Major spay complications in dogs are fortunately not very common, but when they occur, dog owners are obviously upset. While a spay surgery is a common, routinely performed surgery, it is still an invasive procedure that requires cutting through tissue and removing organs. Veterinarians take many steps to prevent spay complications in dogs and dog owners assisting their dogs during recovery play an important role too. If your dog was recently spayed, make sure to follow your vet's post-surgical instructions. Following is information about spay complications in dogs provided by veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec.
The Spay Procedure in a Nutshell
Spaying or ovariohysterectomy is a surgical procedure that involves removing a dog's ovaries, oviducts and uterus. It is more effective than closing off the oviducts or removing the uterus alone because it not only sterilizes the female dog, but also shuts down the ovarian cycles and prevents the reproductive behavior normally associated with estrous. Additionally, spaying reduces the medical risks associated with continued hormone production.
With the advances in the field of veterinary medicine, today we are free to say that the spay procedure is a routine, and therefore, safe surgical procedure. Nevertheless, as in any other surgical procedures, in certain cases, complications may develop. To get a better image of the potential risks and complications, you need to understand how the spay procedure is performed.
Spaying is a surgical procedure performed under general anesthesia. In most circumstances, the general anesthesia is induced by giving the dog a short-acting anesthetic intravenously. The dose is calculated according to the dog’s weight, but also according to its health and what other drugs it has had. Several minutes after the administration of the short-acting anesthetic, the dog falls asleep and depending on the drug used, remains unconscious for a variable length of time.
As soon as the dog becomes unconscious, a so-called endotracheal tube is inserted over its tongue and into its windpipe.
The tube keeps the airway clear and open and is also connected to an oxygen source. If the surgical procedure lasts longer, oxygen is mixed in a vaporizer with an anesthetic gas. During the operation, the injected anesthetic wears off while the vaporized gas mixture continues to keep the dog unconscious.
Once the dog is unconscious and incapable of feeling pain, an incision is made on the dog's belly and then her internal reproductive structures are removed. These include: the ovaries – sites of egg production, the Fallopian tubes, the uterine horns – two long tubes where the fetuses develop and then grow, a portion of the uterine body – part of the uterus where the two long horns merge.
To prevent unwanted and excessive bleeding, before removing the above listed reproductive structures, the blood vessels that supply those structures with blood must be well ligated. After removing all reproductive organs and ensuring there is no blood leaks, the incision is closed.
8 Spay Complications in Dogs
Ovarian remnant syndrome is a possible spay complication in dogs. This condition occurs when the female dog is spayed but a piece of ovarian tissue is left inside the body. The remaining tissue is capable of producing estrogen, and over time, tends to regenerate to a certain degree.
Therefore, spayed dogs with ovarian remnant syndrome show signs of going into heat. They cannot get pregnant but unfortunately they are subjected to the same risks as intact females. Those risks include: mammary gland tumors,
pyometra and ovarian tumors.
Lump or swelling at the operation site. This commonly observed complication is usually associated with: seromas, hernias, abscesses, inflammatory swellings and scar tissue thickenings.
Wound breakdown. The wound breakdown can be either partial or complete. The most common cause is poor home care. Less frequently, a wound breakdown may be caused by poor surgical technique and low-quality suturing materials.
Wound infection. Wound infections develop when bacteria inhabit the surgical site and begin to multiply. The bacterial invasion triggers a secondary immune response that results in pus buildup and consequently wound breakdown.
Pain. Pain is common, but fortunately easy to address. There are a plethora of potent painkillers that can be used to eliminate the pain and make the recovery period easy and comfortable.
Constipation. Constipation is common but luckily minor and usually a short-term complication. It is not uncommon for a female dog to not have a bowel movement for a few days after being spayed. In fact, female dogs may go for 3 to 5 days without having a bowel movement and therefore without passing feces. This is relatively normal and tends to resolve on its own. However, if your dog has not passed feces for more than 5 days after the surgery, it is highly recommended to talk to your vet and ask for stool softeners.
In rare circumstances, after spaying, the female dog may become incontinent. This complication is most likely in genetically predisposed dogs, particularly Doberman pinschers and border collies. The degree of the incontinence is variable and ranges from small urine discharge to dramatic and complete bladder emptying.
Behavior changes. In addition of being the procedure of choice for preventing unwanted puppies, spaying also has effects on the female dog's behavior. Female hormones affect the female dog's personality only during her heat cycles, but spaying eliminates the twice-yearly personality changes. However, in very rare circumstances, the absence of the calming effect of progesterone can lead to challenging behavior changes. Although this cannot be considered as a real spay complication, it is still worth mentioning.
While discussing the spaying effects on the female dog’s personality, it should be noted that the removal of the dog's hormone-producing apparatus has no effect on house-guarding, fear-biting, predatory and territorial aggression.
Taking Care of Your Spayed Dog
Special postoperative care and close monitoring are required to eliminate or at least minimize the risk of complications. Here are some useful tips and tricks:
- Provide a calm and safe environment that promotes healing and reduces the recovery period.
- Avoid overfeeding the spayed dog and restrict its physical activity for at least a week after the surgery.
- Check the abdominal suture line frequently. When checking the wound pay attention to:
Signs of wound infection – redness, swelling, yellow to green pus-like discharge and pain on touch.
Signs of wound breakdown – splitting of the wound and presence of cheese-like, white to yellow, necrotic tissue inside the opened wound.
- Keep the wound clean. This can be achieved by using warm salty water, saline solution or highly diluted betadine solution.
- Prevent your dog from licking the wound. Licking wounds is a natural behavior and from your dog’s perspective the surgical incision is simply a wound. To prevent your dog from licking its wound an Elizabethan collar should be used.
- Consult with your vet if you notice any worrisome signs or symptoms.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.