Wondering what the difference is between spaying and neutering? It’s simpler than it may seem.

By Katie Mills Giorgio
August 24, 2020
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Emma Darvick

"This is Bob Barker reminding you to help control the pet population—have your pets spayed or neutered."

If you’ve ever watched an episode of The Price Is Right all the way to the end, you’ll probably recognize former host Bob Barker’s signature sign-off. The passionate animal rights advocate delivered the line at the end of every show for decades, and after he retired in 2007, host Drew Carey continued the tradition.

Even if you didn’t watch The Price Is Right, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard about spaying and neutering. But do you really know the difference between the two terms? And how do you decide what’s right for your dog? 

Well, the good news is, part of the decision is already made for you.That’s because spaying is a procedure that is only done to female dogs. The term neutering can technically apply to both genders, but it’s generally used to describe the desexing procedure for male dogs. Both procedures sterilize the dog so they cannot have any puppies. And both will require that your dog wear an E-collar (aka “the cone of shame”). Read on to learn a bit more about the differences between the two procedures and the common benefits they can have for your beloved pet. 

What is Neutering?

Neutering, or castration, happens when a veterinarian surgically removes a male dog’s testicles through an incision on the front of the scrotum. A relatively simple procedure, neutering makes it impossible for your dog to father any puppies. Your dog will need to be put under in order for the surgery to take place, but the whole medical process is typically quick and you are usually able to take your dog home that same day to rest. Recovery typically takes just a few days, but you’ll need to limit activity (such as running, jumping, climbing and swimming) for about two weeks so everything heals properly. 

What is Spaying?

When your female dog is spayed, a veterinarian performs surgery, under anesthesia, to remove her uterus and ovaries through an incision in her stomach. This procedure can sometimes be performed laparoscopically. While it is more involved than a neutering procedure, the operation still typically takes less than 90 minutes to complete. And, while some vets will keep your dog overnight, most pets are fine to head home the same day to rest and heal. She’ll need to avoid running, jumping, playing rough, and taking baths or swimming for two to four weeks while she recovers.

“Spays are much more complex than neuters,” says Nellie Goetz, DVM MPH, Executive Director of Altered Tails, a high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter clinic serving 22,000 patients a year. “Spays involve making entry into the abdominal cavity as well as tying off the blood supply in multiple areas. The recovery tends to be a bit longer and they can have more pain with the procedure than males do.”

Why Should I Spay or Neuter My Dog?

There are many health benefits to having your dog spayed or neutered. Research has shown that spaying and neutering reduce your dog’s risk of cancer (testicular cancer for male dogs and breast cancer for female dogs). Unspayed females often suffer from a uterus infection called pyometra. And males who are neutered are less likely to have prostate issues.

Desexing can help with behavior issues as well. Neutering male dogs can help make them less aggressive and dominant. And spaying will stop your female dog’s heat cycle. When she’s in heat, she may make dangerous decisions to escape your home or yard to try and find a mate. 

Your veterinarian will likely reinforce that dogs who are spayed or neutered live longer, healthier lives. 

Are Spaying & Neutering Expensive?

Getting your dog spayed or neutered is an investment. Spaying costs a bit more than neutering, as it’s a more complicated procedure. Either way, you can expect to spend anywhere from $50–400 or more. Prices vary based on your specific dog, including his/her age, breed and where you live. (See How Much Does It Cost to Spay or Neuter a Dog? for more info.) Though it may seem like a lot of money to drop on a single procedure, think of it as a cost effective investment. Taking care of a pregnant dog and her litter of pups would cost more, not to mention the other health issues that can arise in a dog that’s not fixed. If tight finances are keeping you from making the decision to spay or neuter, be sure to look into low-cost clinics that provide procedures at greatly reduced rates.