Ask A Vet: All About Spay-Neuter Surgery

Ask a Vet: All You Need to Know About Spay/Neuter Surgery

Answers by Dr. Elizabeth Lynch, staff veterinarian at the MSPCA at Nevins Farm

How are spay and neuter surgeries performed?

These two sterilization procedures are done under general anesthesia, with your pet fully asleep and intubated (with a breathing tube in his or her throat).  The cat neuter is one exception; a face mask is used instead, because it is such a fast surgery.  Before receiving general anesthesia, your pet is given a shot of medication to make him sleepy and to help with pain. Your pet's oxygen level and heart rate are monitored with a machine while he is under anesthesia. Dogs and female cats are kept on a heating blanket during surgery.  Surgery for male cats is so fast they are not put on a heating blanket for the surgery, but they are put on one immediately after their surgery.

Female animals (spay) have an incision made just below the belly button into the abdomen.  The reproductive tract, both ovaries, and the uterus are completely removed through this incision.  Then the incision is closed with two layers of stitches under the skin that will dissolve and be absorbed by body over time. The skin is closed with skin glue, skin staples, or stitches.

Male dogs (neuter) have an incision made in the skin at the base of the penis nearest to the scrotum (the skin that holds the testicles). Both testicles are removed through this incision.  The incision is closed with stitches under the skin that will dissolve and be absorbed by the body over time.  The skin is closed with skin glue, skin staples, or stitches.

Male cats have an incision made in the skin of the scrotum, and the testicles are removed.  The incision is not sealed, but will close on its own with time.

How old does an animal have to be before she/he can he spayed or neutered?

Healthy dogs and cats can be sterilized as young as eight weeks, if they are over two pounds in body weight.

How long does the surgery take?

A male cat neuter can be done in under 2 minutes!

A male dog neuter is generally five to twenty minutes, depending on his age and size at the time of neuter.  A female cat spay is generally fifteen to twenty minutes, depending on her age and where she is in her heat cycle.

A female dog spay is generally twenty to ninety minutes, or longer, depending on her age, size, and if she is in heat.

*Female animals in heat can take a longer time because their reproductive tracts are much more fragile and hold more blood when they are in heat.

What's the recovery like?

For most cats, we use a reversible anesthetic shot so, they recover very quickly.  Usually within 10 to 20 minutes they are awake enough to walk around.  Dogs take a little longer, from 15 to 30 minutes.  The longer surgeries often have somewhat longer wake-up times.

Are there any risks or complications?

Healthy young animals have the lowest risks and are less likely to have any serious complications.  However, it can be much harder to keep young active animals quiet after surgery, so they are more likely to have simple post-surgical complications.

Older animals, or those in heat, especially those with additional health issues, have a higher risk and are more likely to have complications.  If you have any concerns about your pet’s health or if she is on medications for a medical condition, please let the veterinary staff know ahead of time so your animal can be treated appropriately.

Some of the most common post-operative complications include inflammation or infection of the incision, opening up of the incision, swelling under the skin at the incision site caused by fluid, and bleeding.  These complications can be caused or made worse by the pet licking or chewing the skin at the incision or by not keeping the pet quiet as directed after surgery.

Is the surgery painful?

Just as with people, animals feel pain and surgery is not pain-free.  We have the most modern pain management methods.  All animals are given pain medication before surgery starts and then as needed after surgery.  The goal is to keep pets as comfortable as possible.