heat cycle can help Kadi in a number of good ways. Mammary cancer tops the list. A female dog that is spayed before the mammary glands ever “see” estrogen, has greater than a 200-fold decrease in her developing mammary cancer as she ages. If she cycles once the mammary cancer incidence jumps from less than 1 percent to greater than 8-9 percent. Multiple cycles can increase it to 26-27 percent or one in four dogs likely to develop mammary cancer.
Many female dogs, especially at an older age, develop a pus-filled uterus (called a pyometra) about a month after they cycle. This is a life-threatening condition and has to be treated as an emergency surgery. You do not want this to happen when Kadi is 8- or 10-years-old. It is totally avoided if she is spayed early on in her life.
If not spayed, Kadi will go into heat every eight or nine months. It is difficult to deal with if she lives in the house simply because of the bloody vaginal discharge. If she is left outside, the chances are great that she will breed and have a litter of puppies. Her breed usually has 8-12 puppies per litter. This is a lot of responsibility, and definitely contributes to the already hundreds of thousands of homeless pets. Even if you find all of them homes, that is 8-12 homes that might have been able to rescue a pet from a shelter.
Other, more minor health problems that can occur in a non-spayed female dog include uterine torsion, vaginal hyperplasia, prolapse of the uterus to the outside and vaginal, ovarian or uterine cancers.
Some argue that she should cycle a time or two before being spayed- to help her “mature” or have a better “personality.” Some argue that the urethra or vulva will not develop properly. Absolutely no evidence exists to support any of these misconceptions. The urogenital tract has been shown to develop normally in multiple studies when female dogs were spayed anytime between 8 weeks and up to 6-7 months.
The surgery itself usually takes less than an hour. Complications such as excessive bleeding, anesthetic reactions and a drop in blood pressure are possible. These are, however, rare, and in most cases they can be reversed. With the advent of the use of gas anesthesia, these problems are even less likely to occur. Your veterinarian will review the entire process with you prior to her surgery, including the procedure for getting her ready for surgery, the fasting, the surgery, recovery and after care. Ask away until you understand the entire process. The end result of her being spayed is certainly worth your time and investment.
DR. M. MARGARET KING, a longtime Edmond veterinarian, is a guest columnist. If you have any questions for her, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.