Spaying A Golden Retriever: What You Need to Know


At some point, all dog owners with female Golden Retrievers will have to decide if they will spay their female Golden Retriever. However, unless the plan is to breed the dog, most owners will choose to fix their beloved pet due to the benefits spaying offers. 

What Are the Benefits of Spaying a Golden Retriever?

Spaying a Golden Retriever has many benefits, and those include both social and behavioral. Often it’s these benefits that motivate many owners to spay their Golden Retrievers.

So, what are the benefits of spaying a Golden Retriever? 

Spaying a Golden Retriever prevents pregnancies and potential complications during labor and birth. Additional benefits include reducing the homeless dog population and the euthanization of unwanted strays. Spaying can reduce or eliminate certain behavioral issues and the mess associated with heat cycles.

Did you notice that health benefits are missing from that list? That’s because recent research appears to support leaving a female intact as having the best outcome on reducing cancer and joint conditions. 

Which represents a challenge for owners then. How best do you balance preventing unwanted pregnancies and reducing behavioral issues while offering the best health outcome for your female Golden Retriever?  

We explore this issue next. 

What Age Is Best to Spay a Golden Retriever? 

Historically, most owners opted to spay their Golden Retrievers before sexual maturity or before six months of age. Doing so prevented unwanted pregnancies and the negative issues associated with heat cycles. However, recent research seems to indicate doing so could negatively affect the dog’s health and well-being. 

In light of that, what age is best to spay a Golden Retriever? 

Female Golden Retrievers should preferably be left intact. There is good evidence that spaying increases the risk of joint disorders, especially cancers, in female Golden Retrievers regardless of age. However, if spaying must be done, it’s best to wait until one year of age and monitor for cancers. 

In a previous article I wrote, I addressed common questions about neutering a male Golden Retriever, including addressing such issues as what the neuter process entails, what to expect before, during, and after surgery, and whether it will change your Golden Retriever, and the cost. 

Suppose you have a male Golden Retriever and are curious about the answers to common questions on neutering. In that case, you can find that article here: Neutering a Golden Retriever: Common Questions Answered.

In this article, we discuss female Golden Retrievers, and we’ll address those same questions. Why separate articles? Because each procedure is different in complexity, risk, cost, and other factors, so a discussion on both was warranted in detail. 

However, before proceeding, it’s essential to address the differences between the terms neuter and spay. Neuter is often used interchangeably, but that is technically not accurate. 

Spay and neuter procedures are based on the gender of the dog. Spaying a Golden Retriever involves removing the uterus and ovaries of a female dog, whereas neutering a Golden Retriever removes the testicles of a male dog. Each respective procedure prevents your Golden Retriever from reproducing. 

While neutering a male has minimal effect on cancer risk, spaying females increases that risk. As such, owners must then consider balancing the need for preventing unwanted pregnancies and reducing behavioral issues with the best health outcomes for their female Golden Retrievers.   

Determining the age of best health outcome for spaying was precisely the intent of researchers at the University of California. In the study, Assisting Decision-Making on Age of Neutering for 35 Breeds of Dogs: Associated Joint Disorders, Cancers, and Urinary Incontinence, researchers compared the risk of joint disorders and cancers versus the best age of neutering and spaying a dog to avoid increasing the chances of a dog acquiring these joint disorders (hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tear, elbow dysplasia), and one or more of cancers. 

The study also examined the risk for mammary cancer (MC), pyometra (PYO), and urinary incontinence (UI) in female dogs. However, UI data were not reported for female Golden Retrievers, and PYO was only reported for intact females, so this discussion will only focus on joint disorders and cancer risk. 

Spaying a female increases the risk of joint disorders from 4 percent in intact dogs to 18 percent (if spayed before six months of age) and 11 percent (if spayed between 6 and 11 months). 

Cancer risk for females went from 5 percent in intact females to 11 percent in females neutered before six months of age and 17 percent in females between 6 and 11 months. Spaying at one year of age and between 2 to 8 years increased the risk to 14 percent. In addition, mammary cancer increased from one percent in intact females to 4 percent in those dogs neutered between 2 and 8 years of age—a fourfold increase. 

The table below provides a summary of what researchers found. The table compares the risk associated with cancer or joint disorders versus leaving the female intact or spaying at different age intervals. It will hopefully make understanding the data a bit simpler. 

Age of Spay Risk for CancersRisk for Joint DisordersRisk for Mammary Cancer 
Intact 5%4%1%
< 6 months11%18%Not reported
6 to 11 months17%11%Not reported
1 year 14%Not reportedNot reported
2 to 8 years 14%Not reported4%

The data illustrates that spaying a Golden Retriever at any age increases the risk for cancer and joint disorders. Ideally, the best course of action would be to leave her intact. However, unwanted pregnancies and dealing with behavioral issues during heat cycles are not acceptable options for most. 

Therefore, a balance needs to be struck between controlling unwanted pregnancies, behavioral issues, and the mess during heat cycles while trying to best reduce the risk for joint disorders and cancers for your female Golden Retriever. Therefore, that “best” balance seems to be at one year of age. 

As such, researchers in the study suggest for female Golden Retrievers that “based on the increased occurrence of cancers at all spaying ages (and I would add joint disorders as well), is to leave the female intact or spay at one year and then remain vigilant for the cancers.”

What Is Involved in Spaying a Golden Retriever?

Spaying is a much more complex and lengthy surgery than neutering. As such, it is normal for owners to be nervous about the surgery and potential risks. However, understanding what is involved in spaying a Golden Retrievers can help reduce some of the anxiety associated with not knowing what to expect. 

So, let’s look at what to expect before, during, and after surgery, along with pain management, risks, and home care.

Before Surgery

Your Golden Retriever will be examined to ensure the dog is in a good state of health before undergoing surgery and usually includes preoperative blood work to ensure that any anesthetic administered is safe for the dog.  

The incision site and area of the paw where the intravenous tube or “catheter” (IV) is inserted will be shaved. The anesthetic will be administered via the IV to sedate the dog. The IV is used to administer fluids during surgery. In addition, a breathing tube is used to assist with breathing and deliver additional sedation during surgery. 

The surgical area is cleansed before surgery, and the vet will also wash their hands and forearms. Then, the usual surgical gear is utilized, such as surgical gloves, gowns, caps, and a surgical drape. This surgical gear is required to help minimize germs or contamination to the surgical site. 

During Surgery

An incision is made just below the belly button (midline of the tummy). The uterus horn will be captured using a spay hook, and the horn will be brought outside the body after the ovarian ligament is stretched (source) so that the blood supply can be tied off.

Clamps are used to tie off blood supply to the area being removed and to steady the site (see picture below). Next, the female’s reproductive tract, ovaries, and uterus are removed through this incision.  

The incision site is then closed under the skin using two layers of absorbable stitches, which will dissolve over time. Next, the outer layer of skin is closed with skin glue, skin staples, or stitches. These outer layers of stitches will be removed, if necessary, at the post-op examination about 8 to 10 days later. 

Postoperative Care

After the surgery, your Golden Retriever will be removed to a comfortable area to sleep until the sedation wears off. Then, staff will monitor her until the anesthesia wears off and she begins to wake, usually about 30 minutes or longer. 

Shortly after that, the veterinarian assistants will contact you to arrange the pick-up of your Golden.

Duration of Surgery

Spay surgery typically takes anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes. Surgery can take potentially longer if the female is in heat. Age, size, and preexisting health conditions also play a role and may affect the duration. 

Pain Management

Like with neuter surgery, the goal is to keep your Golden as comfortable as possible. While there is always some pain associated with surgery, it should be adequately managed with pain medication. 

Because of the more complex surgery associated with spaying, there may be more significant pain than neutering, or it may last longer. 

Pain medication is administered before, during, and after surgery, and you will be given pain medication for recovery at home. 

Risks During Surgery 

All surgery has risks; however, the risk is generally low for healthy younger dogs. Older dogs, those with preexisting health conditions, or females in heat are at greater risk for complications.

However, with advances in surgical procedures and monitoring, the risk of complications is better mitigated than in the past. 

Common complications during surgery are bleeding and blood loss for dogs in or near heat, so it’s best to avoid surgery during those times. Postoperative complications are usually rare but can occur if the dog is allowed to be too active or lick the wound area, which can cause infection and inflammation.

Other complications can include a reaction to the sutures if the dog is allergic to certain materials. Breakdown of the inner surgical sutures is rare but is life-threatening since the stomach contents can be exposed. It is essential, therefore, to ensure the incision site is protected and activity is restricted. 

Home Care

Due to the complexity of the spay surgery and the risks of complications being more severe than neutering, home care must be more diligent. The steps are similar to neutering, but there is a greater need to prevent activity and licking. 

Because surgery is taxing and traumatic to the body, expect little to no appetite for the first 24 hours, and thirst may be diminished as well. Therefore, it’s wise to restrict water and food for the first few hours until the sedation wears off. Still, usually, the dog will have little interest in anything but sleeping. 

Your Golden will most likely spend the first 24 hours sleeping the sedation off. Do not be alarmed if your dog vomits, as anesthesia can cause nausea and vomiting. 

While your Golden Retriever may be groggy and sleeping, she should still be responsive and become more so as the sedation wears off. However, if you find she is not responsive to touch or your voice, call your vet. 

Tearing sutures is a concern, especially for spay surgery, as it can be life-threatening if the inner sutures open. As such, the following steps must be followed:

  • Restrict walks and vigorous activity (such as running, playing, and jumping) for 10 to 14 days (your vet will advise you). 
  • Prevent your dog from engaging with other dogs and animals, especially strange dogs. Play and roughhousing or fighting is a concern with other dogs, as is curiosity about the incision site. It’s best to limit access as much as possible. 
  • Keep the dog indoors, and short walks indoors or in the back yard can begin at about seven days. Doing so also helps prevent encounters with other dogs. 
  • Use a recovery garment or cone to prevent licking of the incision site.
  • Keep the incision site dry, so no baths and swimming. 
  • Check the incision site regularly (daily for the first ten days at least).
  • Provide pain medication as instructed by your vet. If you dog apears agitated, whines a lot, or seems to be in excessive pain, call your vet. The pain medication may need to adjusted.
A necessary inconvenience for all Golden Retrievers undergoing spay surgery. This or a recovery garment.

Will Spaying Change My Golden Retriever?

As discussed previously, spay surgery is most often undertaken to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the behaviors associated with heat cycles. However, before the procedure, many owners also have some degree of anxiety about the surgery and the safety of their pets.

Aside from having concerns about the surgery, the most common concern owners have is wanting to know if spaying will change a Golden Retriever? 

Spaying will not affect your Golden Retriever’s friendliness, playfulness, personality, or ability to work. However, spaying can reduce or eliminate hormonally driven behaviors associated with a female’s heat cycles, such as urination and messy discharge, irritability, aggressive guarding, and roaming. 

Female Golden Retrievers reach sexual maturity between 6 and 12 months of age. Upon reaching sexual maturity, the female experiences a flood of estrogen, and the reproductive cycle begins. The reproductive process results in heat cycles, and most females experience two heat cycles each year.

Spaying shouldn’t affect your dog’s personality. The most considerable effect is on behaviors associated with her heat cycle.

During a heat cycle, the female Golden Retriever may become irritable, anxious, or even experience some pain because of the fluctuations in hormones. These hormonal fluctuations may cause her to act out. Spaying eliminates these hormonal changes, so their behavior usually levels out as a result. 

Spaying can help reduce or eliminate the instinct to guard, compete and fight. 

Aggression can also occur during heat cycles, both towards humans and other animals. For example, females may compete with other female dogs for male attention. In addition, if puppies are present, the mother may become aggressive if other pets or people try to touch her puppies.

Females in heat can also develop a false pregnancy where they adopt objects as puppies and guard them as real. 

When in heat, females often urinate or mark more to attract males. Discharge is associated with heat cycles and can stain carpet and furniture. Spaying eliminates this discharge and may reduce or eliminate increased urination. 

Females in heat may also try to escape to find a male to mate, which puts the dog at risk of getting lost or injured. This escape and roaming behavior is also reduced or eliminated by spaying.

How Much Does It Cost to Spay a Golden Retriever?

Often for many Golden Retriever owners, the greatest anxiety of getting their pet spayed is the cost. Spay surgery can often be the most extensive surgery many vet clinics do, and it can be a costly procedure.

So, how much does it cost to spay a Golden Retriever? 

Spaying a Golden Retriever will cost between $50 to $500. Spaying cost typically includes the pre-exam, blood work, anesthesia, surgery, and monitoring. Other factors impacting cost are the dog’s age, weight, size, and preexisting health conditions. Prices can also differ across clinics and where you live. 

Spaying is major surgery and much more so than neutering, so it’s understandable that it’s more expensive than neutering. In addition, spaying is more complex than neutering and lasts longer. As a result, there is a lot that goes into it. 

The surgery involves anesthesia, and the longer the surgery and the heavier the dog, the more required sedation. The cost includes the surgery, as well as all the blood work and monitoring that takes place. Often in vet clinics, monitoring of your dog will take place until she wakes. 

A traditional vet clinic will cost more and somewhere in the range of $300 to $500, depending on the clinic and your geographic location. Size, age, being overweight, or having preexisting conditions factor in the cost. 

Costs at the low end of the price range are usually subsidized programs offered via low or no-cost spay and neuter programs. There are many low-cost programs now available and in most major centers. 

Low-cost clinics in your area can be found by talking to a vet, calling your local animal shelter, or searching the internet for “low-cost spay clinics” in your area. 

If you utilize a low-cost clinic, rest assured that you are getting a high level of care, and it should be on par with a vet clinic. However, differences can exist, so ask many questions, including how the level of care differs between a vet clinic and the low-cost clinic.

Also, ask what is included in the price of the low-cost spay to ensure you are aware of all costs upfront.

Hold up: I wrote a detailed article on the total cost of owning a Golden Retriever, including the cost of spay/neuter. In that article, entitled The Full Cost of Owning a Golden Retriever (Plus Cost-Saving Tips), I provide pricing plus some cost-saving tips such as links to The ASPCA and PetSmart Charities, which offer a database for low or no-cost spay and neutering programs. You can search the database to see if there are programs offered in your region. 

Lastly, consider that the cost of not spaying your Golden Retriever and the cost of puppies should they be unexpected – the cost of care (food, water, and shots), the risk to the mother giving birth, and the impact if those puppies are surrendered.

The cost of puppies can easily be more than getting your beloved pet spayed.

Unless planned, these adorable puppies might cost you more than spay surgery.

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