A dog with a cone on being checked out by a veterinarian after surgery.

Does Spaying And Neutering Dogs Hurt Them?

Although the benefits of desexing pets have been widely discussed, most pet parents have a naturally pressing concern, “Does spaying and neutering my dogs hurt them?”  

Like any surgical procedure, expect a mild to moderate amount of discomfort in the first one or two days following the operation. However, most animals recover quickly and are back to normal sooner than you’d expect. Some never even show any signs of pain at all!

What Are Spaying And Neutering?

A veterinarian holding a dog with a cone.
Always a good sight to see when everyone’s happy.

Spaying and neutering are surgical procedures for the removal of the reproductive organs of an animal. The term “spay” commonly refers to an ovariohysterectomy. Directly translated, this means “removal of the ovaries and uterus” in female animals.

Neutering can refer to the procedure in both males and females. Commonly it describes castration, which is the surgical removal of the testes in male animals.

Why Are Spaying And Neutering Necessary?

The most obvious reason to have your dog spayed or neutered is to prevent unwanted litters, especially in free-roaming dogs or houses with male and female dogs housed together. Even if the dogs in your house are brother and sister, or any other closely related family members, they can and will still reproduce! The pups born to parents who are close family are more likely to have genetic abnormalities, so it’s extra important to stop related dogs from breeding. 

Preventing Hormone Fluctuations

Loads of research exists to describe the medical benefits of desexing a dog too. Many diseases caused by hormone fluctuations can be prevented by having your pet spayed or neutered early on. For instance, unspayed females are at higher risk of ovarian, uterine, and mammary gland cancers. Intact males (not neutered) have a tendency to develop testicular and prostate tumors. 

Preventing Pyometras

One of the most common conditions afflicting intact females (not spayed) is pyometra, where the uterus becomes infected and fills with pus. This occurs when the uterine lining is repeatedly stimulated by their heat cycles without the occurrence of any pregnancy. The secretions produced provide the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Pyometras can be life-threatening and the treatment is often to perform a spay.

Reducing Unwanted Behaviors

Desexing also alters unwanted behaviors related to hormones. Many owners report that castrating male dogs can reduce aggression and unwanted mounting behaviors. They are also less likely to mark their territory by urinating everywhere. Castrated males will not become restless and roam in search of females going into heat. 

It Stops Traffic Deaths Due To Roaming

Females in heat may also try to escape in search of a mate. Studies show intact pets are much more likely to die in a traffic accident than neutered pets because of their increased roaming tendencies. Female dogs in heat bleed continuously for up to ten days in the proestrus phase of their cycle. The discharge can stain carpets and cushions and becomes a significant issue, especially in large dogs.

When Should Owners Spay And Neuter Their Dogs?

In most cases, the surgery is elective, meaning it is neither compulsory nor an emergency. You have the option to work with your vet to schedule it at your convenience. Recent evidence recommends timing a neuter or spay based on various factors such as breed, age, living environment, and physical condition.

Dogs can become sexually active as young as five to six months old. If they live in multi-dog households or roam outside, your veterinarian will want to perform the procedure around this time to prevent unwanted litters. Shelter dogs may be desexed as young as six months old, prior to adoption.

Large breed dogs require hormonal stimulation from their reproductive organs for proper growth and bone formation. If your dog is a giant breed and is not immediately at risk of breeding, it is best to delay the procedure until they are one year old or older. 

What Are The Risks Of Spaying And Neutering?

Ovariohysterectomy and castrations are some of the most routinely performed procedures at most veterinary hospitals. As with any surgery, there are some risks from anesthesia. In order to minimize this risk, your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical assessment and may recommend blood tests to ensure your dog is fit for surgery.

Because it is so common, surgical complications are rare. However, no medical procedure is totally risk-free. It is best to have a discussion with your veterinarian prior to the surgery so they may help alleviate your concerns.

Recent evidence suggests possible negative health effects such as certain types of cancers, urinary incontinence, bone abnormalities, and cognitive decline later in life depending on the breed.

What Your Vet May Do To Minimize Pain

Veterinary medicine has come a long way in terms of welfare and patient comfort. We now have more tools than ever to recognize and reduce pain in our patients. 

Throughout the procedure, your pet will be completely unconscious. On top of this, many veterinarians will provide them with pain medication before, during, and after the surgery, based on their needs. 

Because spaying and neutering are so routine, many vets are comfortable performing the surgery through a relatively small cut. There are rare causes where this isn’t true though, as with anything. Some practices use locally acting anesthetic drugs to numb the targeted area, to prevent any subconscious pain.

What To Expect After Surgery

Even after surgery, there are still some things to keep in mind. Here’s what they are.


In the immediate postoperative period, your veterinarian will closely monitor your dog during its recovery from anesthesia. If your veterinarian sees they are in an unusual amount of pain, your vet will usually provide additional painkillers before sending your dog home. And if your dog still seems disoriented at home, allow it to rest in a quiet dark place away from hazards such as stairs and bodies of water until they are fully recovered.

If your dog allows it, applying an ice pack to the area around the wound for ten to fifteen minutes three times a day can help reduce inflammation in the first three days after the surgery.

Post-Operative Recommendations For Pet Owners

Make sure to keep the wound clean and dry as infection can worsen the pain. Owners shouldn’t allow their dog to bathe or play outside until the wound has healed and a veterinarian has removed the sutures. Even if they don’t seem to be in pain, keep exercise to a minimum to avoid stretching or tearing the stitches.

Ensure your pup wears an e-collar during the wound healing period. Dogs love to lick their wounds and chew off stitches! Ten days of diligently wearing a cone will ensure the site heals well and save you the heartache of trying to fix a chewed-up wound.

Tools To Assess Pain In Your Pet

There are several tools we use to assess pain in animals. These simple charts allow vets and owners to score patient discomfort following painful procedures and decide on the need for painkillers. 

One example is the Glasgow Pain Scale, which is a relatively simple assessment that can be done at home to identify pain. Your veterinarian may have their own assessment tools you can ask about and use to monitor your pet at home. 

In Conclusion: Does Spaying And Neutering My Dogs Hurt Them?

So, what’s the verdict on whether or not spaying and neutering dogs will hurt them? The verdict is that spaying and neutering are surgical procedures that aren’t totally pain-free. However, the discomfort associated with the procedure can be minimized using medication and good management. If you have any concerns about your pet’s well-being after surgery, always contact your primary veterinarian for advice

Dr. Umaya Gunaratne (DVM)
Dr. Umaya Gunaratne (DVM)
Umaya Gunaratne is a veterinarian plus dog and cat mum currently pursuing her PhD in small animal cardiology. Her field of interest is degenerative mitral valve disorders in small breed dogs, but her passion lies in bridging the gap between academia and the real world. She enjoys helping pet parents understand the research-backed science behind raising their fur kids. She spends her free time playing football, clicker-training her cat, Ria, and spending quality time with her many houseplants.