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A common question among owners is “When is it too late to neuter or spay?”, as improper timing can certainly have unintended consequences to the long term health of your furry companion. You also may be wondering if you should even bother getting your new lab puppy spayed or neutered at all. We wanted to take a few moments to educate and address these questions and concerns.
What is neutering and spaying?
Male dogs are neutered, a procedure that removes the dog’s testes, and female dogs are spayed, a surgery that removes the uterus and the ovaries. Typically neutering is an easier procedure that is less taxing on the dog than spaying, though both surgeries are quick and recovery time is short.
Vets usually recommend that your puppy be at least eight weeks old to be neutered, but often dog owners wait until the puppy is six months old or after the dog has gone through puberty, which usually begins after five-to-six months. However, spaying females before they’re likely to go into heat for the first time can reduce important health risks, as discussed in detail below. If you’ve missed the chance to spay your dog before her first heat, keep in mind that dogs can be neutered at any time throughout their adulthood; that is, as long as the dog is still healthy and strong to adequately recover from the surgery.
Be sure to consult with your vet before making any of these decisions. Both neutering and spaying surgeries are irreversible and cannot be undone later down the road, so making the right choice upfront is very important for you and your dog, as they’ll live the rest of their lives without their reproductive organs. Depending on where you get your puppy, the previous owners may take care of the spaying and neutering for you; for example, if you adopt a pup from a local animal shelter or humane society. Make sure that you understand your dog’s full medical history upon adoption, because when you visit your vet for the first time, they’ll ask about surgeries, shots, and any sicknesses.
The surgery and recovery
Neutering is usually a very quick procedure, taking around twenty minutes or less if all goes well. Spaying can last anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour, depending on numerous factors like age, health, or weight.
In both neutering and spaying procedures, the first step of the surgery is to put the dog under anesthesia. This means that dogs are asleep for most of the process, which makes the surgery easier to perform for the vet, and makes it painless and for the dog, as they won’t know anything is happening. As with any surgery, the dog’s breathing and heart rate are monitored to ensure no complications arise.
Usually, neutering is easier on your dog than spaying, but after either surgery, your dog should have a pretty quick recovery. Eating can continue the day of the surgery or the day after, depending on what your vet recommends for your pup. While there is minimal pain for males or females, your dog may feel a little sore for a few days, so be gentle and patient. Your vet may also be able to prescribe pain medication for your dog if there is a lot of pain.
You also need to monitor the stitches from the surgery to ensure that your dog isn’t licking or biting, as this will upset the wound, which needs time and space to heal. If you find that your dog can’t leave the wound alone, you may need to put on a cone to ensure that your dog will not be able to hinder the healing process. Keep in mind that dogs will often lick the wound when they’re alone.
Why neutering and spaying is important
There are many reasons new dog owners should consider neutering. Birth control is the most common reason to fix your dog, to control the homeless dog population and to ensure that you are not breeding when you have no experience or no place to house the puppies.
In both sexes, hormonal changes can occur that may alter your lab’s overall behavior–in a good way. Neutering has proven to reduce the dog’s desire to get into trouble and to mitigate aggressive behavior. This is largely because males are no longer on the prowl to find females in heat. Of course, these behavioral changes don’t happen in every dog, so monitor your dog’s behavior closely after the surgery for any changes, good or bad.
Many dog owners are worried that their dogs will change completely after the surgery, that their personality will not be the same, they’ll become depressed, or they won’t be as energetic or excited. Fortunately, this isn’t true for most animals, and dogs will have the same personality traits and energy levels after being neutered or spayed.
What this also means, though, is that if your dog is currently experiencing high levels of energy or symptoms of anxiety, you shouldn’t be hoping that making the decision to spay or neuter will solve that issue either.
If anxiety is a concern, check out our post on Easing Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety for helpful tips.
Another important reason to neuter or spay your lab is so that you don’t have to deal with a female dog in heat, which can be hard to manage or clean up after. It’s also been shown that both male and female dogs have a lower risk of cancer once they’ve been fixed. This includes testicular, ovarian, and cervical cancer, and the development of mammary tumors in females. Tumors are less likely to form once the dog gets spayed or neutered, largely because the reproductive organs are removed that are at higher risk of developing cancer. These surgeries are also suspected to reduce instances of diabetes and pyometra in dogs.
The costs and risks–financial and physical
There are minimal health risks to getting your lab neutered or spayed. These procedures are performed all over the world every day with virtually no issues or complications. Most vets will tell you that there are many more benefits to having it done than there are risks. But as mentioned above, the surgery is irreversible, so you must fully commit to caring for a dog that will never be able to reproduce.
The cost of spaying or neutering varies based on your location, the age of your dog, what kind of clinic you go to, and other factors. However, if you’re on a tight budget, there are usually relatively cheap clinics or shelters that will provide the service for you for under $100, sometimes under $50.
So, if the cost has been holding you back, think about how the benefits will outweigh the negatives, and find an affordable and trustworthy place to have the surgery done. You can also check out the ASPCA website for a full list of local, low-cost clinics you can visit.
It’s become a very common practice to spay or neuter labs, and dogs in general, when the dogs are still puppies, to prevent unwanted births, aggressive or obsessive behavior, and a variety of health problems down the line. These surgeries are very quick and easy and are probably a good idea for your pet unless you plan to breed, which takes a lot of preparation, time, and resources. Be sure to talk to your vet or local pet clinic for more information about the benefits and downsides of neutering or spaying your lab.