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Elective sterilization is done primarily to prevent heat cycles and unwanted pregnancies. This goal is accomplished by removal of the ovaries and uterus. This is called an ovariohysterectomy. Sterilization also prevents, or dramatically reduces, the incidence of mammary tumors. If sterilization is performed before 6 months of age, the risk of mammary gland tumors is almost completely eliminated. Ovariohysterectomy is a treatment of choice for uterine diseases such as infections, cystic discharges, rupture or twisting of the uterus, and tumors involving the uterus.

Ovariohysterectomy is commonly referred to as a spay operation. An appropriate preoperative evaluation that includes a physical examination and blood tests is usually recommended. These comprehensive laboratory tests are advisable in older dogs to detect any problems that may present a risk for anesthesia and surgery. The conventional manner of performing a sterilization procedure requires an incision into the abdomen that is long enough to allow the reproductive organs to be found. The incision is significantly longer for removal of a diseased or enlarged uterus.

Most dogs do well after surgery with no or minimal complications. Complications include licking at the incision, fluid underneath the incision, and hemorrhage after surgery, especially in older females that have underlying blood clotting disorders. These complications are extremely rare.

In most instances, the sterilization procedure is uncomplicated and the dog may be discharged from the hospital the next day with appropriate pain management. The dog should be kept quiet for 10-14 days or longer, according to your veterinarian’s instructions. Limiting the dog’s activity helps minimize the chance of a breakdown of the abdominal incision. If possible, the dog should be kept inside a clean, dry environment until the incision is healed. In most cases, recheck visits are scheduled five days after the sterilization procedure has been performed to make sure the incision is healing properly. Very importantly, the dog must be prevented from licking at its incision. For this reason, Elizabethan collars are commonly prescribed.

Dr. Karsten Fostvedt is a veterinarian at St. Francis Pet Clinic in Ketchum.

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