Bringing home a new puppy or kitten is an exciting time for pet owners. Equally special is providing a home for an adult or senior pet. There is a lot to remember, including proper nutrition, toys, exercise, and year-round preventive care. During the first few months of your pet’s life, they will require several veterinary visits to ensure they are vaccinated against common infectious diseases. One of the most common questions new pet owners ask is when to spay or neuter. As with people, there is no one size fits all method for a pet’s medical care, and numerous factors and guidelines are used to determine the best time to spay or neuter your pet. Our Wales Animal Clinic veterinary team answers common questions and provides guidelines to determine the best time to spay or neuter your pet. 

What is spaying and neutering in pets?

Spay and neuter surgeries are the most commonly performed veterinary surgical procedures. While it is not uncommon for pet owners to use “spay” and “neuter” interchangeably when referring to the sterilization of their pet,  these terms describe specific surgical procedures for female and male pets, respectively. An ovariohysterectomy, or spay, describes the surgical procedure in which the female reproductive organs are removed, including the ovaries and uterus. This procedure eliminates the heat cycle and decreases the instinct to exhibit breeding behavior. Similarly, an orchiectomy, or castration, refers to the removal of a male pet’s testicles. Both spay and neuter procedures eliminate the release of sex hormones and prevent reproduction. 

A common reason pet owners delay or elect not to sterilize their pet is because of the fear of having them under general anesthesia. Although there are risks associated with any surgical procedure, the incidence of complications with spay and neuter surgeries is low. Your pet will receive a nose-to-tail physical examination, as well as preoperative blood work to ensure they are low-risk for anesthesia complications. Additionally, our Wales Animal Clinic uses specialized, modern equipment and the safest anesthetic agents to ensure your pet is well taken care of during all stages of their procedure.  

Guidelines for spaying or neutering your cat

The Veterinary Task Force on Feline Sterilization is a group of veterinary experts who gathered in 2016 to review current research to determine the optimum age for spaying or neutering cats.  Most cats reach sexual maturity by the time they are 5 or 6 months old. Members of the task force reviewed scientific evidence, risks, and benefits of spaying and neutering cats before sexual maturity and determined the ideal age to spay or neuter a pet cat is 5 months, which coincides with the completion of most cats’ vaccination series. The task force’s recommendations were endorsed by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). The benefits of spaying or neutering your cat by 5 months of age include: 

  • Decreased risk for mammary cancer, which is fatal in 90% of affected cats
  • Elimination of reproductive emergencies, including a potentially fatal uterine infection or pregnancy complication
  • Elimination of unwanted litters, which contribute to pet overpopulation
  • Decreased undesirable behaviors, such as yowling, excessive meowing, spraying, or erratic behavior

Guidelines for spaying or neutering your dog

Determining the ideal time for spaying or neutering your dog is more involved than it is for feline companions. Various factors affect the timing, including breed, sex, genetics, lifestyle, and body condition. Choosing the right time should always be done in collaboration with your Wales Animal Clinic veterinarian. However, there are general recommendations our veterinarian will use as a starting point for your pet. 

Small breed female dogs, or those who will not grow larger than 45 pounds, should be spayed before their first heat cycle, around 6 months of age. Similarly, small breed male dogs should be neutered by 6 months of age. Large breed male dogs should be neutered after they stop growing, which occurs between 9 and 15 months of age, depending on the breed. Spaying a large breed female dog should occur between 5 and 15 months of age, depending on disease risk and lifestyle. A 2013 study on golden retrievers suggested early sterilization might increase the risk for some cancers and orthopedic problems. However, more research is needed. The benefits of spaying or neutering your dog include:

  • Decreased incidence of mammary cancer, which is fatal in 50% of dogs 
  • Elimination of testicular cancer risk
  • Decreased desire to roam or fight
  • Prevention of costly and potentially fatal reproductive emergencies, including a uterine infection
  • Prevention of unwanted litters

Preparing for your pet’s spay or neuter surgery

The decision to spay or neuter your pet is an important part of responsible pet ownership. Your Wales Animal Clinic veterinarian will advise you on the best time to spay or neuter your four-legged family member, based on their health and lifestyle needs. Prepare for your pet’s procedure with the following:

  • Designating a quiet place in your home where they can recover away from other pets
  • Preventing them from running or jumping for more than 2 weeks after surgery
  • Preventing them from licking the surgery site, which can cause an infection and delay healing
  • Avoiding bathing them for more than 10 days following their surgery
  • Ensuring you bring them in for all required follow-up veterinary appointments

Call our Wales Animal Clinic office if you have any questions about spaying or neutering your pet, or to schedule them for a wellness appointment to determine the right time for their spay or neuter surgery.