How to Tell If Your Female Dog Has Been Spayed or Fixed
What Does It Mean If a Dog Has Been Spayed?
A dog who has been spayed, or fixed, has gone through an ovariohysterectomy, also known as spay surgery. This means that her reproductive tract has been completely removed, including her ovaries, oviducts, uterine horns, and uterus. Without these reproductive organs, the dog cannot get pregnant and can no longer get twice-a-year heat cycles that are triggered by hormones.
Unfortunately, there are no outwardly visible signs that indicate if a dog has been spayed or not; however, there are some clues that can help you figure this out, including:
- A spay incision
- Smaller secondary sexual traits
- No heat cycle
- Medical records
- Information provided by a tattoo or microchip
Your vet, of course, would be more experienced in detecting these signs.
If you don't know if your dog has been spayed or not, don't worry–you're not alone! I once fostered a dog and went through this same problem. According to the shelter, her previous owners claimed that she had been spayed. However, can you trust this statement alone? What if the owners didn't know for sure? What if they were trying to hide the fact that she wasn't spayed? It was important for me to know with confidence, as our neighborhood was full of intact males.
Signs That a Dog Has Been Spayed
Unfortunately, your dog won't tell you if she is spayed or not. Even if she could talk, she wouldn't even be able to remember the procedure, as nowadays dogs are spayed when they are very young. However, there are some clues to help you figure it out.
Look for a Spay Incision
Spay surgery requires the dog's abdomen to be opened in order to remove the reproductive parts. In most cases, the dog will have had stitches that might have been taken out or absorbed. Because of this procedure, most spayed dogs will have an incision.
This incision, however, may not be easy to detect. You may need to shave your dog's belly to see the scar. If you do happen to see or feel an incision on your dog's abdomen, a prior hernia or a cesarean surgery may have left a similar scar. It's best to see your vet for confirmation rather than end up with a litter of unexpected puppies!
Check for Secondary Sexual Traits
You may notice how a spayed dog's mammary glands, nipples, and vulva are smaller compared to those of intact females. However, according to the ASPCA, there is no concrete evidence that grants any significance to this size difference.
Wait for a Heat
In some cases, you may just want to wait until your dog displays signs of a heat. Of course, during this time, treat her responsibly, as if she were intact. Dogs generally go into heat every 6 to 7 months, but there are many exceptions, depending on the breed. For instance, if you own a female Basenji, you may be forced to wait a whole year if she recently went into heat before you got her, as these dogs tend to go into heat just once a year (generally in the fall).
Of course, even in this case, there are exceptions. Sometimes, a dog who has been spayed will still go into heat if some ovarian tissue was left behind during the surgery. In this case, the dog may produce hormones that cause the symptoms of a heat cycle to kick in, even if it's been spayed. This is quite rare, but it's worth a mention!
Ask Your Vet for Testing
Your vet may provide some options should a spay incision be difficult to detect. In some cases, the vet may check for a specific hormone, or they may take a look at cells collected from the vaginal wall.
According to Pet Education, for example, you can tell if a dog is fixed by measuring the amount of luteinizing hormone present in the dog's blood. A great percentage of spayed dogs have high levels of this hormone in their blood, whereas intact animals have lower levels.
However, keep in mind that about 22% of tested intact dogs also have high levels of this hormone. This is because intact dogs undergo brief episodic surges in the luteinizing hormone concentrations.
Alternatively, the vet may inject a hormone and then take a few blood samples afterward to check for ovarian activity. While these tests are not fool-proof, together they can help provide a clearer picture that, according to the Oklahoma State University Boren Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, can save a dog from undergoing an exploratory surgery.
Investigate the Dog's Medical Records
This may be a bit tough, but you may be rewarded if you can find your dog's medical records. For instance, if you know the name of the previous dog owner, you can call several vet offices in your town and see if they still have the dog's medical records.
While client confidentiality must be maintained, sometimes people are willing to tell you if a dog has been spayed or neutered once you tell them about your dilemma. If your town requires dogs to be licensed, you may also get some help by calling animal control or the local city hall, as they often record this type of information.
Check for a Tattoo or Microchip
In some cases, dogs are tattooed for identification purposes. Along with their identity, their reproductive status is also recorded. And don't forget to check for a microchip—this little chip can contain important information, including if your dog has been spayed or not. You'll need a universal reader, which can be found at your local vet or shelter, though the shelter should have checked for microchips before giving the dogs up for adoption.
As you can see, there are several ways to determine if a dog has been spayed or not. A combination of these factors is a good indicator that your dog cannot give birth. Always consult with a veterinarian to determine your dog's reproductive status and never make assumptions—they can end up being costly.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
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© 2013 Adrienne Janet Farricelli