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Breed & Health Resources

What to Expect After Neutering or Spaying Your Dog

By Dr. Patty Khuly

border collie in a cone after neuter surgery

Now that you’ve decided to spay or neuter your dog, it’s crucial you know what to expect after the surgery itself. After all, spaying and neutering is the veterinarian’s job, the aftercare is all yours!

The good news is that dog spay and dog neuter recovery is pretty straightforward. Caring for your pet during the first overnight period (if he or she doesn’t stay over at your vet’s), monitoring the incision, and making sure she or he doesn’t traumatize the area are the three most crucial concerns for any owner who needs to know what to expect after spaying or neutering their dog.

What to Expect the First Night After a Spay or Neuter

Unless veterinarians have twenty four-hour care at their facility, most veterinarians prefer to send pets home for direct observation by their people. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Pay close attention to veterinary recommendations when you pick up your dog after surgery. Take notes or ask for written instructions, and make sure you observe the incision so you know what the staff considers normal.
  • Owners should plan on staying with their pet overnight. This is not the night to go out for dinner or plan to attend a concert.
  • Vomiting, extreme lethargy (beyond what your veterinarian explained you should expect to see), and signs of internal bleeding (see below) are the most immediate issues.
  • Don’t worry if he or she skips that evening’s meal or fails to drink as much water as usual. A small meal is typically recommended anyway.
  • Pain can be difficult to assess, but shaking, drooling, and hiding may be cause for concern. Dogs rarely whine or otherwise vocalize when they’re in pain.
  • Keep an eye out for bleeding or excessive weeping from the incision site. A small amount may be expected, but little beyond that. An unusually-distended abdomen or pale mucous membranes are also cause for immediate concern, as this may be evidence of internal bleeding (uncommon but possible).
  • Call your veterinarian’s professional answering service or the ER if you have any doubts. You may be asked to assess his or her gum color.

How Best to Monitor the Spay and Neuter Surgery Incision

Keeping tabs on the incision is important to ensure it’s not getting infected. Dog spay/neuter infection symptoms include:

  • Redness around the incision site
  • Discharge from the incision, particularly if it’s not clear and thin
  • A foul smell emanating from the incision
  • Opening of the incision where the brightly-colored subcutaneous tissues are exposed (called dehiscence)
  • Swelling of the incision, particularly if it’s bulging

Preventing Self-trauma After Spaying and Neutering

The most common complications to expect after neutering or spaying are related to self-trauma, when pets inflict damage with their tongues or potentially with their paws. Infection or dehiscence of the incision are typical consequences. Here are a few strategies to help avoid these complications:

  • Keep that cone on!
  • Keep a close eye on your dog if you remove the recovery collar for eating or walking. Replace the collar immediately should you notice that they attempt to lick the incision.
  • Watch out for rubbing of the incision on the floor or other surfaces.
  • If the cone doesn’t seem to do the trick, try another kind of cone. Investing in a ComfyCone, a padded collar/cone may be in order. Most large pet retail outlets offer alternative collars like this one.

Spay/Neuter Recovery Time

Recovery time varies and tends to depend more on size and age than anything else. Here are some general guidelines for dogs:

  • A spay is an abdominal procedure that’s far more complicated than a neuter. As such, boys recover more quickly than girls. Some neutered males may not even act as if anything ever changed.
  • In general, larger, older dogs experience a longer recovery period. For these, it often takes two to three days for dogs to return to their normal selves after a spay and one to two for a neuter.
  • Dogs over three years of age may take a day or two longer to recover.
  • In many instances, older dogs (over six) can take up to a week to feel completely better after a spay or neuter surgery.
  • In general, smaller dogs recover more quickly. The incisions are smaller, and so is the internal anatomy affected, hence less discomfort. The risk of bleeding after surgery is also lower among smaller dogs.

Behavior and Other Long-term Changes After Spaying and Neutering

While a dog’s fundamental personality will not change after a spay or neuter surgery, there are some changes you might observe, including:

  • Behavioral changes are more pronounced among neutered males. They’re less likely to hump people, other dogs, and inanimate objects (though many persist).
  • Males tend to wander and urine mark less, and aggression may be diminished in dogs who previously were.
  • Females rarely experience behavior changes, though many will take on a lazier disposition.
  • Activity levels may be reduced in both males and females after spaying and neutering, but this is by no means certain in all dogs.
  • It’s important to note that males may still engage in full-testosterone male behaviors while their male sex hormone levels diminish after surgery. This can take up to six weeks. It’s crucial for owners to know that they can still get females pregnant.
  • Appetite may increase after spaying and neutering, and so can their weight. Owners should be counseled to expect this change and adjust feeding amounts accordingly.

These lists are by no means exhaustive. Ask your veterinarian if you have specific concerns.

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