Everyday Medicine: What is a spay?

“Everyday Medicine” is an intermittent series of blog posts highlighting tests, treatments, and procedures common in daily Animal Medical Center practice. Some past examples of this type of blog post include fecal analysis and vomiting or regurgitation.

Since February 26, 2019 is World Spay Day, today’s post focuses on spaying a healthy dog or cat as a method of contraception rather than as a treatment for a disease.

What is a spay?

Spaying is a surgical procedure that makes pregnancy impossible in a female dog or cat. Traditionally, both the ovaries and uterus are removed during a spay, but recent advances in veterinary surgery make removal of the ovaries without removal of the uterus a more common procedure.

What are the benefits of spaying my female dog or cat?

Most female pet dogs and cats are spayed to prevent unwanted litters of puppies and kittens. Removal of the ovaries also halts a female dog or cat’s reproductive cycle and prevents them from going into heat. When dogs are “in heat,” their vaginal discharge can be messy around the house. A female cat “in heat” yowls, cries, and is generally very disruptive to the humans in the household, especially those trying to sleep. “In heat” female dogs and cats attract undesirable male suitors. Spaying prevents all of these issues.

Additionally, dogs (and less commonly cats) can develop a life-threatening uterine infection called pyometra. Because spaying removes the ovaries, it removes the ovarian hormones and prevents pyometra from occurring. Finally, spaying your dog before the first heat cycle decreases their risk of breast cancer.

How is a spay performed?

There are two primary methods for performing a spay. The traditional one is through an incision in the middle of the abdomen; although spays can also be performed through an incision in the flank. However, minimally invasive methods of spaying, via laparoscopic surgery, have recently become more popular and more widely available. Laparoscopic surgery employs a tiny, high-resolution camera inserted through a small incision in the abdomen to perform surgery. The main difference between an abdominal surgery and laparoscopic surgery is the former removes both ovaries and uterus while the latter only the ovaries.

Finally, contraception is not just for girls and the surgical birth control procedure in males is often referred to as neutering.

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