General Spay and Neuter FAQ

Dr. Courtney Hurst Bridgeman, D.V.M.
Dr. Courtney H. Bridgeman

Frequently Asked Questions:


What is spaying?

Spaying is the common name for a procedure called an “ovariohysterectomy”. This is an abdominal surgery in which the uterus and ovaries are removed from the female’s body. This procedure will make her incapable of reproduction and is the common practice to sterilize females.

What is neutering?

Neutering is the common name for a procedure called “an orchiectomy”. This is an externeral surgery and does not commonly enter the abdominal cavity although is the case of some cryptorchids with an abdominally retained testicle it might. In this procedure both testicles are removed from the male’s body making him sterile and removing him from the gene pool.

Will the surgery hurt my pet?

It is a surgical procedure so some pain and inflammation is common. The surgery itself is done with the pet asleep under general anesthesia where they cannot feel a thing. Pain medicines are given prior to and after surgery that can give the pet pain relief for up to 36hrs after surgery.

Will my pet gain weight after surgery?

It is common for a pet’s metabolism to slow down a bit after surgery. It is possible, however, to maintain your pet at a healthy body weight by adjusting the pet’s food intake. It is possible to keep your pet healthy regardless of their reproductive status.

Will it change my pet’s personality?

Surgery should not alter your pet’s friendly or exuberant behavior. At most you should see a decrease in undesirable behaviors like house marking, aggression, escape/roaming and courting behaviors especially in male dogs.

How long is recovery?

Animals are remarkable in their ability to recover from major surgery. This same set of surgeries, when done in humans, can put someone out of work for 6wks or more. For our pets, recovery sees them back to eating and acting almost normally within 48-72hrs and totally back to their normal self in 5 days. Full healing for the incision and surgical sites can take one week for the superficial layers to several months for the deeper tissue. Complications can postpone healing, of course.

Shouldn’t my dog/cat have a litter first?

This is an old wive’s tale. It was once believed that allowing a female animal to have a litter before being spayed was good for her body. Studies have since been done that indicate that the greater the number of litters and heat cycles that a female dog goes through before she is spayed substantially increases her risk of severe health problems like mammary cancer and pyometra. Having a female dog spayed prior to her first birthday can substantially increase her lifespan.

How old do they need to be?

Different vets recommend different ages for spay and neuter. Here at the San Antonio Humane Society we have successfully practiced “pediatric alters” meaning that we routinely neuter and spay animals at 8wks. Our guidelines are that your pet must be 8wks and 2lbs or more to be fixed here. We believe that the surgery is easier on the pet at this time when they are still small and resilient both mentally and physically. We also believe that it helps to create a pet who is never distracted by reproduction hormones and can have a stronger lasting bond with their owners. Lastly, it prevents accidental unwanted litters by dogs/cats who reach maturity before the norm and before their owners realize it they have a puppy having puppies!

Can a pregnant animal be spayed, and what risk is involved?

A pregnant animal can be spayed at the discretion of the veterinarian performing the surgery. There are greater anesthetic risks as well as risk of incision complications, however, this surgery has been performed regularly here at the San Antonio Humane Society with great success and is often better for the female in the long run. Rarely, a dog may have a “pseudocyesis” experience after surgery meaning that, due to the hormones involved, they actually feel they have had a litter and might experience lactation, nesting, and mothering (which can include children, other family pets, or inanimate objects.)

Can an animal in heat be spayed, and what risk is involved?

A female can be “in heat” or estrus during the surgical procedure. This is done routinely, especially in cats, and while the procedure can be more tedious for the veterinarian there is often no additional risk to the patient. Extra blood loss or possible vaginal/uterine infection can be a complication.

Shouldn’t my dog/cat have at least one heat cycle first?

This is a commonly debated question in veterinary medicine. While some veterinarians do believe that a single heat cycle releases hormones into the blood stream that are important for maturation of the body, there has been little scientific evidence to suggest that animals neutered before a heat cycle are negatively impacted. We feel that the risks of waiting for sexual maturity far outweigh the benefits.

Why does my vet say that my pet has to be at least 6 months old before having surgery?

Veterinarians all have different scientific logic behind their protocols. Some veterinarians have selected 6 months for the above listed rationale. Others believe that an older puppy is stronger and has had a chance to develop immunity to the viruses. These bits of logic are reasonable for most pets but we feel strongly that since pediatric surgeries are not harmful to the pet at all, they should be recommended in most cases.

Is there a licensed veterinarian performing the surgery?

There is ALWAYS a licensed veterinarian performing the surgery. On rare occasion a fourth year veterinary student who is months from becoming a veterinarian will be supervised directly by a licensed vet in accordance with state law. Only exemplary veterinary students are allowed to perform surgery under the watchful eye of an experienced veterinarian.

Will my pet be asleep for his/her surgery?

All surgical procedures are performed with high quality veterinary care including surgical plane anesthesia. This means all pets are completely “asleep” for the duration of the procedure.

Will my pet have pain meds to take at home after surgery?

Most pets are not sent home with pain meds for the owner to administer. HOWEVER, ALL pets are given both presurgical pain medication and a post surgical long term pain medicine injection.

Can I give my pet over the counter pain meds?

Please never give your pet over the counter medication without consulting a veterinarian. Common medicines like Tylenol can be bad for dogs and deadly for cats.

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