Spaying or Neutering Your Dog FAQ

WebMD veterinary experts answer commonly asked questions about spaying or neutering your dog.

By Sandy Eckstein
WebMD Pet Health Feature

Reviewed by Katherine Snyder, DVM

An estimated 5 million to 8 million animals are euthanized in shelters across this country every year. Many organizations are trying to decrease that number by opening low-cost spay/neuter clinics to prevent more litters of puppies needing homes. One such organization is LifeLine Animal Project, an Atlanta-based nonprofit shelter and clinic that has performed more than 25,000 spay/neuters since 2005. WebMD talked to executive director Rebecca Guinn to learn about the myths and facts surrounding spaying and neutering.

Q: Why should I have my dog spayed or neutered?

A: Shelter euthanasia is the number one killer of companion animals. Spaying and neutering is the only way to reduce or eliminate that.

It's also better for your pet's health. And it's better for you because it will make your life easier if your pet is spayed or neutered. Animals can be miserable -- and make you miserable -- when they are in heat. And then there's always the problem of what to do with the puppies.

There's also the financial side. Just in the Atlanta area alone, more than $15 million is spent annually dealing with stray and unwanted pets. That's your tax dollars.

Q: Shouldn't I let my dog have a litter before I spay her?

A: No. Absolutely not. All the medical evidence suggests a dog should be spayed before her first heat. It's much easier for her then because it's a much easier surgery at that time.

And the problem with letting your dog have a litter is you've just instantly contributed to the pet overpopulation problem. Now you have to find homes for all those puppies. And for each home you find, there's one less home for a dog that was already born. Plus, you can't be responsible for what the new owners do. So unless you spay or neuter all the puppies before placing them, the new owners may let their dog breed as well. Now you've added even more dogs to the pet overpopulation problem.

The only responsible thing to do, given the problem in this country, is to not allow your pets to reproduce.

Some people say they want their children to witness birth. OK, you can still do that. There are plenty of rescue groups out there trying to help animals that have been abandoned by irresponsible pet owners. Many have pregnant animals. Volunteer to foster a pregnant dog. You'll be helping the group as well as the dog, and you'll give your children a chance to see a litter being born and raised.

Q: Should I let my dog have a heat before I spay her?

A: Medically, it's better to spay your dog before her first heat. It greatly reduces the risk of mammary tumors. People who wait to spay their dogs until after their second heat greatly increase the risk of mammary tumors in their pets. Once they've had several heats, intact female dogs have a one out of four chance of developing mammary tumors.

Q: Is it OK to spay my dog when she's a puppy?

A: We spay or neuter dogs at our clinic at 8 weeks as long as they weigh at least two pounds. Of course, it varies by breed. Some of the tiny breeds have to be done later. But larger breeds are usually ready by two months of age.

There are still some people who say pediatric spay/neuter is dangerous, but that's not true. It has become much more widely accepted. Those ideas about needing to wait until after a dog is six months or a year old are really antiquated and the evidence is to the contrary. Even the American Veterinary Medical Association supports early spay/neuter.

The puppies recover a lot faster than adults. It's an easier surgery for them, and it reduces the rate of disease later on. It's just a much easier procedure on younger animals.

Q: It can cost hundreds of dollars to get a dog spayed or neutered. I can't afford that. What can I do?

A: There are a lot of low-cost options all over the country. We have a low-cost spay/neuter clinic in the Atlanta area and we spay dogs for as little as $70. The ASPCA keeps a database of low-cost options on its web site. You can put in your zip code, and it will give you all your options within a certain radius. Click on the “pet care” tab and look for the low-cost and free spay/neuter database.

Q: Don't dogs get fat once you spay or neuter them?

A: Dogs, just like people, get fat when they eat too much and don't get enough exercise. And that's something you can control. You can use portion control and take your dog for a walk.

Q: My dog is a guard dog. If I spay or neuter him, will that stop him from protecting my house?

A: Spaying or neutering is not going to affect your dog's desire or ability to protect your home or protect you. Guard dogs are trained to be guard dogs. Their behavior is a function of genetics or instinct, environment, and training.

Many, many police canine units spay or neuter their dogs. There's no correlation between spaying or neutering an animal and its ability to protect you.

But people also need to understand that unless their dog has been trained to be a guard dog, it isn't a guard dog. Most dogs are naturally protective, but if you truly need a dog for protection, and your dog isn't trained, you're at risk.

Q: Will my dog stop running away from home if I neuter him?

A: Well, you really should keep your dog confined. But neutering certainly does decrease the instinct to roam. That's because unneutered dogs are constantly seeking to match up with unspayed females. It also will decrease your dog's urge to escape your home or escape your fence. But in this day and age, there's no reason to allow a dog to freely roam the streets. It's dangerous.

Q: My dog leaves marks all over my house. If I neuter him, will that stop?

A: Neutering a dog will decrease and could eliminate that kind of marking, which is a territorial behavior. That's what they're doing; they're marking their territory to ward off other male dogs that could come into it and get their female. So neutering may eliminate the problem. But there also could be other health issues or behavioral issues involved at this point. So it's a really good argument for neutering early, before the animal reaches sexual maturity and the marking behavior has become habit.

Q: Will spaying or neutering my dog prevent future illnesses?

A: Yes, absolutely. In females, it greatly decreases mammarian cancer and completely eliminates uterine cancers and diseases. In males, it eliminates testicular cancers or diseases and can lower the risk of prostate cancer. Generally, spayed and neutered pets live longer, happier lives.