What you need to know about spay and neuter

The practice of spaying and neutering began around 1874, thanks to the efforts of the Women’s Humane Society of Philadelphia. Caring for the city’s stray dogs and cats, the WSPCA built the City Refuge for Lost and Suffering Animals, where animals were treated, boarded, and homed.

Records from the ASPCA of New York City documented more than 300,000 stray animals per year in depression –era years.

In the ‘50s, literature appeared touting sterilization as a convenience for pet owners, reducing problems like spraying and roaming. During the 1960s literature began to highlight the role that sterilization could play in preventing unwanted litters. It was during the ‘70s that spay/neuter became an important part of animal shelter operations and animal placement. The ASPCA instituted a mandatory sterilization policy for all animals adopted starting in 1972.

Fast-forward to present day and, in addition to population control, research on spaying and neutering focuses on medical issues such as reducing the incidence of certain cancers and hormonally-related diseases.

What you should know

Dr. Jacqueline Blanchette, Oregon Humane Society’s Spay and Save Lead Veterinarian, recommends first considering age. “Good questions to ask your veterinarian include the benefits of altering at a younger age vs. waiting until a pet is slightly older.  Spaying and neutering is commonly done, but is not without risk, and should be discussed with the vet.”

“Most of the time, we recommend that spay or neuter be done around six months of age,” says Dr. Katie Marcus of Frontier Vet Hospital.  “For spays, it is important to try and get the surgery done BEFORE the first heat cycle to help reduce the risk of mammary cancer.  There is a statistical increase in the risk of mammary/breast cancer in dogs that have gone through one or more heat cycles.  There is less of an age concern with neuters, as there isn't the cancer association like this. As for neutering, Marcus says, “It's easy to recommend delaying it.  For spaying, it becomes a little more of a case by case recommendation because you have to balance the possible future risk of joint disease that might occur with spaying before a heat cycle versus the possible future risk of mammary cancer by spaying after a heat cycle.  Talk to your veterinarian about their recommendations.” Guidelines can also vary with large-breed puppies.

Spaying and neutering may be routine procedures, but, as Dr. Marcus points out, it’s still surgery. “It's important to ask simple questions like how is it done, and about possible complications with anesthesia and surgery. Not every veterinary practice does anesthesia and surgery the same way, so comparing one practice to another can be like comparing apples to oranges.  So ask about whether or not the anesthesia includes IV catheter, fluids, pain control, intubation, etc.  For spay surgery, ask if the ovaries or the ovaries and uterus will be removed.”

Surgical options


Options for neutering are limited. “For the surgery itself, it's more straightforward for a neuter — it's pretty much done the same way everywhere,” says Marcus. “Assuming they aren't cryptorchid where one testicle is retained in the abdomen.”


  • Traditional ovariohysterectomy involves a large incision in the abdomen and removal of ovaries and uterus. Slightly longer recovery time, and slightly higher risk of complications than other options
  • Traditional ovariectomey involves a medium incision in the abdomen and removal of the ovaries only
  • Laparoscopic ovariohysterectomy involves a small incision and removal of ovaries and uterus using small instruments. Recovery time is generally shorter than traditional procedures, with less risk of complications
  • Laparoscopic ovariectomy involves a small incision and removal of ovaries only

Questions to ask

Dr. Blanchette recommends asking your veterinarian . . .  

  • Expected recovery time for the procedure being considered
  • Possible complications during or after the procedure
  • Type of pain management to be used during and after the procedure

True or False

Let’s dispel some common myths. Spaying and neutering does not alter personality, or cause laziness or immature behaviors. Talk to your veterinarian if concerned about such things.

As discussed, what spaying and neuter do provide are benefits such as reduced risk of some cancers,  reduced tendency to roam, the mess and crazy behavior that can accompany the heat cycle, and of course: the assurance that your pet will not be adding to the overpopulation of unwanted pets.


Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland * asapmetro.org * ASAP provides affordable spay & neuter surgeries to low-income families who qualify. The organization founded and operated Spay & Save, a program credited with dramatically reducing euthanasia of shelter animals and improving live release rates from area shelters.

American Veterinary Medical Association * Avma.org * Nonprofit association of more than 89,000 veterinarians working in private and corporate practice, government, industry, academia, and uniformed services. The AVMA acts as a collective voice for its members and the profession.

Oregon Spay/Neuter Fund * oregonspayneuter.org * OSNF’s mission is to make spay/neuter services affordable and accessible to all, regardless of income level. The small volunteer-only nonprofit solely works to prevent needless deaths of companion and stray animals.

As a Certified Vet Tech, longtime PR veteran and content marketing expert, Christy Caplan brings her unique understanding of social and digital media to connect dog lovers to brands both on and offline. She lives with three hounds – two Doxies and a Beagle/Basset Hound mix, who constantly teach her about life and companionship. Follow Christy at mylifewithdogspdx.com.