If you call a veterinary clinic to schedule your female pet to be altered, you may be asked when your animal was last in heat. If your cat is in heat when you call, the clinic will likely go ahead and schedule her for surgery. According to Betti Gravelle, director of Dixie Day Spay, a low-cost spay/neuter clinic in Cleveland, Tenn., this is because adult female cats are nearly always in heat, pregnant or nursing kittens. To wait until after the heat cycle is to risk another unwanted litter of kittens. However, if your dog is in heat, the clinic is likely to schedule her appointment so that she will be out of heat at the time of surgery. There are several reasons why clinics are hesitant to spay a dog that is in heat, according to Gravelle.
Known as estrus, being in heat is the time in the dog’s cycle when she has ovulated or is about to ovulate. During this part of the dog’s reproductive cycle, she will allow a male dog to mount her and breed. The spaying procedure is an ovariohysterectomy and the veterinarian will remove both the ovaries and uterus at the time of surgery. The surgery is performed while the dog is anesthetized. Once the surgery is performed, the dog will no longer experience the heat cycle and will be infertile.
It is important that you know the signs of your dog’s heat cycle so that you can determine whether she is “in heat” or “in season” when scheduling her spay appointment. The first sign of heat is swelling of the vulva, which will begin one week to one day before you begin to notice bleeding. She will appear restless and will need to urinate more frequently than usual. Unaltered male dogs will likely show up on your lawn to court her and she will be receptive to their overtures.
A female dog will have her first heat when she is between six and 12 months old and will then come into heat about every six months for the rest of her life or until she is spayed. Her heat cycle will last two to three weeks, though the bleeding will end after about 16 days. However, the dog can still become pregnant for about another week. If the dog doesn’t become pregnant, it will be four to five months before she comes into heat again. While the spay surgery can be done while the dog is in heat, according to Gravelle, it is an easier and safer surgery if the procedure is postponed until a couple weeks after the bleeding has stopped.
If your veterinarian agrees to spay your dog while she is in heat, which many clinics will do, though often at an additional charge, you should consider that the surgery would take longer (meaning your dog will be under anesthesia longer) than at other times in her cycle. There is also more bleeding associated with doing the procedure on a dog that is in heat. It is likely that your dog will take a bit longer to recover than she would have if the procedure had been done at another time. However, if you wait until after your dog’s heat cycle ends to have her spayed, it is possible that she will be pregnant. If this is the case, the surgery can be done and the fetuses aborted. While this can be a difficult decision for many pet guardians, consider the thousands of puppies who are killed in animal shelters across the country and think about whether allowing another litter of puppies to be born is a responsible decision.
If your dog has not yet had her first heat, consider having her spayed before that occurs and you can avoid the complications that arise if she is spayed while in heat or that can occur if you wait until after she has been in heat to have her spayed. A common misconception lingers that a dog should not be spayed before her first heat cycle. There are actual health benefits, such as the decreased likelihood of certain types of cancer, if a dog is spayed before her first heat. An infection of the uterus called pyometra can also occur in dogs and cats a few weeks after their heat cycle ends. If the pet is spayed before her first heat cycle, the possibility of this life-threatening condition can be eliminated. The spay surgery can generally be performed at any point after a dog is 8 weeks old, though about 4 months of age is often considered the ideal time.