Puppy litter

Since the 1970s, sterilization of shelter and pet dogs in the United States has become widespread. It involves the removal of the reproductive organs (gonadectomy) through ovariohysterectomy (spaying) in females and orchiectomy (castration) in males. In both cases, the surgery prevents the animal’s reproductive organs from producing hormones. In addition to inducing sterilization, gonadectomies have been found to have other effects that you should understand before deciding if you want to spay or neuter your dog.

Advantages of Gonadectomies

One of the most important reasons for spaying or neutering is to prevent unwanted litters. Pet owners who do not have the desire to keep several puppies and who may have difficulty finding suitable homes look to sterilization as the preferred, humane option to placing pups in shelters.

Additionally, gonadectomies lead to the prevention of several potentially serious conditions. These include testicular and ovarian cancer as well as a uterine infection called pyometra. Furthermore, animals are thought to be less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, hernias and prostate issues.

The Downsides of Gonadectomies

In spite of the benefits that this procedure brings, it does not come with its problems. They include increased risk of the following diseases and conditions:

  • Obesity.
  • Hip dysplasia.
  • Urinary incontinence.
  • Cruciate ligament rupture.
  • Immune-mediated diseases such as hemolytic anemia, thrombocytopenia, polyarthritis, myasthenia gravis, inflammatory bowel disease, Granulomatous meningoencephalitis and skin diseases, among others.
  • Increased instances of fearful or aggressive behavior.
  • Certain cancers such as hemangiosarcoma.

Although the chances of a dog experiencing these complications are small, they are statistically significant and warrant careful consideration. Therefore, it is important to ask your veterinarian about how they might affect your pup’s particular breed.

Alternatives to Spaying and Neutering

Because there has been growing concern about the overall effects of traditional gonadectomies, veterinarians and pet owners alike have begun to consider other options. The most common include the following hormone-preserving methods of canine birth control:


As is the case with this procedure in humans, it involves the cutting or clamping of the vas deferens tubes that carry the sperm to the urethra during ejaculation. Once the surgery is done, the sperm can no longer reach its destination, rendering the male infertile. Although vasectomies are relatively simple, they must be done under anesthesia. Moreover, few veterinarians are experienced in performing them, and they will cost more than a standard castration.

Calcium chloride sterilant procedure

In this alternative sterilization, calcium chloride sterilant is injected into the outer layer of each of the dog’s testicles. Requiring ultrasound guidance but not pain-killing medications, this relatively uncommon procedure may be recommended for dogs who cannot tolerate anesthesia. However, few veterinarians are skilled in it. Whether he has undergone a vasectomy or a chemical sterilization, your male dog will still be attracted to females in heat. He can even mate with them. The difference is that no pregnancy will result. Additionally, male hormone-related diseases can still occur, although they can be treated with castration at a later date if recommended.

Ovary-sparing spay (OSS)

In this alternative procedure, the uterus and cervix are still removed as is the case in a traditional spay. However, the ovaries are spared. When performing this operation, it is essential that every bit of the uterus is removed. This is because the hormone-producing ovaries still remain and can continue to stimulate any ovarian remnants. This can result in bloody discharge or infection of the remaining tissue. Because the entire organ must be removed, the surgeon has to make an incision large enough to allow the whole uterus to be pulled up and cut off at the cervix. More sutures are required, the process takes additional time and skill and is usually more costly. If you are considering OSS spay for your dog, be sure to find a doctor with expertise in performing it.

Ovary-sparing spays also have risks that you should take into consideration. There may be behavioral changes, and preliminary studies suggest that memory loss is possible. After receiving an OSS operation, a female dog will still go into heat. However, there will be none of the scent that attracts males or the usual bloody discharge. Finally, some scientists believe that OSS can increase the risk for ovarian cancer. However, this condition is quite rare in dogs.

Tubal ligation

This involves removing or closing off the fallopian tubes and is not usually recommended for dogs. This is because the dog still remains at risk for pyometra since the uterus remains in place.

Deciding the Best Sterilization Option for Your Dog

There are over 340 dog breeds in the world, with the American Kennel Club recognizing 200. Bearing this in mind, one size definitely does not fit all when it comes to determining if you should sterilize your dog as well as what the optimal procedure will be. The best idea is to discuss your questions with your vet, remembering that dogs of various breeds and sizes do better with specific treatments and at different ages. You can also do some research on optimal sterilization times for various breeds so that you have information in hand when you meet with your dog’s doctor. Furthermore, if you want to show your pup in confirmation or breed them, you will need to put off spaying or neutering until later. The decision to change your pet’s ability to reproduce is a major one, and your veterinarian will be glad to go over all of your options with you to ensure that you make the best decision for you and your furry companion.