Alternative Sterilization

There have been several articles published in peer-reviewed journals (including the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association) over the last few years regarding possible negative effects of spaying and neutering on some dogs, especially when performed at young ages.

Here is a summary of much of the recent research.

Research update 2018 showing link between age of spay/neuter and obesity and orthopedic problems.

In keeping with our clinic philosophy of using the most current information in determining our recommendations, we have re-evaluated our age recommendations for canine spay and neuter, and, in addition to traditional spay and neuter, we are pleased to offer alternative sterilization procedures (ovary-sparing spay and vasectomy), which allow the dog to remain hormonally intact, but removes the risk of unwanted pregnancy and the life-threatening uterine infection called pyometra (in female dogs). We will discuss spay and neuter options at your puppy’s routine visits, and for large and giant breed dogs especially, we recommend a doctor visit around 10-12 months of age to discuss the best age for spaying/neutering your dog (we will of course respect your wishes should you wish to spay/neuter earlier). Recommendations will be made based on your individual situation, your dog’s breed, and your personal preferences. We can help you learn how to manage heat cycles if you decide to allow your female dog to mature physically before spaying.

There are different options available when it comes to sterilizing female dogs:

  • Ovariohysterectomy (traditional spay), the ovaries and uterus are completely removed. When performed by a competent surgeon, using state of the art monitoring, surgical technique and pain management (as is the case at Amherst Small Animal Hospital), this is a safe procedure with a minimal recovery time (in our experience, with spays performed at our hospital, generally not more than 2 weeks are needed for return to complete activity, even for mature patients).
  • A second option is the hysterectomy, or “ovary-sparing spay” (OSS), in which the entire uterus is removed (including the cervix), but the ovaries are left so the dog still has her female hormones.
    • Dogs will still show behavioral and external signs of being in heat, but most have little to no discharge, they cannot get pregnant, and have a very low-to-zero chance of developing pyometra (a serious infection of the uterus). The ovary-sparing spay procedure is relatively new and as such has not been studied long-term yet. Click here for more information about this procedure.
    • Recovery time is comparable to the traditional spay when performed at our practice.
    • The incision for this procedure may need to be longer than for a traditional spay, to allow adequate visualization and access to the cervix to ensure complete removal (complete removal of the cervix is essential to prevention of pyometra), and to avoid putting excessive tension on the supportive structures of the ovaries (in a traditional spay, the cervix is often left in, and the ovaries are removed, so there does not need to be care taken to maintain these structures). Incision length does NOT generally affect recovery time, as incisions heal side to side, not end to end.
    • Surgery time for this procedure can be longer than for a traditional spay (which can affect cost), this should not be a concern when performed at a practice with an exemplary anesthetic protocol. As this procedure is still new, we are learning more and more as we do more and more of them. There may be some consideration in some dogs for allowing one or two heat cycles before an ovary-sparing spay, this will be determined on an individual basis.
    • We are pleased to offer the ovary-sparing spay and welcome your questions about this procedure. We have been performing this procedure since 2014.
  • Another option some vets offer is an ovariectomy, in which the only the ovaries are removed and the uterus is left. It is our position that there is no real benefit to this procedure, it does not have a lower incidence of complications, surgery time will not necessarily be shorter, and recovery time is not affected, plus the likelihood of leaving a small amount of ovary behind (ovarian remnant syndrome) is potentially higher, which means that the risk of pyometra (a serious infection of the uterus) remains.

For sterilization of male dogs, we offer:

  • neutering (castration), in which the testes are completely removed and testosterone levels are significantly reduced.
  • vasectomy, which removes the risk of causing unwanted pregnancies while leaving the dog completely hormonally intact. This is a relatively simple procedure with a quick recovery time. It is important to realize that the dog will remain hormonally intact, but will be sterile.

When considering alternative sterilization procedures like these, please keep in mind that many daycares and boarding facilities consider dogs who have undergone these procedures to be intact, and may not allow them.