Spaying and neutering can be a hot button topic. Do you spay/neuter? If so, when? It’s definitely a good conversation to have with your veterinarian. If you decide spaying is in the best interest of your pet, then here are some helpful tips from Rebecca Johnson CPDT-KA, doggie mama and Owner of The Family Dog Trainer located in Lubbock, Texas, on how to make your dog’s recovery as easy as possible.
How did you decide at what age to spay your dog?
I was fortunate enough to get input from several veterinarians, including a close friend, and the breeder. One said spay at 6 months old, the other two individuals said to spay after the first heat (a female dog’s period). While a female bleeds about 5-7 days, with some spotting up to 14 days, the whole cycle is about a month. Unless you do hormone testing, you won’t know which days of that month she can get pregnant. Our plan had been to spay between the first and second heat. This way, she would get the benefits of a dose of hormones for growth purposes. Studies show the tendons, ligaments, etc. are more likely to grow properly and decrease the likelihood of injury. Studies also show that a female dog will be less likely to experience chronic UTIs, as her vagina becomes less hooded with a dose of hormones. All 3 sources said that if she were to have a heat, we should wait at least 2 months after symptoms. This way, there would be less inflammation inside, making the surgery less complex. Our dog happened to have her second heat soon after her first. Ultimately we ended up spaying 3 months after the second heat, at 17 months of age.
For those that delay spaying their female dog, they can expect her to go into heat 2-3 times a year. Depending on where you take your dog for training, they might not be allowed to join class while in heat. You need to remain vigilant for loose male dogs or neighbor dogs that might try to dig under fences or jump into your yard. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of accidental litters because of these circumstances. A friend’s dog was the result of an intact (unneutered) male demolishing a door, metal doorknob, and eating through a wire crate to get to a female in heat. You really can’t be too cautious when protecting your female from non-neutered males with the instinctual drive to procreate.
How to prepare via training?
Looking at incision:
I wanted to be able to get a good look at the spay incision each day, to ensure it was healing properly. My plan pre-spay was to teach her to lay on her side. However, once spayed, I was worried having her roll on her side might hurt. So, I had my husband put a hand under her armpits and gently lift her font end upwards just enough for me to look while I was laying on the ground. I took a picture each evening, so I could confirm that the incision was looking less red and jagged with each passing day and that there was no discharge. If your dog isn’t comfortable being lifted up, this would be a good thing to practice for weeks before surgery.
I wanted her comfortable with a cone coming on and off. It is so important that a dog not lick the incision site. They could introduce bacteria, which could cause an infection. They also could open the wound with licking or chewing. So, I knew a cone would be involved. How did I train for this? I taught Hopper to put her head into the cone. I essentially taught it just like I would teach a dog touching her nose to a person’s hand. Except in this case, it was dog’s head through an opening (of the cone) target.
I also did training sessions with her wearing the cone. I wanted her to know she could walk, sit, touch, lay down, all while wearing the cone. The goal was to make the cone familiar, to minimize stress during surgery recovery. Have you seen the videos of dogs freezing standing still once snow booties are put on? I wanted to avoid that with the cone.
Calmly exiting the crate:
I solidified Hopper’s knowledge that I wanted her to sit before I opened the crate and to walk out nicely (aka not run) when I told her “free”. This way, I knew she would be unlikely to race past me and run around the house in a game of keep away or chase during recovery.
How do I keep my dog quiet?
This was my biggest fear! Vets orders are no running, jumping, or rough housing for 2 weeks. Hopper LOVES to run faster than the speed of lightening! She loves to roll until the dead grass statically sticks to her like a sweater. Do you really have to wait all 14 days? I had lots of people in my life saying don’t worry, but I followed my vet’s advice, “You’d rather be safe than sorry”. I didn’t want a stitch to pull and require a longer recovery.
When I didn’t have my full attention on Hopper, she was in the crate with the cone on. When it was time for a break, I would clip on her leash, pull off the cone, and walk her around the backyard. I made sure to keep the leash relatively short. I knew that Hopper would be thrilled to run small circles around me if I gave her too much leash. What typically excites your dog? For Hopper, it’s other dogs outside. So, I tried my best to take her out at slightly odd hours, when fewer dogs were likely to walk by our house. I also carried cookies, in case she needed a distraction when a dog walked past.
If you have other animals in the household, keep them out of sight as best as possible. One glimpse at our cat walking by would rile her up to bark and jump. So, our cat lived in the basement or the office during recovery, while Hopper lived in the living room.
I plugged in a small fan across the room to provide white noise to block out any dog barks or other outside noise that might excite Hopper.
I kept the window blinds closest to the crate closed so that she couldn’t see dogs and people walking past our house.
There are several items on the liability form/bill estimate the vet provides before surgery that you see might be listed as “optional”. However, as your vet will tell you, they actually are incredibly important. If asked, your vet will also tell you if it were their own dog, they would absolutely opt in. It is the kindest and safest route to include the following optional items. Pre-surgery blood work. This is done the morning of the surgery, before anesthesia is given. This is to ensure that all the organs are operating properly, so that your dog can tolerate surgery and anesthesia. Even if you have a puppy or young dog, it’s still possible that they might have compromised organ function. It is much safer to know ahead of time, than chance the dog going into distress during surgery. Another option is fluids. These are injected slowly over time to help keep the dog’s blood pressure up in the safe zone and help them process out the anesthesia drugs. Both will result in a safer and faster recovery from surgery. What about pain meds? Absolutely YES!!! I can’t imagine being operated on and not receiving pain meds. The standard is medication twice a day for 3 days. However, your vet will come up with a plan that works for your dog. With Hopper, the vet gave her anti-nausea drugs after surgery. The last thing you want is your dog getting dehydrated from vomiting!
How do you get your dog to take medication?
Hopper LOVES wet dog food. I just create a meatball stuffed with the pill in the middle and she swallow it whole. Is your dog suspicious of pills? Get out 6 really tasty treats. Feed a treat, treat, treat, treat with medicine, followed by treat, treat, treat. This way, the treat with medicine, which might have a weird texture or taste, is sandwiched by treats without medicine. My trainer friend, and yours, Debra, has a great video showing this process here. Can’t I just put the pill in the dog’s mouth and rub the throat until they swallow? That may or may not work. But if I’m dealing with a dog that is already stressed and in pain, the last thing I want to do is stress the dog further. Plus, I want to ensure that all medication is fully swallowed, which is more likely to happen in a yummy treat.
How will my dog act when I bring her home from surgery?
Dropoff for Hopper’s surgery day was between 7:30 and 8am. Pickup was between 4 and 5. This is so that the vet can monitor her post-surgery, to ensure she recovers properly from anesthesia. When I picked her up, the vet shared with me that he had given her an anti-nausea shot and pain medication for the day. I wouldn’t need to give her more pain medication until the following day. When I brought Hopper home, she definitely looked like she was on drugs. Her eyes would stare, unfocused on things. Movement was slow and sluggish. She napped for a few hours. After her nap, she still appeared groggy, but her eyes were more focused and alert.
If your dog is still showing signs of pain after 3 days of medicine, please call your vet! Pain can look different in each dog. Look for how they move, are they incredibly hesitant to sit or lay down? Do they struggle to maintain position to pee and poop? Are they unable to sleep peacefully? Thankfully, my vet used stitches that dissolve over time, so we did not need to bring Hopper back for stitch removal. Your vet will also give you a list of other symptoms to look for, that might indicate need for vet attention.
If you find that your dog is very hyped up at the beginning of recovery and bouncing off the walls, even in the crate, you could reach out to your vet for medication to help make them a little bit sleepy. While I didn’t need it for Hopper, I do have several friends that worried their dogs were going to pull a stitch the first week, and got medicine from their vet.
How do I entertain my dog?
Lickimat was my go to activity. I wanted to feed her wet food for the first day or two after surgery. This way, I knew she was getting enough fluids in and that food would be easier to digest. It’s possible that the arc position a dog forms to poop can be painful. I wanted bowel movements to be easier. For Hopper, it did appear that pooping was uncomfortable for the first ~2 days. Luckily, she pooped the morning before surgery, so I wasn’t worried that it was ~24 hours until her first poop post-surgery. She got a Lickimat twice a day for the first week and once a day for the second week.
I also did short training sessions. I did NOT practice behaviors such as sit, down, or any sort of cue that asks for a specific body position. I didn’t want her to do anything that might hurt.
What did we practice? Nose targets, duration nose holds against my hand, chin rests, walking nicely on a leash through the house, and impulse control games like “slow cookie”. This is a fun but non-strenuous game where the dog sits still as you move the cookie slowly to her nose until you tell her she can eat it.
There are many cone options out there. I’ve seen people weave the dog’s collar through a pool noodle. I’ve seen airplane pillows snapped around. Some people put their dog in a toddler’s onesie. You can buy blow up cones. You can buy soft satellite cones. You can buy plastic cones, some opaque and some clear. I ultimately settled on the clear plastic cone. This way, Hopper could still see out around her. It’s harder to bend a plastic cone, too.
Wet dog food, dog-safe peanut butter (no xylitol in ingredients), or squeeze cheese:
I used wet dog food to smear on the Lickimat. I also froze it inside of Kongs™. However, the other food items listed could work just as well if your dog enjoys them.
A fan or some other white noise machine:
I kept a fan on in the same room as Hopper. This way, she wouldn’t be as likely to hear every car driving by or every kid running down the street.
It should be big enough for dog to comfortably sit, stand, turn around, and lie down.
Be prepared to do laundry. Hopper shed hair like nothing I’d ever seen before. Also, bedding got to smell “doggy” much faster than normal, as she was spending so much time in the crate. I washed her bedding 4 times in 2 weeks!
How did it go?
Hopper wasn’t thrilled to spend so much time in the cone. However, she didn’t resist putting the cone on. I attribute that to the training we did beforehand. She healed nicely without complications. On day 14 post surgery, she was thrilled to zoom her figure 8s around the yard again, and I was delighted to let her!
About the author: Rebecca Johnson CPDT-KA is the owner of The Family Dog Trainer in Lubbock, Texas offering private in-home lessons and group classes. She believes in force-free training and does not use prong, choke, or shock/e-collars. She is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA), a licensed Family Paws Parent Educator, and a professional member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). To learn more about Rebecca or The Family Dog Trainer, visit www.thefamilydogtrainer.net, and like and following The Family Dog Trainer LLC on Facebook and Instagram.