“But I just want her to have 1 litter….” I bow my head and sigh. There are so many reasons that your 6 month old mix breed puppy does not need to have puppies. One of them being that I have a shelter filled with about 90 dogs and cats, but there are many more reasons. This is not an island in Belize problem, this is a problem that has followed me for 10 years as a vet.
To “spay” a dog is most often an ovariohysterectomy, a surgery that removes the uterus and ovaries. A big concern I have for unspayed females is cancer. Dogs that have been spayed before their first heat have almost a ZERO chance of developing mammary (breast) cancer later in life. This is a cancer I have seen many times, including here in Belize. Every heat cycle that she has decreases the potential prevention of this cancer, until about the fourth cycle, after which spay no longer gives this benefit. Uterine and ovarian cancers can also occur. Fortunately the dog below made a full recovery.
A Tumor of the Uterus Found on Routine Spay
A potential deadly condition that still many pet owners are unaware of is pyometra. This is an infection of the uterus. It can happen at any age (I’ve seen it from 8 months to 14 years of age) and can present with a dog who is depressed, thirsty, not eating, feverish, and with or without a discharge from the vagina. Left untreated it leads to death. Imagine your uterus (if you have one) has a few pounds of pus inside…not good. I recall a case in Florida where the owner told me after I diagnosed their dog with pyometra that they were going to drive home to XYZ state and then deal with it. I said NO NO NO! This is always an emergency. After much debate the dog was spayed and recovered well. In another case where the dog had been sick for days and the owner could not afford treatment. After referring her to another clinic that could offer low cost care the dog had surgery and passed away despite valiant efforts by the second vet. Here in Belize I have found a few cases of pyometra on routine spay where the dog was not yet showing signs of illness.
Uterus with Pyometra
One disease that I see somewhat frequently here in San Pedro is TVT (transmissible venereal disease). This is a virus that behaves like a cancer. It is spread through sexual contact but also through touch. Females in heat attract males and so on so the virus is spread. Not only do dogs get tumors on their sexual organs, but also on their faces, sides, abdomens, where they have touched or stiffed other dogs with the disease. The treatment is a chemotherapy drug called vincristine and it is costly here on the island. Dogs need once weekly injections for 3-6 weeks. Some require surgery. I have seen a female dog with a mass the size of a softball in her vaginal area. With much time and effort we were able to cure her and get her adopted. The dog below had a smaller mass growing and it responded well to treatment. Her owner had her spayed.
Before and After Treatment for TVT
One final reason to spay involves complications in pregnancy. With lots of dogs kept in yards or running loose there are plenty of pregnancies. Not all deliveries go as planned and some dogs need assistance when their life is put in danger during birthing or after. Some I have seen with miscarriages, stuck puppies, dead puppies, and mammary gland infections. The dog below died during her spay after having aborted near term puppies and developing an infection.
Emergency Spay in Roatan Honduras, Dog Did Not Survive
This next dog required an emergency spay after delivering many healthy puppies at home for one final puppy that did not survive. If left inside her it would have cause severe infection and death to the mother dog.
Emergency Spay in San Pedro Belize, Puppy did Not Survive
So, puppies are very cute. I know, I’ve got plenty of them at the shelter! What’s not cute is infection, cancer, and female dogs lost too soon. Before you think that you want to breed, or that spaying can wait, PLEASE consider the reasons above. Your dog and your wallet may thank you!