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Spaying and Neutering Your Pet: When Is the Right Time?

February 27th 2018

As many of us understand, there are numerous reasons why our pets should be spayed or neutered, and one of the most frequently asked questions from our clients is: “Doc, when is the best time to spay or neuter my pet?

And our answer is: “It depends!”

In this post, we will provide you with some considerations to help you decide the best timing to spay/neuter your pet as the answer can vary, depending on the circumstances.

To recap, the term "spaying" refers to the removal of the reproductive tract in females, whereas neutering applies to males.

Let’s Get Started.

Cancer and Infection of the Reproductive Organs

In female dogs, spaying has the benefit of reducing the risk of breast cancer later in life:

- by 0.5% when spayed before the first heat

- by 8% when spayed after the first heat

- by 26% when spayed after the 2nd heat

Overall, intact female dogs have a seven times higher chance of developing breast cancer compared to spayed females.

In cats, breast cancer is reduced:

- by 86% when spayed before 1 year of age

- by 91% when spayed before 6 months of age

Bacterial infection of the uterus and testicular cancer are prevented:

- by 100% by spaying/neutering – however timing is not of any influence

In male dogs, neutering reduces the risk of prostate gland enlargement and subsequent infection at an older age – so timing of neutering is only of importance at an older age.

Therefore, spaying should be performed after the second heat for female dogs and before six months of age for cats in order to reduce the risk of breast cancer and to prevent infection of the uterus. Neutering should be done to prevent testicular cancer and prostate gland issues.

Physical Development

Physical development is generally completed when your cat or dog is just over one year old.

Sex hormones stop the musculoskeletal growth process, but stimulate the growth of the urinary and reproductive tract. If pets get neutered/spayed before the production of sex hormones start, they tend to get a bit taller than their intact counterparts.

Moreover, recent research in large breed dogs has shown that this increase in height when neutered/spayed before puberty comes with a mild increase in joint problems such as hip dysplasia and arthritis. A possible explanation for this would be that their joints have to carry more weight than intended causing accelerated degeneration of the joints.

Sex hormones in particular are responsible for the development of the urinary and reproductive tract. If neutered early, the urinary tract tends to stay smaller and is more susceptible to blockages, this is especially true for male cats.

Consequently, to optimize the growth and development of both musculoskeletal and urinary systems, spay or neuter surgery should be performed around 1 year of age.

Risks of the Surgery Itself – the Veterinarian’s Perspective

Spaying and neutering is performed under general anesthesia, hence the risk of anesthetic complications, not unlike in humans. Having said that, veterinarians have greatly decreased the risks associated with anesthesia because of more diligent risk assessments, better anesthetic drugs and improved monitoring prior, during and after general anesthesia.

Because an entire organ (ovaries and uterus) is removed from the body, a spay surgery carries the risk of bleeding. To reduce this risk as much as possible, spaying before puberty or when the pet is not in heat is preferred since less blood flow will be going to the uterus and ovaries and thus the chance of complications due to bleeding is lessened.

Puppies and kittens can be spayed or neutered as early as 6 to 14 weeks of age provided extra care is taken with the anesthesia. On the other hand, adult dogs can still be spayed without complications so long as care is taken to ensure that all larger blood vessels are ligated properly; it is for this reason that these surgeries typically take a bit longer.

Spaying an animal in heat increases the risk of the surgery significantly, because blood flow to the uterus is increased as is the size of the uterus. Therefore, spaying is preferably not done when the cat or dog is in heat! If you apply this argument to the neuter: once the dog or cat is sexually active, there is increased blood flow to the testicles and the risk of bleeding during or after the surgery increases mildly.

An argument in favour of spaying and neutering around 6 months of age: 6 months is when most dogs have all of their permanent teeth. When they are under anesthesia for the spay/neuter and all of their permanent teeth are in, any remaining baby teeth can be extracted to prevent future dental issues. Spaying or neutering should be done before the start of puberty to reduce the risk of the surgery, but after all permanent teeth have come in.


Discerning the behavioural impact of spaying and neutering is less obvious than you might think. Behavior is determined by various factors such as breed, genetics, socialization and training (or lack thereof), environmental factors, physical conditions and sexual development.

With the start of the production of sex hormones comes the onset of puberty and related behaviors including urine marking, mounting, roaming and potential inter-dog aggression. Spaying and neutering may or may not have an impact on these behaviors and should be carefully considered while co-examining the other factors affecting behavior. In some cases, such as aggression, spaying and neutering might actually make the behavior worse!

So whether or not to perform the procedure should be determined by looking at the various factors affecting behavior. The best advice we can give you is to consult with a veterinarian who is well versed in behavior or a veterinary behaviorist.

It’s Complicated

To conclude, there is no straightforward answer when it comes to the question of when to spay or neuter your pet. Clearly many factors do play a role and only some will apply to your pet’s particular situation. Of course, we are always here for you to offer additional advice, if needed, on this important topic!

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Dental Disease: The Silent Tormentor

February 19th 2018

Dental disease is the most common medical condition affecting our pets. Just as with people, a healthy mouth and teeth requires constant care such as brushing, dental cleaning and mouth washes. As it is sometimes hard for ourselves to keep up with these daily tasks, it is even harder to apply them to our pets. Especially because our pets do not understand the why of it and - let’s face it - not every dog or cat is equally welcoming of a tooth brush and tooth paste in their mouth. Even if we as humans do manage to keep up with the daily care of our mouth, a cleaning by a dental hygienist once or twice a year is still a must to prevent further decay, along with annual x-rays and exams by the dentist. The same applies to our pets, in which we also recommend regular dental cleanings and check-ups. How about coyotes and wolves - would they not have dental disease? I would assume yes, but to a lesser extend as their lifestyle, diet and life expectancy is quite different from our domesticated critters.


1) Periodontal disease, loss of supporting bone and inflammation of the gums go hand in hand.

In the first picture of the two displayed below, you can see inflammation of the gums around the teeth after removal of the tartar or calculus. The root of the molar is exposed due to infection under the gum line and needs to be extracted.

2) Fractures: Fractures can involve the enamel only, break through the enamel or even crack into the root canal. In case of exposure of the root canal, the tooth will become infected and can eventually become abscessed.

In the bottom picture of those displayed below, the molar is fractured and the instrument is inserted in the pulp cavity. The blood vessel and nerve are exposed. Needless to say, this would be painful for this particular dog if he wasn't sedated!

3) Build-up of tartar

The pictures shown below were taken before and after the cleaning of the teeth. Tartar contains a large amount of bacteria and will result in infection underneath the gum line if cleaning would not be performed. This particular dog still had healthy teeth underneath and cleaning prevented the extractions that would have been necessary as infection settled in.

4) Feline resorptive lesions

In cats, specifically, enzymatic resorption of teeth is seen frequently. It is a very painful condition for the cat. Additionally, occurrence of this dental issue cannot be prevented by regular brushing or good maintenance of the mouth. Consequently, this is a frustrating situation for the cat, the veterinarian and de owner! Extraction or crown amputation is the only solution to remove the source of pain for these cats.

So, we can summarize that the main problems in the mouth are periodontal disease, tooth abscesses, fractures with or without involvement of the pulp canal, and feline resorptive lesions. From the cases illustrated above it is clear that all these conditions are painful for our dogs and cats. Nonetheless, in all of the above cases the pets were still eating. They seem to manage to chew on the less painful teeth (or not chew at all??) to compensate. So how do we know when a dental is necessary? An annual exam by your veterinarian can elucidate ongoing problems and recommendations will be made as to the particular work that may be necessary.

And it has to be mentioned that dental work is expensive. This is because the surgery takes a long time, and a large volume of aesthetic drugs are used. Additionally, extracting teeth is meticulous work and the mouth has many nerves and blood vessels to be aware of while doing surgery. This results in prolonged surgery time. Also, even though only one dog or cat is being treated, in the mouth each tooth has to be assessed individually which means there are 42 little patients in a dog’s mouth and 30 in a cat’s mouth. This is a significant number of teeth to be assessed.

The best way to prevent dental disease is by brushing teeth regularly, provide dental chews, and have chewing toys and maybe even bones (only for non-aggressive chewers!) available. If brushing would be difficult, you can put some toothpaste on his/her favourite chew toy and let them do the hard work! Alternatively, mouthwash for pets can be added to their drinking water. Dental chews are known to mechanically remove tartar as well as prescription dental diets.

To conclude, dental disease in its many forms is still the most common illness to affect our pets! There is a lot we can do for prevention – ultimately a cleaning under anaesthesia and maybe even extractions may be necessary. Talk to your veterinarian for more specific advice!

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