Possible Complications for Dogs After Spaying

As a great pet owner, you carefully think over every decision you make when it comes to your dog's health. Spay surgery is one of the most common surgeries performed on dogs, and while it offers many benefits to your dog's health, it can still carry some risks. If you're considering having your dog spayed, take a minute to familiarize yourself with potential complications so you can discuss them with your vet before the surgery takes place.

A pet dog sitting under the desk in home office.
There is a possibility for complications after spaying your dog.
credit: Halfpoint Images/Moment/GettyImages

The most common complications

The good news is that the most common spay complication is trauma to the surgical site that the dog inflicts herself. This is entirely preventable by keeping your dog quiet after the surgery and by having your dog wear an e-collar as directed by your vet.

Dogs who aren't made to wear an e-collar may remove their sutures, cause skin infections by licking, or scratch at their incision with their hind paws. Allowing your dog to get too active too soon can also cause her to tear her sutures.

The best way that you can help your dog to avoid spay complications is simple: Follow your vet's directions. Keep your dog calm and quiet during her recovery and make sure that she wears her e-collar and that she cannot get to her incision site while it's healing.

Constipation after surgery

Your dog may have some constipation after she's spayed. Many dogs don't have bowel movements for two to three days after their surgery. This is due to a number of factors, including the fact that your dog will have fasted before the surgery and may not have an appetite right when she gets home. If your dog is in pain, she also will not want to have a bowel movement.

While many dogs will resume having normal bowel movements on their own, if your dog hasn't had a bowel movement by her fifth day home, she will need some treatment. You can add Metamucil to her diet to help soften her stool. Metamucil can be given at a dosage of half a teaspoon twice a day for smaller dogs, and larger dogs can have up to 2 teaspoons twice a day, but check with your vet for an exact dosage for your dog.

You can mix Metamucil with canned food, which makes it more palatable. If your dog seems uncomfortable or continues on without a bowel movement, ask your vet for advice.

Hernias after spay surgery

Dogs can also develop hernias after spay surgery. If a dog is too active after the surgery, she can tear the stitches in her abdominal wall. This can result in an acute hernia that may need to be corrected with a second surgery.

If your dog does develop a hernia after her spay surgery, you may notice a soft lump on her abdomen that gradually changes in both size and shape. Your vet will take X-rays of your dog's abdomen to diagnose the hernia and will recommend a treatment of either surgical correction or using medication to help the hernia heal.

Urinary incontinence in spayed dogs

In some cases, spaying a dog may lead to urinary incontinence. While urinary incontinence can be caused by multiple factors, the hormone imbalances that can result after spay surgery are one potential cause of the condition.

A dog's urinary tract tissue must be exposed to enough estrogen in order to function normally, but removing a dog's ovaries reduces her estrogen levels. When a dog's body doesn't have enough estrogen, her urethral sphincter⁠—the muscle that controls the release of urine⁠—can relax, leading to urinary incontinence. Urinary incontinence most often occurs when a dog is sleeping, and her muscles are relaxed.

Urinary incontinence in dogs can be treated using a number of different medications including diethylstilboestrol, which is a synthetic estrogen. Diethylstilboestrol can be administered just once each week, while other medications like Phenylpropanolamine must be administered two to three times a day.

Weight gain after spay surgery

Spay surgery can potentially cause dogs to gain weight. Changes in a dog's metabolism that result from spay surgery can cause dogs to become obese. One study found that spayed dogs were twice as likely to be obese than intact female dogs.

Unfortunately, obesity can cause many other health issues in your dog including a risk of ruptured cruciate ligaments, oral disease, hypothyroidism, pancreatitis, and more.

If your dog experiences weight gain following a spay surgery, it's important to discuss weight management techniques with your vet. Your dog may need dietary changes, increased exercise, and more active weight management to help keep her healthy.

Spay anesthesia complications

Spaying is a very common procedure, but it does require anesthesia. Anytime anesthesia is involved, the anesthesia itself carries some risk to your pet. Anesthesia does carry the risk of serious complications, including death. Ensuring that your pet is healthy before she has surgery can help to reduce the risk of anesthesia complications.

Keep in mind, though, that anesthesia risks are very low. Modern anesthesia and the monitoring equipment that your vet will use reduce the potential of there being a problem during the surgery. It's often said that your dog would have a greater chance of being hurt in a car accident than having a complication while under anesthesia for surgery.

Complication risks in different pets

You're right to be concerned about potential spay complications that your dog could face, but it's important to understand your pet's individual risk factors. Certain pets are at an increased risk of complications, and this may influence your decision about whether or not to have your dog spayed. Dogs who are older, who have additional health issues, or who are in heat at the time when they're spayed are at a higher risk of developing complications during spay surgery than other dogs.

To keep your pet safe, discuss any concerns you have about complications with your vet before your dog has her surgery. Alert your vet to any medications that your pet is taking, including supplements that you may be giving about which your vet isn't aware. Your vet can discuss any risk factors your dog has so together, you can weigh the risks and benefits of proceeding with the spay surgery.