Main > To spay or not to spay older female dogs (27 replies)

by HighDesertGSD on 05 October 2011 - 17:10

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Are there any disadvantage of spaying an older bitch in terms of health?

Many vets say that chances of cancer of the breast is decreased with spaying.

This is real undisputed truth?

Are there balanced viewed on spaying an older bitch? 

by djc on 05 October 2011 - 17:10

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There is a VERY high percentage of older bitches that are prone to and die from Pyometra. As dogs age their immune system starts to fail and this is one reason they are prone to it. The same holds true to some extent for males with prostate and testicular cancer. In my 6+ years as a vet tech I saw this to be true and in my mind there is no contest to spay and neuter. It should be done when the animal is done breeding. The only drawback I see is that if you wait too long and the dog is too old there is a much higher risk for things to go wrong during surgery, as well as the healing process. Unfortunatly, spaying a breeding bitch does not eliminate the risk of breast tumors and cancer. 

by Judy P on 05 October 2011 - 18:10

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Debby is right the biggest advantage is that you eliminate the possibility of Pyometra.  As for breast cancer - no.  If you spay a female before she ever goes into season for the first time you eliminate almost 100% the possibility of breast cancer, once she goes into season that drops to 50% and past that there is no real difference.
Here in Grand Rapids one of the big medical research centers is doing a lot of work in the area of breast cancer as the link between human and canine breast cancer is close to identical.  One of my girls - a rescue JRT - had breast tumors removed this spring and is involved in the research project.

by hexe on 06 October 2011 - 02:10

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A third vote for spaying an older female, or any adult bitch that's not going to be used for breeding--a closed pyometra, or an unnoticed open pyo, can kill a bitch, and no dog needs to be undergoing emergency surgery when she's already trying to battle an established uterine infection...and your checkbook won't like the costs of that emergency surgery much, either.  Better to spay (or have just a hysterectomy done, leaving the ovaries behind) while the dog is healthy and avoid putting her through the infection. 

And ditto on the mammary cancer benefit: as soon as the bitch goes through one heat cycle, you've lost your 100% prevention, and once she's had a second cycle, there's virtually no prevention from the spay. 

by Betta Wolf on 06 October 2011 - 03:10

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What are the stats on a raw fed dog and pyometra
Leerburg dog died from anesthesia at 8 yo, from the surgery to prefent the above.
Belgian Malinois

by hexe on 06 October 2011 - 04:10

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There is no relationship between what type of diet a bitch is fed and whether or not she will develop a uterine infection after a heat cycle.  Raw- or kibble-fed, the fact remains that every time a bitch goes through an estrus, the opportunity for bacteria to enter the reproductive tract is created and an infection can become established in one or both horns of the uterus.

As for the death under anesthesia, that is a risk taken with all general anesthesia, for humans and animals alike.  Such deaths are not common in healthy dogs, however, especially with the newer anesthetic agents and the addition of monitoring equipment in the operating room that is comparable to that found in the OR of a human hospital.  That said, there is sufficient anecdotal reporting to suggest that the Malinois, like greyhounds, may be more sensitive to general anesthesia, not in a small measure due to the low body fat ratio usually found in most specimens of the breed (you rarely see a fat Malinois or a fat greyhound). 

While no vet ever wants to lose an animal due to adverse response to anesthesia, in dogs like this you still have to weigh the options: if this particular dog you refer to died on the table during a routine spay while she was perfectly healthy, what do you think her chances of making it out of the OR alive would have been if she'd needed an emergency spay in response to a closed pyometra that had rendered her systemically septicemic?

Answer: Zero. 

The decision is always up to the owner of the bitch as to whether the risks posed by general anesthesia and surgery are worth taking or not.  I can find no good argument for leaving a senior bitch intact if she's not going to be intentionally bred that doesn't fail in the face of the risks posed by having to have an emergency surgery done on a dog that is in crisis condition due to a pyo...but to each his own.

by BlackthornGSD on 06 October 2011 - 06:10

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I have heard of (but not read) recent studies that show that bitches who are not spayed until after 5+ years old may live several years longer than bitches spayed early in their lives.

That said, as long as the female is healthy, I think it's better to spay a an older female who will not be bred again. In particular, I think it's better to do the surgery while the dog is in good health and able to recover easily from the spay surgery (as opposed to having to worry about pyo or pregnancy in an older dog).

by Blitzen on 06 October 2011 - 17:10

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I lost a 4  year old during a spay due to anesthesia. She dropped like a stone the second the needle hit the vein. Til then she was perfectly healthy and happy.  I also lost an 11 year old to pyo. I now always spay a bitch if she's not going to be bred again as long as she's healthy. If you've ever seen the size of a uterus in a big bitch with pyo, you know a pyo spay is major surgery and very risky. I once weighed a uterus we removed from a bullmastiff with pyo. It weighed 6 pounds and the horns were almost as big round as a man's arm. There is also a very real danger of nicking one of those horns spilling infection into the abdominal cavity - peritonitis.

Having dealt with breast cancer in 2 dogs, both dying as a result, if I ever get a female intended as a pet, you betcha she will be spayed before her first season. I've done that many times in the last 50 some  years. I sold female puppies on contracts that they would be spayed before their first season and they were. No breast cancer, no skeletal issues, lived long healthy lives. I'd have to go with what I have seen work in my own dogs and for me the benefits of an early spay far outweigh the negative risks of waiting or not spaying at all. A dog spayed young might mature with more length of leg than she would have if not spayed, but so what? Preventing breast cancer trumps cosmetics any day.

by VomMarischal on 06 October 2011 - 17:10

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Very interesting, Christine. Would like to read about that.

by Blitzen on 06 October 2011 - 18:10

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The oldest dog I ever owned lived to be 23, medium sized mix,  spayed before her first season. The 2nd and 3rd oldest, both a few months shy of 15, both large breeds, both spayed by the time they were 7 after they each had 2 litters. 

by TorquieGirl on 07 October 2011 - 06:10

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   I would advise that you spay her to be safe, and to keep her healthy

My husband and I just went through this with our 7 year old shepherd "Torque".  Torque  started having a brownish discharge, but she didn't seem to have any pain or anything. After about 8 hours, she was in pain, and my husband and I had to sit up with her all night while we were waiting for her appointment with the vet . By the time the vet opened and I was heading to his offie with Torque she was howling and crying (poor little girl) The vet took her temperature and she was  Torque ended up having to have emergency surgery, because she ended up with pyometra, and it was one of the scariest moments of my life. We almost lost her. The vtr said that if we would have waited another day or two, he would probably not been able to save her. She had the surgery September 11th, and just got her stitches out on September 27th. She is now very healthy, happy and back to her old self. 
As I have just gone through this, I would strongly recomend to have her fixed, rather than take a chance. Also I would imagine that the sugery and hospital stay would not have been as expensive as it was. Thank God that he was watching over her during the surgery. The vet did tell us that we did not have to have her fixed, but she would have to be bred succesfully in order for the pyometra to go away, and even then there is no guarantee. 

Hope this helps and good luck.



by ShadyLady on 07 October 2011 - 14:10

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I've always been told by vets what everyone has said previously in this thread, but isn't there another side to the conventional protocol of sterilization surgery?

Where are the links from the people who don't believe in spaying/neutering? There was a thread awhile ago where some studies/evidence was given for leaving dogs intact their whole lives.

by Louise M. Penery on 08 October 2011 - 21:10

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The incidence of pyometra has nothing to do with a bitch's immune system. It is induced by progesterone--usually the result of a persistent corpus luteum. The only pyoI've expereinced was an open one in an 11-month old bitch going out of her first heat and following a history of puppy vaginitis. She was treated with Luteolyse(PGF2a) which lyses the  persistent CL. After treatment,she had 4 successful litters and no recurence of pyo before she was spayed at the age of 9.

by Sunsilver on 08 October 2011 - 21:10

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Lucky you, Louise!

My friend's bitch developed pyo after her second heat. She was treated successfully, and made a good recovery. She was subsequently bred, and had two litters. However, she was on antibiotics throughout both pregnancies.

The owner decided to see if she could do without the antibiotics for her third litter. Disaster struck about 10 or 12 days before the bitch's due date, when she began to have a vaginal discharge. Ultrasound showed most of the pups in one horn were dead. She passed the dead pups, and the decision was made to try to keep the rest of the pups alive until they were mature enough to survive outside the womb. Despite heavy doses of antibiotics, she had to be spayed 4 days before her due date, as the infection was getting out of control. The vet managed to deliver 2 live pups, but both died within 24 hours.

Sometimes it's just not meant to be...

by djc on 09 October 2011 - 02:10

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I hardly think one can assume that it has NOTHING to do with an older dog's immune system! The immune system is what fights off infection!! Just because it occasionally pops up in younger dogs does not discount the fact that it is wide spread in older females. Besides who's to say that a younger dog can't have a compromised immune system? Obviously, sunsilver's friend's dog did, because as long as she was on antibiotics she was OK.
   Most of the stuff I've seen against spaying and neutering has to do with repercussions from doing it too young.

by Louise M. Penery on 09 October 2011 - 19:10

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Pyo is not caused by a "bacterial infection. Do your homework or ask a competent veterinary reproductive specilist or endocrinologist.

by djc on 09 October 2011 - 23:10

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Believe me Louise I have done lots of homework and while some of the hormonal and structural changes after a dog's estrus give way to the INFECTION CALLED PYOMETRA, it is the BACTERIA  that enters through the vagina into the uterus that causes the problem.
    To back me up I went on a google search and the very first link explains it well: _

"Pyometra is a result of hormonal and structural changes in the uterus lining. This can happen at any age, whether she has bred or not, and whether it is her 1st or 10th heat (although it becomes more common as the dog gets older). The main risk period for a female is for eight weeks after her peak standing heat (or estrus cycle) has ended.[1] Normally during this period, the cervix, which was open during her heat, begins to close, and the inner lining begins to adapt back to normal. However, cystic hyperplasia of the endometrium (inner lining of the uterus) – known as cystic endometrial hyperplasia (CEH) – may occur at this time for some animals, as an inappropriate response to progesterone.

Under these circumstances, bacteria (especially E. coli) that have migrated from the vagina into the uterus find the environment favorable to growth, especially since progesterone also causes mucus secretion, closes the cervix (preventing uterine drainage), and decreases uterine contractility.[2] The condition of the cervix is a major factor in the severity of the condition.

    • If the cervix is open, the infected material can leave the body, and this is far easier and safer to treat. This is known as open pyometra.
    • If the cervix is fully closed, there is no discharge from the vulva, and like in appendicitis, the uterus may rupture and pus escapes into the abdomen, causing peritonitis and possible rapid death. This is known as closed pyometra"<
  • by Louise M. Penery on 10 October 2011 - 00:10

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    Since when is wikipedia an authoritative source?

    by Blitzen on 10 October 2011 - 03:10

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    Living with… pyometra
    Written by: Linda Aronson, DVM

    Pyometra is a relatively common disorder of older intact bitches. Either estrogen or progesterone can cause thickening of the inner lining of the uterus (cystic endometrial hyperplasia - CEH). Exposure first to estrogen and then progesterone (as in the normal heat cycle) produces maximal thickening. As bitches age the likelihood and level of thickening increase progressively, and by age 9 two-thirds of bitches will have some signs. Bitches that receive estrogen or progesterone to terminate pregnancy or suppress estrous are more likely to develop CEH. During proestrus and estrus the cervix opens allowing bacteria normally present in the vagina to ascend into the uterus. These bacteria are the ones that invariably cause pyometra. It has nothing to do with the stud dog, and this process occurs whether or not the bitch is bred. In bitches with CEH, bacteria colonize the thickened uterine lining and aren’t expelled as they would be in a normal bitch. Once diestrus begins the cervix closes and bacteria can no longer exit. Progesterone prevents uterine contraction while stimulating secretion by uterine glands to nourish the fetuses, but also the accumulated bacteria. White blood cells, secretions and bacteria fill the uterus, and antibiotics cannot diffuse into this sea of pus. The pressure of the fluid may cause the cervix to open (open pyometra), but this doesn’t occur in all cases. The infection may cause secondary kidney damage, which may be irreversible. Pyometra also causes suppression of the immune system by direct effect on the immune cells. While pyometra is more common as bitches age, it has been reported in bitches under a year old. It is also more common in bitches that have never had puppies. Clinical signs are usually seen within 12 weeks of estrus. The most common sign is a thick, creamy discharge that is usually foul smelling and sometimes resembles tomato soup. Closed cervix pyometras generally produce more severe signs including fever, abdominal distension, vomiting, increased thirst and urination. After 24 days ultrasound can be used to distinguish pyometra from pregnancy in a bred bitch. An elevated white blood cell count, with young cells predominating, indicates active infection. Anemia may be present. Diagnosing a mild infection can be problematic. Spaying is by far the preferred treatment. Pyometra is progressive and CEH is irreversible. The dog will be predisposed to pyometra for life. Medical treatment should only be attempted in young bitches that seem healthy with open cervix pyometras. It consists of antibiotics to control infection – which are not very effective, along with either prostaglandins to cause uterine contraction, or antiprogestogens (like RU486) to lower progesterone concentration. The former is more commonly used in North America. In theory, the increased pressure of the contractions will cause further opening of the cervix and the uterus will expel the infected fluid. However, if the uterus fails to open fully it may result either in uterine rupture or backflow into the abdomen, both will cause peritonitis and usually death. The antibiotics are ineffective until the pool of pus and bacteria is cleared from the uterus, and meanwhile the toxins they produce continue to damage the bitch. The infection is never completely eradicated but reduced to a subclinical level. If medical intervention is attempted not only should the bitch be young, in good body condition, show no signs of secondary illness and have an open cervix pyometra she should be a very valuable member of a breeding program – even for appropriate candidates the treatment is painful, and many vets will not at

    by Blitzen on 10 October 2011 - 03:10

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    attempt it. She should be bred on her next season, monitored closely for likely pyometra and then spayed after the puppies are weaned, assuming she makes it through the pregnancy, whelping and lactation successfully.
    We are lucky to have not one but two detailed accounts of breeders whose bitches developed pyometra. Both were open cervix, both had been bred, both breeders were extremely attuned to their dogs. Neither bitch had experienced a prior pyometra. Provided the bitch is stabilized prior to spaying the prognosis is good. Provided the above guide-lines are followed in choosing candidate animals prognosis for fertility in medically treated bitches is fair to good. If medical treatment fails, the bitch can still be spayed.

    Linda Aronson, DVM 

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