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What’s Involved in a Spay?

spay-catCat and dog spays are so common that veterinarians may fail to explain exactly what is involved in the procedure to curious owners.  What is described below is how the surgery is performed in a state-of-the-art veterinary hospital, not necessarily at an animal shelter or spay/neuter clinic.

First, your pet will receive “pre-meds,” which are sedatives and pain relievers to help your pet relax and feel comfortable.  Once these medications have taken effect, an intravenous catheter is put in place and she is anesthetized with injectable medications.  Many different protocols are used depending on the situation.  Your dog or cat will then be intubated (i.e., a breathing tube is inserted through the mouth and into the windpipe) and kept asleep using inhalant anesthetics throughout the surgery.

The pet’s belly is then shaved and she is moved into the surgery suite and placed on a heating pad on the surgical table.  A veterinary technician will scrub her belly with two types of antiseptics and hook her up to machines that monitor her vital signs as well as intravenous fluids to maintain her blood pressure.   Meanwhile, the veterinarian is putting on a cap and mask, scrubbing his or her hands with an antiseptic, and putting on a sterile gown and gloves.  The veterinarian then covers the animal’s belly with sterile drapes leaving just a small opening for the incision.

Using a scalpel, the veterinarian cuts through the skin, subcutaneous tissues, and abdominal wall.  The uterus and ovaries are then located (this is sometimes harder than it sounds), tied off using suture material, and cut free of the abdomen.  The surgeon will examine the pet to make sure no abnormal bleeding is evident.  The abdominal wall is then closed with a row of absorbable sutures, followed by the subcutaneous tissues and skin.  Some veterinarians use absorbable sutures buried under the skin and tissue glue, while others use nonabsorbable sutures that need to be removed approximately 10 days after the surgery.

Pain relievers will be given if this was not done earlier, and the dog or cat will be disconnected from the anesthesia machine and monitored as she recovers.  Once she starts to swallow on her own, the endotracheal tube is removed and she is returned to her cage for continued monitoring as she wakes up and gets ready to return home within the next day or so.

When your dog or cat is back under your care, make sure you closely follow the veterinarian’s discharge instructions, finish any medications that were prescribed, and call the clinic if you have any questions or concerns.

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