Early sterilization surgery

A sure-fire way to prevent unwanted litters?

Early sterilization surgery is a sure-fire way to prevent unwanted litters

The only 100 percent accurate, completely foolproof method of avoiding unwanted litters is to spay or neuter your pet.

The fact that a dog is purebred or registered or “has papers” does not make it a worthy candidate for breeding.

As far as we know, dogs do not miss the ability to procreate; there’s no biological clock ticking away, telling Muffy she is missing the joys of motherhood or reminding Rambo he needs a son to carry on his name.

A spayed bitch doesn’t get cancer of the reproductive tract or drip blood on the floor during estrous periods. A neutered male doesn’t get cancer of the reproductive tract and is more likely to stay at home instead of wandering in search of a lady friend.

Trouble is, there are many misconceptions about canine reproduction, including the age at which surgery can be done.

Most owners and many veterinarians prefer to wait until the dog or bitch is six-to-eight months old, but this may be too late to prevent a litter. However, there is an answer. Early spay and neuter protocols are available for puppies and kittens, protocols that make it easy for shelters to make sure adopted dogs are never accidentally bred and for breeders to prevent litters produced by puppies sold as pets. These surgeries can be done on puppies as young as six weeks old.

Massachusetts SPCA

Early spay and neuter is routinely used at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. MSPCA considers veterinarians the key to this still-controversial procedure. According to MSPCA vice president Dr. Peter Theran, veterinarians can

MSPCA has produced a video tape to describe the surgical protocol and show how quickly the puppies and kittens recover.

Puppies considered for early sterilization must be healthy so that the surgery does not stress them unduly. On the day of the surgery, they are examined and then weighed so that anesthesia doses can be calculated. Puppies can suffer from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or loss of body heat (hypothermia) during surgery and recovery, so speed is of the essence in the procedure.

Male puppies get an injection of sedative and pain killer that puts them to sleep within seconds. Then a front leg is shaved, an intravenous catheter inserted, and anesthesia administered. The surgery is brief; the scrotal sack is cut, the testicle exteriorized, the blood vessels clamped with a hemostatic clip, and the process is repeated on the second testicle. The clips are made of non-reactive material and are left in place. Incisions are sutured so that no stitches appear on the surface for the dog to remove by chewing or licking.

After surgery, the anesthesia is reversed and the pups are quickly on their feet. An hour later, they get a light meal.

Female puppies are prepared for surgery just as the males are, but instead of intravenous anesthesia, they receive gas anesthesia through a tracheal tube and have both heart rate and respirations monitored. Pediatric tissues are fragile and organs are tiny, so care is taken when making the incision into the abdominal cavity and probing with fingers for the uterus and ovaries. Both horns of the uterus and both ovaries must be found and removed and the ends clamped with hemostatic clamps to prevent bleeding.

The incision is closed without external sutures and the anesthesia reversed; the puppy is up within minutes and eating within an hour of revival.

Side effects

Early spay and neuter is gaining acceptance as a tool for preventing unwanted litters. A study reported in Veterinary Medicine in August 1995 compared puppies sterilized at about eight weeks of age with littermates spayed or neutered at seven months and found that the younger puppies recovered more quickly from the surgery than the adolescents but by 18 months of age had slightly longer radii (front leg bones). However, since nearly half of the 142 puppies entered in the study at the Humane Society of Austin and Travis County in Austin, Texas, did not return for the 18-month evaluation, the data is not conclusive.

There has been some concern that early sterilization of female puppies could result in incontinence when the pup ages, but there is no evidence that the problem is worse in bitches spayed at eight weeks than in those spayed later.


Information for this article came from:

  1. Early Spay/Neuter, a video tape from the Massachusetts SPCA
  2. A case for neutering pups and kittens at two months of age” by Leo L. Lieberman DVM, a special commentary in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Volume 191, No. 5: September 1, 1987.
  3. Early spay and neutering helps solve overpopulation problem” by Greg A. Lewis DVM, in Veterinary Forum, March 1993.
  4. Should dogs in animal shelters be neutered early?” a peer-reviewed article by Walter E. Crenshaw DVM and Craig N. Carter MS, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVPM in Veterinary Medicine, August 1995.
Norma Bennett Woolf

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