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Spaying and Neutering: A Recipe for a Healthy Pet

Have you heard of Scooter the neutered cat? He is the ginger-furred, spiffy sunglasses-wearing ball of fluff who is the face of an online campaign promoting spay and neuter.

Scooter

The goal of the campaign is to reduce the population of homeless cats, thereby reducing the number of euthanasias of healthy but unwanted cats in shelter environments. Some of their key taglines include: Talk to your cat about sex, Ditch the testicles and save the dough, and Pledge to be gonad-free. The website and commercials are humorous and eye-catching but the overall message is all the more important.

Below is a list of Frequently Asked Questions to help shed light on perhaps one of the most important decisions you will be faced with once becoming a proud pet-parent.

What is Spaying and Neutering?
Spaying is the surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus, while neutering is the surgical removal of the testicles. As such, spaying is performed on an intact female pet and neutering is performed on an intact male pet.

What exactly happens on surgery day?
Congratulations! You’ve scheduled the appointment and have taken the first step towards reducing the pet population and maintaining the health of your new fur-baby! Surgery day is quickly approaching and you are nervous about what will take place. The first thing to know is that your pet must be fasted (not fed) for at least 8 hours prior to surgery. Nausea and vomiting are possible following administration of anesthetic medications on surgery day. Therefore, feeding your pet on the morning of his/her surgery could put them at increased risk, as sedated patients can vomit and inadvertently inhale the contents, which can lead to complications such as pneumonia.

A pre-surgical exam with blood work is usually completed in order to ensure that your pet is healthy with no underlying medical issues that would make surgery contraindicated. If your pet is younger, blood work typically is optional. Alternatively, if your pet is older, blood work is often compulsory – as the risk of potential health issues increases with age.

Once your pet is found to be healthy on exam +/- blood work, sedation is administered in order to not only calm the pet but to ease the induction of anesthesia. An intravenous catheter is placed in the pet’s leg to permit delivery of anesthetic agents as well as intravenous fluids during the procedure. The catheter also permits venous access in case of emergency.

An anesthetic agent is delivered through the intravenous catheter to induce sleep and at that time, a tube is inserted into the windpipe to ensure a clear airway throughout the procedure. The pet is then connected to an anesthetic machine, which delivers oxygen and anesthetic gas to maintain the pet in a state of sleep for the entirety of the surgery. Close monitoring of vital parameters is performed at all times through the procedure.

In the case of a spay procedure, the abdomen is shaved widely and cleaned/prepped for surgery. A numbing nerve block is usually performed in the area of the abdomen where the procedure will take place. The veterinarian then drapes the patient with a sterile surgical drape and begins the surgery, which involves removal of the uterus and ovaries.

In the case of a canine neuter procedure, the area just upwards of the scrotum is shaved, cleaned and surgically prepped. A nerve block may also be done at this time. The veterinarian drapes the patient with surgical drapes and will then proceed to remove both testicles.

A feline neuter procedure usually takes no more than five minutes and therefore, anesthetic gas is not used. The pet is of course, completely asleep using the intravenous anesthetic agents. A numbing block can be used as well and the scrotal incisions are small enough to close on their own without the need of stitches.

For all procedures, the pet usually is dropped off early in the morning and then is discharged from the hospital in the evening with take-home care instructions and post-operative pain control.

At what age should I spay or neuter my pet(s)?
This tends to be a highly debated topic. I usually recommend smaller breed females being spayed at 6 months of age, while smaller breed males are neutered at 7 months of age. The same can be said for female and male cats. Most shelters will spay and neuter at very young ages (less than 5-6 months of age), in order to ensure maintenance and/or reduction of the pet population once the pet leaves their facility.

With larger breed dogs, between 9 months and 1 year usually suffices. Particularly, with female large breed dogs, we see an increased risk of mammary cancer with every heat cycle, therefore, spaying around one year of age versus two or three years of age or older can be beneficial in reducing overall risk. Waiting closer to a year of age tends to help with muscle gain and attaining the traditional stocky or blocky build of some of the larger breeds.

What are the benefits of Spaying and Neutering?
– Reducing the pet population by preventing unnecessary pregnancies.
– Reducing the number of healthy pets euthanized in shelters due to overcrowding.
– Reduced likelihood of yowling, spraying/inappropriate urination, and roaming.
– Significantly reduces the risk for serious health conditions such as mammary cancer and prostate cancer.
– Eliminates the risk of uterine infection (pyometra), testicular cancer and uterine/ovarian cancers.
– Less territorialism, particularly in males where fighting can increase the risk of wounds, lacerations, abscesses, as well as transmission of FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus).
– Can reduce the risk of inter-dog aggression/dominance issues.

Are there any disadvantages to Spaying and Neutering?
– Slowed metabolism can occur in some pets post-operatively, predisposing to weight gain and obesity, so diet and exercise should be managed in a spayed/neutered pet.
– Early spay and neuter can result in reduced muscle, longer/lankier/less blocky appearance in some breeds.

What safety precautions will be taken during and after surgery?
During your pet’s stay in-hospital for his/her procedure, an intravenous catheter will be placed to allow venous access in case of emergency, as well as to permit delivery of intravenous fluids. His/her vital parameters (i.e.: heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, temperature) will be consistently monitored from the time of induction of anesthesia to time of recovery post-operatively.

The anesthetic monitor closely observes the pet’s depth of anesthesia throughout the procedure to ensure a good plane of sleep has been reached and is maintained, adjusting their need for gas or oxygen accordingly. Each anesthetic protocol is tailored to the need of the pet, so if your pet has liver or kidney issues, or perhaps a heart murmur, a plan is made prior to surgery day to ensure a routine procedure and a safe and smooth recovery.

Following surgery, the patient is closely monitored until awake enough to swallow, at which point, their breathing tube is removed and they are wrapped in blankets with warm packs to maintain a safe body temperature.

Once they are more awake and recovery is complete, the clinic will call you to update you on your fur baby’s progress!

How will the pain be controlled for my pet in the days after surgery?
Most pre-anesthetic protocols involve the use of an agent which provides some pain control additional to providing sedation. Immediately post-operatively, an injection of an anti-inflammatory is usually given. The pet is also discharged with several days worth of a pain medication. If you feel your pet’s pain is not adequately being controlled, do not hesitate to call! Believe it or not, most pets recover better than people post-operatively, and are back wanting to play and explore a mere few days later!

What should I expect once bringing my pet home after surgery?
Most spay and neuter patients will go home looking the same way they did when you dropped them off, aside from perhaps having a fun-looking party hat (cone of shame) strapped to their head! Others may be slightly drowsy and slow to recover and may, therefore, sleep the majority of the time once returning home. This drowsiness will pass, of course, and usually the next day, they are back to looking like their old self!

Unfortunately, this is where we can see a lot of postoperative issues, as it is important to keep your pet quiet and resting (as much as is possible) in the days following surgery, particularly upwards of one to two weeks while they heal. If external sutures are used, in the case of some spay and dog neuter procedures, recheck and suture removal will take place at this two-week point.

Strict on-leash walks, limiting jumping and running as well as rough-housing with other pets are all very important factors to remember as your pet heals post-operatively. As mentioned previously, an e-collar may be required to prevent licking or chewing of the incision site. Closely monitoring their incision for discharge, swelling, discoloration or mal-odor is also important in the days following surgery. If you have any questions or concerns at any point in the recovery period, please do not hesitate to call your
veterinarian.

Well, there you have it! Your pet is just as cool as Scooter the neutered cat, and his/her long-term health has been made a priority! All you need now is some fancy spectacles and a TV spot and your pet could be a star!

Who are we kidding? They are already a star in your heart! (and ours!).

Image Credit: https://www.givethemten.org/frisk-and- fun/scooter-and- marmalade.html

Written by Dr. Samantha Wambolt

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