Getting Tutored on Spays and Neuters

Far Side Tutored
I had a comment come in through Google asking about the cost of spay/neuter at our clinic. A great question that is often followed by another great question, "what is the difference between a spay and neuter?" Fear not! I will sort it out right here, right now.

Note: At the end of this blog, we'll discuss cost and the differences in what's included between veterinary clinics (hint: price is not everything when it comes to surgery on your pet).

All About Spays and Neuters


Spays and neuters are sterilization procedures. When we speak of animals, sterilization does not mean that we're cleaning them really well, but rather that we are removing their ability to have babies. 

There are a few ways this can done (for example, surgically or with drugs), however spay and neuter have specific meanings, as well as additional benefits beyond preventing unwanted puppies and kittens.

What are Spays and Neuters?

Spays and neuters are surgical procedures that remove the reproductive organs of pets. The difference between them is the sex of the pet:
  • Spay: Female pets
  • Neuter: Male pets

SpayFemale Symbol

A spay, properly known as an ovariohysterectomy, is the surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus from a female pet. It is a more complicated surgery than a neuter (and as such typically takes longer and costs more).

Male Symbol

A neuter, properly known as an orchiectomy, is the surgical removal of the testicles from a male pet. It is less complicated than a spay (especially in cats), and as such typically takes less time and costs less.

Why Do We Do It?

So they don't do it. Ha ha. But true. 

Prevent Unwanted Pets

Unwanted puppies and kittens are a huge problem. Unwanted pets are often abandoned in the wild or killed, both of which can be very cruel. Pets have evolved through artificial (human) selection to be dependent on us. As such they are not suited for the wild (even cats).

Improve Behaviour

Spay/neuter stops the production of sex hormones. This makes pets more docile, more friendly and less likely to roam and mark (read: pee on everything). These are all really good behaviours for pets. 

Fat cat
But They Get Fat!?

No they don't ... Well not directly ... It happens that spay/neuters are usually performed at about the time that a puppy/kitten's growth and metabolism are slowing down, so they often start to gain excess weight around this time if their diet is not well balanced (just like us as we approach 30!).

Longer Life

Typically pets that have been spayed/neutered live longer, heathier lives. 

When To Spay?

Easy! Or at least it used to be: Up until a few years ago, we recommended that all pets be spayed/neutered at 6 month old. Easy-peasey. However, there's a lot of recent research that suggests that waiting longer in some breeds of dogs is beneficial.

As with all of medicine, as we learn, we adapt. Generally for larger-breed puppies, we wait a little longer, typically to 8-12 months of age. New research is suggesting there are also significant breed variations, so we're adapting to this as well.

The easiest thing to do is assume your pet should be spayed/neutered at six months of age, and we'll let you know if that's not in the best interest of your pet.

Older Pets

Yes! You can spay/neuter older pets and still reap many of the benefits. Generally, unless there is a specific reason not to (and not just, "I might breed Fluffy one day..."), I recommend all pets be spayed/neutered, even if they are older.

Cat in surgical mask
Surgical Procedure

I was going to discuss cost before the nuts (ha ha) and bolts of how we spay and neuter pets, but I think understanding the procedure will help make the cost clearer. So here we go!

All spay/neuter procedures are surgeries done under full anesthesia in a sterile environment.

Spay Surgery

A spay surgery is done by entering a pet's abdomen by making a small (typically 5 cm or so) incision (a cut with a scalpel) along the midline. The ovaries are first isolated and removed after carefully ligating (tying off) their blood vessels and their connection to the uterus. The uterus is then removed by ligating it's blood vessels near the pelvis. 

After a careful check to ensure there is no bleeding or complications, the abdomen is closed by suturing together the abdominal wall, followed by the subcutaneous tissue (the layer under the skin) and finally suturing closed the skin. Typically, the sutures are absorbable, which means they dissolve in the body and don't need to be removed (although sometimes non-absorbable skin sutures are used for strength. These need to be removed about a week after surgery).

Spay surgeries are fairly involved, and take quite a bit of skill and care. Not all vets are comfortable doing spay surgeries.

Neuter Surgery

A neuter surgery is done by entering the pet's scrotum (via a single incision just ahead of the scrotum in dogs, or 2 small incisions on each side of the scrotum in cats). The testicles are isolated and removed after carefully ligating their blood vessels. 

After a thorough check to ensure there is no bleeding or complications, the incision is closed by suturing the subcutaneous layer followed by the skin (in the case of dogs), or simply left open to heal on their own (in the case of cats*).

* Whereas this sounds like a terrible idea at first blush, surprisingly there are far fewer complications with this technique in cats than if we sutured the incisions closed. Cats: Always have to be different!

Why Not a Vasectomy?

A great question! The answer is that a vasectomy is arguably more complicated than a neuter (and still requires full anesthesia unlike in humans), and it doesn't address the other issues we talked about under Why Do We Do It? For similar reasons (and a few others), we also don't recommend chemical sterilization (using drugs instead of surgery).

Note to guys (Women feel free to skip ahead 😁): Your pet doesn't need it's balls. It really doesn't. It'll be fine.

Is Anesthesia Safe?

I will write a blog on anesthesia and post the link here when it's ready. Stay tuned!

For the time being though, know that anesthesia in pets is very safe when it's done right. This especially means keeping current on anesthetic protocols (what anesthetic medications to use and how they affect your pet), ensuring that an intravenous catheter is placed prior to the surgery and that intravenous fluids are being given to support blood pressure. Excellent monitoring by trained staff with modern equipment is also of the utmost importance.


Sleeping cat
Like many things in life, the cost of spays and neuters can be misleading and/or confusing. Often, veterinary clinics will quote only the the cost for the surgery itself in an effort to price themselves lower than nearby clinics†. Other veterinary clinics (like mine), always quote the full cost for the entire procedure. This means we lose some spays and neuters to other clinics, but it allows us to sleep at night.

† This is not evil (although perhaps misleading): We often only have a few seconds on the phone to give a quote, so a lower price prevents owners from simply dismissing the clinic. That being said, I prefer to be upfront, even if it means that some owners move on (their loss IMO!). Helping to clear this up is the primary reason I've written this blog.

What's Included?

This is where we can really start to understand the difference in price between clinics. Here I will list what I believe should be included, and identify some items that some veterinarians choose to make optional and/or do not include in the initial cost quote. I have listed these in chronological order (the order they happen in when having your pet spayed/neutered).

💬 Indicates items that may not be included or cost extra: Be sure to ask and have them included in any quote you receive
  • Physical Exam: A thorough physical must be done prior to surgery to ensure there are no physical contraindications (red flags) to the surgery. An example would be uncontrolled heart disease
  • Bloodwork Profile💬: A bloodwork profile should be done before surgery to make sure that there are not any indications of disease that increase the risk of surgery. Bloodwork can pick up on a lot "invisible" issues the physical exam cannot (similarly, the physical exam can detect a lot of things that bloodwork cannot)
  • Intravenous (IV) Catheter💬: An IV catheter gives us direct access to the bloodstream during surgery. This can be critically important if there is a complication during surgery††
  • Intravenous Fluids💬: IV fluids support a pet's blood pressure (which tends to drop during surgery) and helps a pet recover faster from surgery. IV fluids can also be critically important if a complication arises††
  • Warming During Surgery💬: It seems so simple, but keeping a pet warm during surgery supports their metabolism, which helps keep them stable during surgery and helps them recover faster afterwards
  • Sterility: Excellent sterility (in this case, we do mean very clean) helps minimize post-surgical complications like infections. Sterility depends on a number of factors and requires a dedicated team effort
  • Monitoring💬: The better the monitoring, the safer the anesthesia. Many anesthetic complications arise from problems with monitoring the pet. Good monitoring requires modern equipment used by well-trained team members who not only know how to recognize potential problems, but know how to handle them before they become serious
  • Spay/Neuter Surgery: The actual surgery. As you can see, it is only a part of the whole procedure!
    • Note: On it's own, the surgery itself generally would only account for around half the cost of the procedure. The remainder of the cost ensures the health, safety and comfort of your pet
  • Recovery Procedure: Recovery refers to the waking of a pet after surgery. It is very important that there is a protocol in place to keep a close eye on recovering pets to be sure they awake normally and without any complications or pain
  • Full Pain Control💬: Pain control was once considered to be minimally important for pets. Thankfully that is not the case any more. It is very important that any pain is controlled before it becomes uncomfortable. This means giving pain control prior to the surgery - both IV medication and via nerve blocks (directly desensitizing the nerves like your dentist does), as well as during the surgery, during recovery, and for a period of time after the surgery (often including pain medications to be given at home)
  • Progress Exam💬: A follow up exam may be needed or recommended, depending on the surgery, to ensure that the pet is progressing as expected after their surgery
†† Cat neuters can be an exception

So What is the Cost?

So after all of this, here we are. Unfortunately, there is no OHIP for pets, so there is a cost to spay/neuter procedures. The costs shown here include all of the items listed above (recall: the surgery, if done without anything else - a bad idea! - would only account for about one half of the cost):
  • Dog Spay (girls): $650 - $850
  • Cat Spay (girls): $550 - $750
  • Dog Neuter (boys): $600 - $800
  • Cat Neuter (boys): $350- $450
Note: These are approximate for a typical puppy/kitten (as the cost can vary due to the weight, breed and age of a pet, as well as some other factors)

Isn't That A Lot?

I understand this can seem like quite a bit of money. Remember that this includes all of the procedures I've listed above, which I believe are important to ensure the utmost safety and comfort for your pet.

And fortunately, we only have to do this once during the lifetime of your pet!

The Bottom Line

Spays and neuters are often described as "routine" or "simple" procedures, and they are something we do almost every day. However, there is more to them than may appear at first glance. Hopefully this has helped to make things a bit clearer.

With Care, Dr. Hans Christoffersen
Owner of Animal Care Clinics


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