“It’s just a spay” . . . how many times have I heard that statement? To set the record straight, spaying a female dog is a relatively (to extremely) difficult surgery. As veterinarians, most of us perform this procedure often, so it does become somewhat routine—but that is because of repeated experience, not because it is simple.
Realize that a spay is a major abdominal procedure—following a significant midline incision on the belly, the surgeon has to first, “muck around” in the abdomen to locate one of the uterine horns and then follow that tissue forward and downward, to locate the ovary, firmly attached by a strong ligament near it’s respective (left or right) kidney. We’re now pretty deep in the abdomen, because the ligament and ovary are attached just off the midline, in the musculature separating the backbone from the abdomen. Working deep in the abdomen does not make the surgery any easier.
The next step involves forcefully “strumming” that ovarian ligament to break it down, giving us a little more room to maneuver. At this point, the ovary is attached near the spine by a looser tube of tissue which includes vasculature (artery and vein) coming directly off the aorta and vena cava—BIG vessels. This leads to the most technically difficult part of the surgery, tying 2 secure ligatures (knots) between the ovary and abdominal wall—down in that hole—to keep those vessels from bleeding, as we retract the ovary and uterine horn back toward the uterus; which is located around the bladder.
Dogs (and cats) have a “bipartite” uterus—which means that the body of the uterus “forks” into two horns, leading forward to the left and right uterine tubes, culminating in their respective ovaries. So we retract the first ovary back toward the uterus, then follow the opposite uterine tube forward . . . and go through the same steps on this side. Once the second side is freed up, the surgeon pulls both horns back and upward to locate and expose the uterine body; another very vascular organ. Once again, strong/taught ligatures are secured around the uterus, and all that tissue is removed from the body in one piece. Following a “look around” the abdomen to make sure everything seems normal—no excess bleeding around the ovarian pedicles or uterine “stump”, the abdominal wall is closed with 2-3 layers of sutures.
I still remember the hardest spay I ever performed; like it was yesterday. My lead nurse, Sandy, asked me to spay her 5-year old German-Shepherd “Belle”. She was a big (85-90lb), beautiful, dog who had whelped 2-3 previous litters. Bigger dogs have bigger vessels, larger dogs have more tissue to remove, dogs who have previously whelped exaggerate both those facts; older dogs, especially those who are a bit overweight, have LOTS of abdominal fat—all these factors markedly increase the “degree of difficulty” of the surgery. I was the “rookie” in the practice; and have no idea why Sandy selected me as Belle’s surgeon.
To make matters more dicey, Sandy was my anesthesia technician for that spay; and a very anxious “Mom”. It was excruciating. I distinctly remember the ovaries and their surrounding greasy/slippery fatty tissues being the size of my fist; her ovarian pedicles surrounded by fat the size of my forearms those big vessels oozing way more blood than necessary . . . I was sweating bullets! Trying to tie off arteries through all that fatty tissues was almost overwhelming. It seemed to take hours to finish the surgery; I aged a few years . . . probably, Sandy did also! Eventually, we “closed her up” and turned off the anesthesia.