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If you have a bitch it's inevitable that the question of spaying will come up and you may already have made the decision to have her spayed. This is entirely your choice. If you can manage the bitch's seasons and prevent unwanted pregnancies then you may not want her to be spayed at all. It's really up to you and I wouldn't try to influence the decision one way or the other. If you have decided that you definitely want to go ahead with a spay then this page may be useful to you. I did a fair bit of research on the subject before we went ahead with Jilly's op and I'm glad I did. Here are some of the things that we discussed and some useful pages that I found.
What age to spay?
Some people prefer to have their bitches spayed early, before the first season and some prefer to leave it until the bitch has had two or three seasons. There are many reasons for an early spay and sometimes there isn't any choice. If the dog is a rescue then spaying may already have been carried out. Some rescues insist on bitches being spayed before six months so that even if you have a puppy from them you may have to agree to this. If you have an entire dog as well then either you have to separate the two dogs when the bitch is in season or have one of them neutered. A way round this is to put one of the dogs in kennels for the duration.
We let Jilly have her first season before she was spayed. There is some evidence that spaying early can cause urinary incontinence, behavioural problems and growth problems for the agility dog and other other sporting dogs. The American vet, Christine Zink, has done considerable research into veterinary considerations regarding sporting dogs and she has produced a document that has some very useful information and references. Early Spay-Neuter Considerations for the Canine Athlete: One Veterinarianís Opinion © 2005 Chris Zink DVM, PhD, DACVP, DACVSMR Extensively revised and updated - 2013
I was going to allow Jilly to have two seasons before spaying but her first one caused her a lot of problems. First of all she became depressed and a bit moody and then later on she started a false pregnancy. This made her quite aggressive towards Sasha and I had to watch the dogs all the time to defuse any tension and prevent a fight. The vet sold me a very expensive preparation to prevent any milk flow but this was only a temporary solution. Jilly still had the idea that she was going to have puppies and so I bought a herbal preparation from CSJ called Stroppy Bitch. Within a couple of weeks all became calm again. The cheapest place to buy it was Camddwr Canine run by agility competitors and show organisers Anne and Stuart Harmes. They try out everything before they sell it. It worked for us and I fed it until a week before the spay. A friend tells me that she uses something called Phantom Raspberry and this can also be bought from Camddwr Canine.
Our vets generally spay four months after a season. They could have spayed Jilly before but if she was still producing the hormone that told her she was having puppies then that hormone might continue to be produced for some time after the spay. It was possible that it could have increased her aggression.
A lot of people say that spaying will have no effect on a bitch's behaviour but this isn't strictly true. It won't calm a lively dog or make an unruly dog into a model of good behaviour but it will stop false pregnancies and all the behavioural changes that occur around a season and afterwards. James O'Heare of The Association of Animal Behaviour Professionals has written about the Effects of Spaying and Neutering on Canine Behaviour and there are several useful references if you want to follow them up.
Traditional Spay versus Laparoscopic Spay
When we decided to have Jilly spayed I thought it would be the keyhole type where the dog is said to recover very quickly. Our previous bitches had not had a very happy time with the traditional spay and I was reluctant to put another one through it. I made enquiries at the vet's surgery and was horrified to find that only one vet did the keyhole spay in Cornwall. Apparently the op that he did took longer and needed a deeper anaesthetic than the traditional spay. The recovery time was no different and the staff and the vet could see no advantage. Nevertheless, several people had assured me that the op could be performed quickly and the dog could be in and out in a couple of hours. Unfortunately the vets that perform these miracles are much too far away and Jilly and Sasha don't travel well.
In the end our vet performed a traditional spay where the ovaries and uterus are removed. In the keyhole spay only the ovaries are removed. Both have the same effect on the bitch. There are no more seasons and the danger of pyometra is removed or is it?
If any ovarian tissue is left then the bitch may experience seasons and all the problems associated with them. The ovarian tissue can also mean that the bitch may get pyometra if they have had the keyhole spay or stump pyometra if they have had the traditional spay but this is rare.
Before the op I asked the vet about pain relief. Jilly would be given a good dose of two different painkillers and we would be given Metacam for the following morning and for as long as necessary. If there was any pain or discomfort I could ring day or night and they would top up the painkiller for her. The last thing they would do would be to let her suffer.
Jilly left the operating theatre at around eleven thirty in the morning and by four thirty she was ready to go home. Our vet uses the most modern anaesthetic and it's the same as that used for human surgery. The dog can be woken very quickly after the op and the recovery is much quicker.
All the stitches were internal so that there was nothing to see on the outside. The incision was covered by a plaster.
We put a soft cone collar on Jilly and led her into the car using a dog ramp. The cone collar didn't last long. Poor Sasha was scared stiff of it and Jilly didn't like it either. Border collies tend to use their sight a lot and all Sasha could see was a monster with a strange head. She didn't recognise Jilly.
Jilly was a bit wobbly and sleepy but she was in no pain. She went straight into the garden and did a poo then she had her favourite chicken and a bit of fish and she slept for several hours. We fed her small amounts at first and at regular intervals.
By the next morning she was on her feet and you would hardly know anything had happened. I had a problem keeping her quiet after that. She was used to playing and walking and she wasn't happy when she was left at home and told not to play tuggy with Sasha. I gave her a Nylabone to chew.
In the evening she climbed onto the sofa which I'm sure she wasn't supposed to do but it's so much more comfortable than anywhere else.
The plaster was taken off by the vet after a couple of days and all you could see was a red line like a scratch. After four days it had started to scab a bit, as in the pic on the left. After five days it was beginning to disappear.
The vet said that Jilly would be able to go for short walks on the lead after six days and could resume normal exercise after ten days and the final post op check. The vet also said that there had been an abnormality that none of them had ever seen before. Jilly had two ovaries on one side and none on the other. On the whole I was glad we didn't go for the keyhole spay. The problem with the ovaries may have caused a difficulty with the op and they may have had to make an incision anyway.
Returning to Agility
Although the vet has said a dog can resume normal exercise after ten days this doesn't take into account the strenuous nature of agility. Most agility people give it a while longer before going back to training. Dogs tend to heal much more quickly than humans but nevertheless a spay is invasive surgery and the dog may need to have a few weeks off. I will monitor Jilly and give her a few things to do after four weeks. She can go over her puppy bump jumps and get some contact practice in on the puppy dog walk. She can also do the odd tunnel. Weaving we'll leave for a bit longer but after six weeks she should be able to go over low poles and practice on three or four poles in the weave. It really is a question of common sense and gauging how fit your dog is. It's something that has to be played by ear but I'm confident that Jilly will be able to compete at her first show in August. This is a UKA show where we'll only do standard height jumps or lower.
Before the spay I took a video of Jilly going over some UKA standard height jumps. This was in April and it's the only time she's done this height. I want her to be at least as fit as this before she competes in August. Before the show I'll set up these jumps again and video Jilly and it may give me an idea as to whether she has fully regained her fitness or not.
Notes: You can get alternatives to the elizabethan collar routinely used by vets. Some vets may be able to provide a medical pet shirt or you can buy your own. There is also a softer version of the cone available, the Comfy Cone. You can buy inflatable collars as well to prevent the dog chewing or licking. If you use a pet shirt be aware that it will cover the wound. Our vet said it was best left exposed to the air as much as possible after a couple of days and so the shirt would only be used when you can't supervise the dog.
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