Behind the Scenes of Spay Day

So your veterinarian makes a recommendation to spay or neuter your pet at 6 months of age – what’s next? What is involved with surgery day?

The decisions we make on and before surgery day are all to reduce the risk of anesthesia. All animals prior to going under anesthesia should have pre-anesthetic blood work performed – just like our human doctors would do! This tells veterinarians if pets are safe to undergo anesthesia and if their bodies can process the drugs given for pain management and anesthesia itself. But, this isn’t foolproof and anesthesia can be risky no matter how good the blood work nor how young the patient is.


Blood work can have small variations present like the ones shown above. These variations can be caused by patient-to-patient differences outside of laboratory reference ranges or from patient stress at the time the blood was sampled. Your veterinarian will let you know if there is cause for alarm.

After your veterinarian gives the A-OK for your pet to continue with surgery, it’s time to prepare for surgery day. Pets should be fasted for 12 hours prior to the beginning of anesthesia which is usually at 8:00pm the night before. They can have all of the water they want to stay well hydrated, but surgery is best performed on an empty stomach. This is because there is a risk while under anesthesia that patients can inhale regurgitated stomach contents causing them to develop aspiration pneumonia. Performing surgery on an empty stomach reduces this risk significantly.

The decisions we make on and before surgery day are all to reduce the risk of anesthesia.

When your pet is admitted to the hospital on surgery day, they are going to ask you if your pet has eaten anything and when the last time that was. Chronic medications such as heart disease medication and anti-seizure medication should be administered on schedule to make anesthesia less risky.

When it comes time to prepare your pet for surgery in hospital, the first step is to place an intravenous catheter. Intravenous catheters are placed prior to beginning surgery for a few reasons. In emergency situations, it is important to have access to a vein in the event that emergency medications need to be administered. Second, it is important to give intravenous fluids during surgery to maintain adequate blood pressure and hydration during the procedure. In order to have an intravenous catheter placed, your pet will need to be restrained like is shown above. This position keeps the leg outstretched for catheter placement and protects animal hospital staff members from becoming injured. If this position will be stressful for your pet, a sedative can be prescribed prior to coming to morning drop off that will help your pet remain calm.

Once the intravenous catheter is placed, a special tool called a laryngoscope is then used to place a breathing tube into your pet’s airway. See those beautiful folds at the back of the mouth? That’s what we are aiming for! The breathing tube allows us to give oxygen during the procedure, protect the airway from fluid, and gives the gas anesthesia that keeps patients asleep during surgery.

The spay or neuter is then performed. Depending on the size of your pet, this surgery time can vary significantly. In general, neuters for male pets are much faster than spays for female pets.

Pets are monitored with very technical equipment during surgery, just like humans would be. Anesthesia technicians record vitals through surgery and make adjustments to machine settings as needed through the procedure.

It can take several hours for your pet to become fully awake after the surgery is complete. Don’t be surprised if your pet isn’t ready for pick-up until the end of the business day. Many veterinary hospitals want their patients to be eating, urinating, and walking steadily before being discharged from the hospital.

The most important part about spay and neuter surgeries is also the hardest part – it’s the after care!

The most important part about spay and neuter surgeries is also the hardest part – it’s the after care! It’s easy to feel bad for our pets when they are loopy from anesthesia or angry because they are in the cone of shame. But, the important thing to remember is that the at-home care you provide to your pets is key to their recovery. At-home care that doesn’t follow doctor directions can result in many different complications with healing.

One of the many recommendations from animal hospitals after spay and neuter is to wear a cone. Most patients must remain in a cone for two weeks after surgery to prevent surgical site irritation. Cones can be difficult so here are a few tips for dealing with them.

  • Put tape around the outside edges as they can be sharp to prevent accidental scratches.
  • If pets are monitored closely, the cone can be removed for meal times. But, immediately after eating, it should be replaced again.
  • Keep it clean! There’s nothing more gross than getting smacked in the legs with a food and slobber sobered cone.
  • Attach the cone to your pets collar to prevent slippage.

Your veterinarian may recommend some post surgical preventative items like gastrointestinal friendly food. This can be very helpful as sometimes patients can develop a distaste for the everyday food they eat. I recommend feeding your pets a tablespoon of wet food every two hours the night after surgery and then slowly increasing quantity and time in between feedings over the next few days. Why wet food? Wet food isn’t a common item fed to most dogs, so, naturally, it will be perceived as a special treat!

Do you have questions about your pet’s upcoming spay or neuter? Comment below!


  1. This is a wonderful account of what to expect during this procedure! Thanks so much for sharing. I plan to share this with my sister-in-law, as she was just asking me about what to expect during her dog’s neuter.


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