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When Is the Best Time to Spay or Neuter Your Dog?

Written By
Reviewed by
Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM
6 min read

Updated - Dec 22nd, 2021

Reviewed by Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM.

Now that you’ve achieved the exciting milestone of bringing home your new pup, you’re likely wondering whether to get them spayed or neutered. While spaying and neutering are extremely common procedures, there are still a number of misconceptions about them – and new pet parents inevitably have questions.

If you’re one of these pet parents, this article is for you! We’ll walk you through the benefits of getting your dog spayed or neutered, the risks, the best time to do it, and how to get started. Let’s dig in!

The benefits of spaying and neutering dogs 

Spaying and neutering can lead to a number of health benefits for your pup, including a longer lifespan. In fact, the life expectancy of neutered male dogs is 13.8% longer than that of unneutered dogs and the life expectancy of spayed female dogs is 26.3% longer than that of their unspayed counterparts. For many pet owners, those extra years are well worth the small hassle of the spaying or neutering procedure, because we all want our pups to live furever, right?

Why do neutered and spayed dogs live longer than those that aren’t? For one, they’re less likely to develop reproductive system diseases and illnesses, like uterine infections and cancer, breast cancer, testicular cancer, and prostate issues. Some of these illnesses can be fatal and take a severe toll on your pup’s well being. Eliminating the possibility or decreasing likelihood that these problems will arise helps your dog live a longer, healthier life. 

Second, spaying and neutering your dog can reduce potentially dangerous behaviors driven by sex hormones. Female dogs in heat and male dogs looking to mate are more inclined to roam, which can put them in harm’s way of traffic and predators. Likewise, unneutered male dogs are more likely to act aggressively, mount, and fight with other pups, which can lead to injuries and infections.  

Finally, another important reason to spay or neuter your dog is to play a part in preventing pet overpopulation and homelessness. Almost one million shelter animals are euthanized every year in the United States, according to the ASPCA, and the best way to prevent animal shelter deaths is to reduce the number of pets giving birth. Spaying or neutering your pup is a great way to do your part.

The best time to spay and neuter a dog 

Now that you’re familiar with the reasons why dogs are spayed or neutered, you’re likely wondering when the best time to do it is – and if it’s too late for your pup. Of course, every dog has different needs and health circumstances, so it’s best to consult your vet regarding any medical procedure. With that in mind, the American Animal Hospital Association recommends the following spay and neuter timelines for small and large dog breeds

  • Female small breed dogs: Prior to the first heat, around five to six months of age
  • Male small breed dogs: Six months of age
  • Female large breed dogs: Five to 15 months of age 
  • Male large breed dogs: After growth stops, around 9 to 15 months of age 

Fully grown adult dogs can be spayed or neutered as well, but it’s best to consult your veterinarian before making any decisions. The procedures can bring more complications for dogs that are overweight or have existing health conditions, but can still be beneficial for healthy, adult dogs. 

Common misconceptions about dog spaying and neutering 

From 2019 to 2020, 78% of owned dogs were spayed or neutered, but many people are still hesitant to sign their pups up for the procedure. A few common misconceptions may be to blame, such as: 

  • Spaying and neutering causes weight gain. This is false – your pet will gain weight if they overeat or under exercise, not if they get spayed or neutered. 
  • Spaying and neutering causes bad behavior. Quite the opposite. While spaying and neutering won’t fix all of your dog’s bad habits, they’ve been shown to decrease unwanted behavior like roaming, fighting, and mounting. 
  • Purebred animals shouldn’t be spayed or neutered. Also false! There are more dogs than people willing to adopt them, and even purebred animals should be spayed or neutered. 
  • If I can find homes for puppies, I don’t have to spay or neuter my dog. Even if you know people willing to take home puppies, it’s still best to spay or neuter your dog. There are already plenty of shelter animals in need of loving homes. 

Typical costs of spay/neuter clinics 

The cost of dog spaying and neutering can vary depending on where you’re getting the procedure done and your dog’s unique circumstances. Check with your vet, and if the cost is out of your price range, look for a low-cost spay and neuter clinic in your area. New York City, for instance, offers several free spay and neuter programs for pet owners.   

According to Gallant, low-cost clinics can charge as little as $35 for spay/neuter services, while veterinary clinics will likely charge more – up to $400. You do get what you pay for: the benefit of having a regular veterinarian spay/neuter your dog is more personalized and better service, preoperative blood work to ensure your dog is safe for anesthesia, more comprehensive pain management both during and after the procedure, better follow up, and potentially lower risk of infectious disease, as many dogs develop kennel cough after low cost surgery. Vets may also advise that your pet receive preventive care before conducting the spay/neuter surgery. 

Remember: the expense of medical conditions resulting from not spaying or neutering your dog will likely be much higher than the spay or neuter procedure. Treating pets with reproductive system cancers can cost thousands of dollars, and tending to injuries from fights or accidents can also take a toll on your wallet. 

How to take the first step in spaying or neutering your dog 

Once you’re ready to have your pooch spayed or neutered, contact your veterinarian. They’ll advise on the ideal time for the procedure and walk you through what to expect. In general, the surgery ranges from 30 minutes to an hour, sometimes two hours in complicated surgeries. Afterward, your pet will need about two weeks to rest to heal. After taking your pup home, they’ll likely be tired and still experiencing the effects of anesthesia or pain medication. Let them rest in a quiet space away from other pets.  

During the healing process, keep an eye on the incision for any redness, swelling, odor, or discharge, and do not bathe your dog. It is very important for dogs to stay quiet while they are healing, if they are too active too soon, it can cause the incision to open up, which can be disastrous. If you have a wild child, ask your vet for a sedative to keep your dog quiet for healing. 

Dogs should also be prevented from licking the surgery site, as that can cause infection and complications – most dogs will be discharged with an elizabethan collar to prevent licking. Keep it on your pet at all times when not supervised, and don’t let your dog lick their surgery site. Before you know it, your pet will be happily healed and ready to return to their regular routine. 

Luckily, spaying or neutering only needs to be done once in your pet’s lifetime. While you can plan to have this done, sadly you can’t expect accidents and illnesses. That’s where we come in. Pumpkin’s dog insurance plans can help give you peace of mind when the unexpected happens. Since many vets recommend having this done as routine care, unfortunately, it does not fall under our accident and illness coverage – but there is plenty more that does!

Fetch your free quote today!

Anne is a copywriter. She loves all animals, but none rival her two Shih Tzus, Kiko and Pebbles, in beauty and grace.
Reviewed by Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM