Ask Dr. Barchas

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January 31st 2008

I am a little concerned about the length of the
incision of my dog’s spay. Otherwise, she is
healing great!

Woodbridge, VA

You have not mentioned whether you’re worried that the incision is too long or too short. My guess is that the incision is longer than you’d like. However, either way, I don’t think you should be worried.

As long as your dog feels well and the incision is not open, red, moist or malodorous, everything probably is fine. In fact, the length of the incision has very little impact on how well she will heal, or on how long it will take her to heal. The incision heals from the sides, not the ends. Therefore, long and short incisions heal at essentially the same rate.

In the most common procedure for spaying a female dog or cat, the veterinarian makes an incision in the abdomen. He or she then removes the uterus and ovaries through the incision, and uses sutures to close the incision.

A number of factors influence the length of the incision. Larger incisions are required for larger animals. Older animals require larger incisions than younger ones of the same size. Any dog or cat with irregular internal anatomy (for instance, a dog with an ovary in an unusual location), may end up with a larger-than average incision after being spayed.

Also, the size of the surgeon’s hands impacts the size of the incision that he or she needs to make. For instance, when I spay a dog or cat, my incision needs to be long enough for me to insert one finger into her abdomen. That means that the smallest incision I can make is about an inch long. On a Chihuahua, an incision of that length seems pretty big. On a Labrador Retriever, it looks tiny.

The take-home message is that the length of the incision has little impact on your dog’s long-term prospects as long as she feels well.

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Eric Barchas, DVM is a practicing veterinarian who lives and works in San Francisco. His emphasis is on small animal medicine, surgery, and wellness. An avid traveler, he has studied lions in Botswana and salmon in southern Chile. If you have a question, you can submit one now.

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