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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
This is important information for everyone who choses not to spay their female dog, and don't intend to breed her. I went through pyometra recently, with my 7 year old female. I'd bred her on her two previous heat cycles, and she hadn't taken, and this was probably due to ovarian cysts, as I bred her once at age 3 and then waited too long to breed again. I won't make that mistake twice.

It's important to understand that the dog's reproductive cycle is quite different than us humans- basically their bodies consider themselves pregnant for 63 days following the heat cycle, bred or not, and each "empty" heat cycle increases risk of pyometra.

"The key to understanding reproductive health in dogs is knowing that, as far as a bitch’s body knows, there is no difference between being pregnant and not being pregnant, after a heat cycle.

Those of us (humans, cows, horses, etc.) that cycle on a regular basis prepare our uterus to accept a fertilized egg or eggs every month or so. For a couple of weeks after ovulation we have a higher-than-normal progesterone level, which makes the uterus, which has grown a bunch of soft blood vessels and tissue, keep those vessels and tissue thick and strong so a fertilized egg can land on a lovely spot where there’s lots of blood to suck up and start growing its own little blood vessels.

For humans and other repeated cyclers, when there is no fertilized egg, the body gets the signal very quickly and the ovaries stop producing progesterone and the lining of the uterus breaks down and goes back to normal, at least for another few weeks until ovulation occurs again.

Dogs have a completely different system.

It starts out roughly the same, with the uterus preparing for the eggs by growing a good plush lining, and the eggs ripen on the ovaries and hooray, there’s some lutenizing hormone, and the eggs are released. It gets a little weirder from there, because unlike humans that have fertilizable eggs within a few hours of ovulation dogs’ eggs take two or three days. And unlike humans, whose eggs implant and begin to grow into the blood vessels about a week after ovulation, dogs take about three weeks. But the process is basically analogous.

Where dogs are VERY unlike us is that there is never any signal given to the body that there are in fact no fertilized eggs to nourish, that this has been an unsuccessful heat cycle.

Instead, a dog’s progesterone level stays high for the entire 63 days that she would have been pregnant; her uterus develops the incredibly effective and thick system of blood vessels that would be necessary to nourish an entire full-term litter.

You can honestly say that the only difference between a bitch who was bred and a bitch who was not bred is how many calories she’s burning–either she has to support a litter or she doesn’t–because her body honestly doesn’t know any difference. Aside from some relaxin to loosen her joints (which is present in pregnant dogs but not in non-pregnant ones after the heat cycle is over), the hormone levels are the same.

This would all be just a veterinary curiosity were it not for the fact that the body doesn’t like growing things and then not using them. When the uterus grows this tremendous blood supply, the blood supply actually shapes itself as though there are puppies there. The little attachment sites where the placentas would grow into the uterine lining are shaped differently and have different types of blood vessels. When there are no puppies to fill those shapes, the attachment sites form cysts. After multiple empty heat cycles, much of the uterus can be filled with fluid and cysts. In many bitches, that progresses to infection and pyometra.

The upshot of this whole situation is that bitches are not meant to have empty heat cycles. All else being equal, it is better and safer for them to be pregnant at each heat cycle (or spayed) than it is for them to remain unbred. And diet, panties, and other interventions (or lack thereof) are not the answer – the answer is to use the uterus or lose it....

.....Remember that as far as ANY bitch’s body is concerned, she IS having two litters a year. You don’t do her a favor by having one or both of them be invisible."

(posted with permission to share)
 

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Thanks for posting.

I worry constantly with Shadow since she has a wildly erratic heats and I had recently had this discussion with her vet. I know I am running a huge risk, but in my case I don't really have another option. Previous girls were spayed at about 3 to allow time for full growth and maturation, very likely that future girls will follow that pattern.

I preferred age three to age two as it allows time for mental development as well as physical. I am of the belief that those hormones are all important and I like to give time for the entire system to develop. It is highly unlikely that I will keep another bitch intact for life.
 

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Thanks for this post Muskeg, it really makes sense. This also explains false pregnancies, lactating without giving birth etc. Deja is coming on five and will be spayed next Spring. She was due to be spayed this Fall (as now Griff is sexually mature) but because she had a twisted colon a few months ago and major abdominal surgery, her body needs a break.
 

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It’s the reason I freaked out after Carly turned 6. She had one litter when she was 3, and was never bred again. As time passed, I got more and more worried about pyo, so I spayed her. I do miss her pretty coat though. Spay coats look dull and fuzzy to me.
 
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I've been reading that you can have the uterus removed, but leave the ovaries. The advantage being that hormones are still produced. I'm still reading up on the pros and cons. If anyone reading has had that done, I'm interested to hear about it.
 

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I've been reading that you can have the uterus removed, but leave the ovaries. The advantage being that hormones are still produced. I'm still reading up on the pros and cons. If anyone reading has had that done, I'm interested to hear about it.
The con is if anything is left behind they can still develop pup- stump pyo. Some veterinarians will not do this procedure because of the risk. You would just have to make sure the vet you choose is trusted in doing this procedure. There is a Facebook page.
 

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Thanks for the info. I was just trying to figure out when to spay I keep going back and forth on the age.
 

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I had Odie spayed when she had a false pregnancy, she needed a C-section for every litter, her uterine horns were full of fluid but no puppies. Other heat cycles were ok, because I had not bred her. But she is the only bitch I spayed.

Arwen was not spayed until her third litter at about 7, which was a singleton, which she lost.
Jenna was not spayed, had five litters, lived to be 2 months away from 13 years, no pyo.
Babs was not spayed had three litters, is currently 13, no pyo.
Heidi was not spayed, had no litters is currently 12 years, no pyo.
Odessa, spayed at almost 8, three litters with me, one before, no pyo but it could have developed.
Whitney not spayed, never bred, lived to 4 years, no pyo.
Tori, not spayed, never bred, lived to 9 years, no pyo.
Milla, not spayed, never bred, lived to almost 10, no pyo.
Ninja not spayed, never bred, lived to 10, no pyo.
Joy, not spayed, never bred, is currently 9, no pyo.
Bear, not spayed, had 5 litters, is 8.5 years, no pyo.
Dolly, not spayed, never bred, rehomed at 7 years, no pyo.
Gretta, not spayed, never bred, lived to 5 years, no pyo.
Hepzibah, not spayed, never bred, currently 7.5 years, no pyo.
Karma, not spayed, 3 litters, currently almost 6 years, no pyo.
Lassie, not spayed, no litters, currently 5.5 years, no pyo.
Quinnie, not spayed, never bred, currently almost 3 years, no pyo.
Ramona, not spayed, never bred, currently 2.5 years, no pyo.
Tinuviel, not spayed, never bred, currently 7-8 months, no pyo.

I wonder if there is a genetic component to pyo.

While bitches can be lost for other reasons. I think they are better off having their hormones as long as possible, as that is natural. It is also natural for them to be bred each cycle. I choose to prevent breeding, but I am not ready to perform an invasive surgery to remove the hormones because there may be an infection at some point down the line.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Another issue I am currently wrestling with is that females can become aggressive with packmates or other dogs during their heat cycles and after them, particularly if you have another female dog in the home. It's something to consider seriously if you have multiple bitches. If I was NOT planning to breed a bitch, and had multiple female dogs, knowing what I know now, I would spay her at 18 too 20 months. Maybe it's a precaution, but better to avoid conflict ever developing, and bitches in heat or hormonal bitches are much more likely to fight.

I think pyo does have a genetic component, and is less likely the more litters a bitch has, but given the way the canine reproductive system works, it's pretty common in older, unbred bitches. My vet said that low-level pyo can go on for quite some time before it causes serious problems. I thought that was weird because she was telling me during that same conversation to never let the sun set on a pyo.
 

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Selzer, thanks for posting the history with your dogs. It makes me rethink spaying Deja. She is healthy and has a gorgeous, sleek coat. Her breeder hasn't had a problem with pyo. Will first see how I have to manage the two when she goes into heat in a few months, probably during our Christmas family vacation.
 

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Thank you for that informative post. My BF is taking a 7 year old who just finished what will be her last heat. She is being retired from breeding. Thinking to wait 3 months until spaying her. Any thoughts on timing are welcome since you seem to have really researched the topic.
 

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I've been reading that you can have the uterus removed, but leave the ovaries. The advantage being that hormones are still produced. I'm still reading up on the pros and cons. If anyone reading has had that done, I'm interested to hear about it.
I had an ovary-sparing spay done on my collie. I made sure to pick someone comfortable and experienced with the procedure, and I've been very happy.

(A vet I went to once or twice after moving stated that he had never done an ovary-sparing spay, but he would "give it a try" if I wanted. Yikes!)
 

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Following this. Thanks very much to all that are contributing. I waffle back and forth with spaying at maybe six years. I have not owned many females but none ever got pyo. Two girls now, intact and never bred, one three and one almost four. No problems so far.
 

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I had an ovary-sparing spay done on my collie. I made sure to pick someone comfortable and experienced with the procedure, and I've been very happy.

(A vet I went to once or twice after moving stated that he had never done an ovary-sparing spay, but he would "give it a try" if I wanted. Yikes!)
Thanks, yikes is right!
 

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Discussion Starter #15
I've heard that it's best to spay in the hormonal quiet between "false" (or real) pregnancy and the start of the next heat cycle. So I think three month to four months after the end of the heat cycle is good timing. I wouldn't spay during heat, or during the 63 days after.
 
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