We are often asked why bitches should be speyed. Apart from the obvious benefits of not having every randy dog in the neighbourhood hanging around your gate every 6 months, there are some extremely serious health problems you should be aware of too.
Let’s start with the pyometra
This is when the uterus becomes filled with pus, occurring 2-6 weeks after a heat. More common in older patients, it is life-threatening and dangerous (expensive too) to treat. Pyometra is more common in bitches that have irregular or abnormal heats.
Pyometra often causes increased thirst, lethargy, and sometimes a yellow vaginal discharge (pus). Treatment involves stabilising a very sick patient, then surgery very carefully to remove the uterus without it bursting. Prevention is easy: just spey them before they get it.
There is a medical option for treating pyometra if the bitch is desperately required for breeding, but note that there are risks associated with it, and that unless every season is followed by pregnancy, then another pyometra every time is inevitable.
Pyometra affects 1 in 4 bitches that are not speyed. Another condition of bitches that also affects 1 in 4 is mammary cancer. And it is malignant in half of those. So that’s 1 in 8 entire bitches that will develop mammary cancer and likely die from it.
The good news is that early speying dramatically reduces the chances of mammary cancer. Speying before the first heat (we normally spey from 4 months of age) reduces the risk of mammary cancer during the dog’s life to 1 in 10,000. Speying between the first and second heat leaves a risk of around 8%, but if you leave the speying until after the second heat there is no benefit at all, ie the risk is still 1 in 4.
But of course there is still the benefit of preventing a pyometra.
A final condition that we see occasionally that is prevented by speying is vaginal hypertrophy
This is an enormous swelling of the wall of the vaginal, which then hangs out of the body, looking somewhat like a prolapsed uterus. It occurs around the bitch’s heat, which differentiates it from a prolapse, which occurs around whelping and is due to straining. Vaginal hypertrophy is treated by replacing the swollen tissue and stitching the vulval lips together to prevent it falling out again, while waiting for the heat to finish and the swelling to disappear. It is then prevented by speying. Never be persuaded to have this swelling surgically removed!
There are still plenty of old wives’ tales floating around about desexing. There is no truth to the stories that dogs should have a season or even a litter in order to mature properly. There is some truth the stories that they can gain weight after speying, but it is easily prevented by adjusting their diet: they simply don’t need as much.
Speying bitches early is vitally important to reduce the incidence of these two potentially lethal (and probably more common that many of those reading this realise) diseases. Those of us who worked in the UK where many bitches are not speyed, got to treat an enormous number of both conditions, sometimes unsuccessfully…
Speying is a major procedure that needs to be performed by experienced surgical staff.
This is a vastly different procedure from speying cats. Rest after speying is essential, at least 2 weeks off work and not running around. Lead walking only, and no working with stock.