Avoiding unwanted pregnancy in dogs - Estrous dogs
For canine caregivers who look have female dogs in their family, prohibiting pregnancy is an understandable concern. The time and resources rearing puppies consumes makes it something which is inadvisable for a guardian's savings, mental health and, of course, the dog's general well-being. Some have yet to neuter their bitch which means every estrus cycle is a stressful one for both dog and owner as one tries to get pregnant and the other tries to prevent this from happening. Why many people don't spay their dog is often due to persistent myths.
The reproductive cycle of dogs
Female dogs will reach their sexual maturity at 6-8 months, with smaller breeds generally reaching it sooner than large breeds. From this moment on they will go into heat a couple of times a year and this will last almost until the end of their life. This period is divided into several phases, one of which is known as the estrus cycle. During this time the dog will be receptive to the male and, therefore, may become pregnant. We will notice this because the vulva softens and they will lift their tail, separate their legs and raise their pelvis in anticipation of coupling. If you want to further information, we detail the cycles and symptoms of a dog in heat to help you know more.
If the coupling occurs, the female will gestate for approximately two months. After this time, an average of 4 to 8 puppies will be born, but this may differ according to breed and individual health issues. These puppies must stay with the mother for a minimum of 8 weeks so they can breastfeed and socialize. With an average of 6 puppies twice a year, a dog has the potential to have up to 120 puppies during a lifetime. These dogs then have the potential to reproduce, giving you an idea of the dimensions of scale in the effect not neutering a dog can have.
How to stop a dog from getting pregnant
If you don't want your dog to get pregnant, then there are options to consider:
- Restraining the dog: keeping the dog under close watch during their heat cycle is not always an easy task. Not only do you have to keep them away from any other male dogs, but you have to keep male dogs away from them. You will likely have to keep in a fenced in area and only take them for walks at odd hours when there is little chance of another dog being around. Controlling your dog will not simply mean preventing copulation. It will also mean stopping any anxiety or frustration related behaviors near male dogs, not always an easy task. Another significant problem is that having a dog which has not been neutered can engender other problems such as breast cancer or pyometra. If you have a male dog which lives with a bitch in heat, just castrating the male won't prevent certain behavioral problems. It is also important to note that even after neutering, a male dog can still be fertile for up to 5 months post surgery. This does not mean that a female dog which has been spayed can't get cancers or uterine infections. Instead, what it can do is reduce the likelihood of this occurring.
- Drugs: a veterinarian can prescribe medications which inhibit the heat cycle in dogs. This means they are less likely (and not 100% unlikely) to get pregnant, but it does little in terms of preventing diseases such as pyometra or tumors. Additionally, these drugs themselves can lead to adverse side effects both physically and mentally. They might be used in emergency situations, but they are not recommended for long term use.
- Sterilization: the most common and effective of sterilizing a female dog is via a ovariohysterectomy. This involves the removal of both the uterus and the ovaries. If this is carried out either just before or after a dog's first heat, it can reduce the risk of breast cancer. They will also never suffer from pyometra or other uterine/ovarian diseases as they are no longer present in the body.
If you have a make dog and are worried about them getting a female pregnant, then you can take a look at this article on how to control a male dog around a female in heat.
Ovariohysterectomy to prevent pregnancy in dogs
An ovariohysterectomy (also known as spaying) is the most effective way to prevent a dog from having puppies. As we have already spoken about the procedure and its benefits, we will now look at dispelling some of the myths surrounding the practice:
- Change the dog's personality: there is no scientific basis to claim spaying changes a bitch's character. It is simply not true. The only behavioral modifications are that they will be less anxious during the time they would normally be in heat and they will be less likely to escape or become aggressive.
- Weight increase: if spaying is carried out while the dog is a puppy, it is normal for the dog to put on weight. This has nothing to do with an ovariohysterectomy and everything to do with the fact puppies put on weight as they grow. It would be abnormal for it not to happen. Additionally, many owners simply feed their dog too much, sometimes out of pity as they feel sorry for their pet after an operation. The amount of food a dog eats should be adapted to the amount they exercise. As a dog recovers they may not be as energetic at the beginning, so will need a reduction in food intake. If a dog gets fatter after surgery, it is likely a problem with the owner not the procedure.
- Surgical concerns: as spaying is a surgical procedure, many pet owners are scared of putting their dog under the knife. However, it is a relatively easy procedure and is considered routine surgery. While the dog is anesthetized they are continuously looked after.
- Postoperative concerns: it is understandable that we would be worried for our dog when they come back from surgery, but it should be known that dogs recover quickly. We need to be careful to be gentle with them and watch out for their stitches. This is why they will likely be given an Elizabethan collar which can be frustrating for the dog, but it is temporary and precludes complications from ripped stitches. They will also be given medication to prevent pain and infection. The stitches are removed 8 - 10 days after the procedure.
- Price: usually the price of the surgery depends on the weight of the dog. Bigger dogs tend to incur higher charges. It may seem like a lot of money initially, but it is professional work which includes assurance of the dog's safety, drugs, etc. It will also save you money as you won't have to look after puppies if the dog were to get pregnant. If you really can't afford it, then it is worth considering whether you can afford getting a dog at all. There are also many sterilization campaigns run by vet clinics and shelters to offer free or reduced price