A reader wonders if she should have her eight year old bitch neutered

Q: I took my eight-and-a-half-year-old bitch to the vet because she was being a bit slow with her food. It transpired that she was having a phantom pregnancy. The vet advised that 
I have her neutered, but I am wary of this because of her age. What do you think?

A: We commonly see problems developing in bitches as they get older.

Diseases affecting the ovaries, uterus, vagina and mammary glands develop due to the effect of female hormones, principally oestrogen and progesterone, on the body over the years. Take away these hormones and the problems do not occur. Neutering your bitch will stop her getting pregnant and prevent her suffering from false pregnancies, pyometra or vaginal prolapse. One study found that spayed bitches live, on average, 12 to 18 months longer than entire ones.

Phantom pregnancies

  • False, phantom or pseudopregnancy can affect bitches of any age.
  • The signs of false pregnancy generally start four to nine weeks after a season.
  • In most cases the mammary glands become enlarged and milk can be expressed.
  • The dog’s behaviour can change; they can become clingy with their owners, possessive over toys, and generally unsettled.
  • Dogs may start nesting
  • Some dogs will go off their food.

Spaying does not change behaviour

Age, in itself, does not preclude 
a bitch from being spayed. Normally the decision to operate is influenced more by the condition of the individual dog. Some bitches seem to age more quickly, while others remain fit and healthy until well into old age. Spaying a bitch will not change her behaviour, though it does reduce her metabolic rate. This means that she will need at least 10 to 20 per cent less food to prevent weight gain. Controlling excess weight in spayed bitches can be problematic but there are now several low-calorie dog foods on the market. Bodyweight is more effectively controlled by reducing the amount of food given several weeks before the bitch is spayed.