Today Jolene "asks the holistic vet": When do you spay a female dog and why?
Dr. Will Falconer,Certified Veterinary Homeopath, Alternatives for Animal Health in Austin, TX responds:
A great question, Jolene. To understand the answer, we have to consider what happens in the female dog's body at the time of spay. The uterus and both ovaries are removed, under general anesthesia. What that does, in effect, is to plunge the bitch into "instant menopause." Estrogen, progesterone, prolactin, and growth hormone are all produced in the ovaries, and hormones, by definition, are chemicals produced in a gland that affect the entire animal (or person). So, these innate chemicals affect lots of physiological processes, not the least of which is growth.
So, when to spay? I like the bitches in my practice to wait until 3 months after they've gone through their first heat. That gives the young females a chance to grow with all their hormones intact, and get to full maturity before we "delete" their hormone factories, the ovaries. The timing of the first heat varies, but in general, the smaller breeds will come into estrus (heat) sooner, and the big breeds later, in terms of months of age. You could see a toy breed come into first estrus as early as 6-7 months, and a giant breed as late as 14-16 months.
But here's the very big caveat in what I've just said about when to spay. You have to be responsible to prevent pregnancy in this first heat! The world is full of pups without homes, and thousands face euthanasia on a monthly, if not daily basis. Heat lasts for 3 weeks, during which there will be some bleeding and your young female will be "calling" all the intact males in the vicinity to her with her pheromones. So, prevention means, at a minimum, leashing whenever outside, no roaming allowed, and hygiene may require some doggy diapers, if the flow is profuse.
If you can't say with surety that you can prevent pregnancy during that first heat, you'd want to spay beforehand, but try to get as much growth finished as possible before you head to the vet. And it's a very bad idea to spay while in estrus or heat, though it happens a lot. Imagine the huge surge of hormones that comes with estrus, and THEN you suddenly remove the hormone factory -- it's much more of a shock than if it's done in anestrus, the period before or between estrus times. That's part of the reason I like to wait 3 months after that first heat, too. We let the hormones come back to quiet, the uterus to fully settle back into a non-engorged state, and then do the surgery. The next heat will be coming in 6 months, so you've got some leeway.
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