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Frequently Asked Questions About Spaying and Neutering Pets

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If you've recently brought home a new dog or cat, you might be curious about whether to have your new friend spayed or neutered. Here, we've got answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about these procedures.

What’s the Difference Between Spay and Neuter?

The difference between spaying and neutering has to do with the gender of the pet. Spaying is performed on female pets and typically includes the removal of the uterus and ovaries. Meanwhile, neutering is done to sterilize male pets and usually involves removing the testes.

Why Spay and Neuter Pets?

There are lots of great reasons to spay or neuter pets, including health benefits and avoiding unexpected litters of puppies or kittens that need homes.

Protect Your Pet’s Health

Spaying or neutering can help your pet live a longer and healthier life. Spaying prevents uterine infections and significantly lowers the risk of breast cancer. Neutering eliminates the chance of testicular cancer and helps avoid some prostate problems.

Keep Pets from Going into Heat

By spaying your female pet, you can avoid issues related to going into heat, such as crying, yowling, more frequent peeing, and discharge. Cats typically go into heat every few weeks for four to five days during breeding season. Dogs generally go into heat two times a year for two to four weeks at a time.

Reduce Unwanted Behaviors

There are several unwanted behaviors in cats and dogs that can be reduced or eliminated by spaying or neutering.

  • Spraying to mark territory: Pets who are not spayed or neutered may spray urine to mark their territory. The smell can be overpowering and tough to get out of carpeting and furniture.
  • Roaming behavior: Intact male dogs may do anything to find a mate, such as darting out of an open door or digging under a fence. This can put them at risk for injuries if, for instance, they run out into traffic or get in a tangle with another animal.
  • Mounting people and objects: Unneutered pets may mount people’s legs, other pets, or objects around the house like stuffed animals or furniture when they’re stimulated. While this is a natural behavior, it can be embarrassing for the pet parent.
  • Aggressive behavior: Neutering is associated with reducing aggressive behaviors in dogs because it eliminates the drive to find or compete for a mate. Keep in mind that neutering won’t eliminate these behaviors. Any dog may still snarl and lunge when they feel threatened.

Avoid Contributing to Animal Overpopulation

Kittens and puppies who are born as part of unplanned or unwanted litters can end up in shelters and may be euthanized if they can’t be placed in loving homes. Some also end up suffering as strays without enough food to eat or proper shelter.

Even if you always keep your pet indoors, on a leash, or confined to your yard, there’s always a chance they can get away and mate with another animal. If they’re spayed or neutered, you can be sure that they won’t contribute to the problem of animal overpopulation.

When Should I Spay or Neuter My Pet?

What age should a dog be spayed? Female dogs are usually spayed at around six months old — before their first heat cycle. Male dogs are typically neutered between five and 10 months old, depending on their breed and size.

Female cats are usually spayed at around five months old. Male cats are often neutered around six to seven months old. Ask your veterinarian about the best time to spay or neuter your pet.

How Much Does It Cost?

You may be wondering how much it is to spay a dog or neuter a cat, for instance. The costs vary depending on where you have the procedure done. If you adopt your pet from a shelter, they sometimes include the costs of spaying or neutering as part of your adoption fee. There are also low-cost spay and neuter programs available across the country.

Will Spaying or Neutering Make My Pet Overweight?

One common myth about spaying or neutering is that it can cause your pet to put on extra pounds. This is not altogether true. Healthy pets gain weight when they’re overfed or don’t get enough physical activity. If you’re concerned about your pet’s weight, ask your veterinarian for recommendations to safely modify their diet and exercise routine to help get them into better shape.

Will Spaying or Neutering Change My Pet’s Personality?

Spaying or neutering may help avoid some unwanted behaviors, but it won’t change your pet’s innate personality. If your pet is curious, energetic, and loving before surgery, you can count on them being the same afterward. It’s a myth that pets get lazy and sluggish after being spayed or neutered. Of course, they will need a little downtime to bounce back from the procedure.

Isn’t It Risky and Painful for My Pet?

Any surgery comes with risk, including spaying or neutering. But surgical sterilization is one of the most commonly performed surgeries. If your pet is healthy and receives proper care before and after surgery, the chances that something could go wrong are low.

Your pet will be under anesthesia during the procedure, so they won’t feel a thing. They may have some discomfort afterward, but that can be managed with pain medication. Be sure to ask your veterinarian about prescribing some for your pet.

Should My Female Pet Have a Litter First?

It’s not necessary or advisable to let your female pet have a litter before being spayed. Some pet parents might think it can help them teach their children about the miracle of birth, but there are other ways to impart this lesson—ones that don’t result in a litter of puppies or kittens that need to be placed in loving homes.

If you wait to spay your pet, you’re also putting them at risk for developing breast tumors or uterine infections during that time. Also, if your pet starts exhibiting unwanted behaviors related to going into heat, they may become ingrained and more difficult to stop later on even after they’ve been spayed.

How Can I Care for My Pet After Surgery?

You should follow your veterinarian’s post-operative instructions carefully to make sure your pet has a smooth recovery. Their recommendations may include:

  • Making sure your pet has a quiet and comfortable place to rest, away from any other pets in the home.
  • Limiting their activity for as many days as your veterinarian suggests. This will help keep them from rupturing the stitches or experiencing a delay in healing.
  • Preventing your pet from licking the wound, which can lead to infection. You may be able to distract them from licking with a treat or favorite toy. Your veterinarian may also recommend an Elizabethan collar.
  • Avoiding bathing your pet for a couple of weeks after the surgery.
  • Checking the wound site at least twice a day. If you notice increasing redness, swelling, or discharge, contact your veterinarian.

You should also call your veterinarian if your pet is lethargic, refuses to eat, or has symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea. With the right after-care, pets should get back to their usual selves in no time.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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