Why do dogs gain weight after being spayed and how to prevent it

If you’ve stumbled upon this post, chances are you’ve either had your dog spayed or are contemplating the procedure. While spaying offers numerous advantages, it also comes with certain drawbacks to be mindful of.

One question many dog owners (and you probably as well since you’re reading this) have during the “Should I spay my dog” discussion is if dogs gain weight after being spayed. And while it may seem like a simple yes/no question, the answer is a bit more complex.  

There are many factors that contribute to weight gain in dogs. And while spaying is one of them, it doesn’t necessarily mean your dog will gain weight after the procedure. 

Ok, I know, I still haven’t given you an answer and it might feel like I’m just dancing around it. So here’s the best one I can give you: It depends. 

I bet you’re starting to be really annoyed by now, but please bear with me. I don’t want to give you a simple yes or no answer. I want you to understand the complexity of the problem. 

Obesity is a huge risk factor for many diseases, and I’m trying to help you keep your pup healthy and happy. By understanding how and why your dog might get obese after spaying, you’ll be much better equipped to prevent it ☺️

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.

While I am a veterinarian, this article is not intended to replace professional veterinary advice. If you have any medical concerns about your pet, consult your vet immediately. Always seek professional assistance if you are unsure of your pet’s health.

Labrador lying on the ground

Understanding spaying and neutering

Spaying vs Neutering

Spaying and neutering are two different surgical procedures that are performed on dogs for various reasons – for example, to prevent them from reproducing, for a medical reason or to correct behavioral problems. 

Spaying is the procedure performed on female dogs, which involves the removal of the ovaries and uterus (ovariohysterectomy), or just the ovaries (ovariectomy).

Neutering, on the other hand, is the procedure performed on male dogs, which involves the removal of the testicles.

Spaying and neutering are surgical procedures performed by a veterinarian under general anesthesia.

Health benefits of spaying and neutering

Apart from unwanted reproduction, spaying and neutering also have several health benefits for dogs. 

Spaying can prevent the occurrence of pyometra, a serious infection of the uterus that can be life-threatening. It can also reduce the risk of breast cancer and eliminate the risk of ovarian and uterine cancer (which is logical, you can’t get uterine cancer if you don’t have a uterus 🤷‍♀️). 

Neutering can prevent testicular cancer and reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) spaying and neutering can also reduce behavioral problems such as aggression and roaming. 

It can also help prevent the overpopulation of dogs and reduce the number of dogs that end up in shelters. In fact, in Europe, if you want to adopt a puppy from a shelter, you need to sign an agreement that you will have it neutered by a certain age. And all dogs coming to the shelters are spayed before they are put up for adoption. To be honest, I don’t know if this is also a common practice in other countries, but it does make sense.

In other words, if you don’t want puppies and decide to have your dam spayed, it does have some other health benefits. 

Now when to spay is a matter of an ongoing debate. In the USA vets prefer to spay very early before the first heat. In Europe, we usually wait until after the first heat. Both approaches have some valid arguments and you can discuss them with your vet if you are interested ☺️

Risks of spaying and neutering

Spaying and neutering are the most common surgical procedures performed by vets all around the world. And they both require general anesthesia. 

Anesthesia, as well as any surgical procedures per se, are always a bit risky. However, with a thorough pre-op examination and evaluation, the risks are usually low. 

While spaying can effectively reduce the risk of specific cancers and diseases, it may also raise the risk of others. For instance, in female dogs, it can potentially lead to urinary incontinence or increase the susceptibility to certain types of cancer and joint diseases.

And yes, neutering and spaying can increase the risk of obesity in dogs. We’ll get to the exact mechanisms a bit later. First, I want you to understand why is your dog’s body weight important.

Health risks associated with obesity in dogs

Obesity is a serious health issue that can affect dogs of all ages and breeds, spayed or not. It occurs when a dog’s body weight is 20% or more above its ideal weight.

Obese dogs are at a higher risk of developing a number of health problems, including:

Obesity has an impact on your dog’s health, quality of life and life span. Moreover, the financial burden of healthcare expenses can also take a toll on your finances.

How to tell if your dog is overweight

Studies have also shown that dog owners tend to underestimate their pet’s body weight and body condition score. 

On top of that, with so many overweight and obese dogs, our view of the ideal body shape of different breeds tends to get a bit contorted. 

If you want to know if your dog is overweight, the best idea is to use a Dog body condition score. 

The ideal condition score is 5, where:

  • You can easily feel your dog’s ribs with minimal fat
  • You can see your dog’s waist when you look from above
  • You can see the abdominal tuck when you look from the side

Royal Canin has a nice guide on How to use the body condition score to determine your dog’s weight

Why some dogs gain weight after being spayed

Studies have shown that spayed and neutered dogs have a greater risk of being overweight in comparison to sexually intact dogs. This may be because spaying can lead to changes in the dog’s metabolism, making it more difficult for them to burn calories. Additionally, spaying can lead to a decrease in physical activity, which can also contribute to weight gain.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that all dogs will gain weight after being spayed or neutered. It only means that for some dogs, the risk of packing on extra pounds is higher. 

Here are possible mechanisms and factors that can directly or indirectly influence your dog’s body condition score::

Hormonal changes after spaying:

Hormones play a significant role in a dog’s weight gain after being spayed. Spaying removes the ovaries, which are responsible for producing estrogen. 

Estrogen plays a role in regulating a dog’s metabolism, so a decrease in estrogen levels can lead to a slower metabolism and weight gain.

Furthermore, estrogen has an appetite-suppressant effect. Reduced estrogen levels can trigger an increase in appetite, potentially causing the dog to consume more calories than necessary. 

This imbalance between energy consumption and energy expenditure can set the stage for weight gain if not managed appropriately.

Metabolic changes after spaying

Spaying can also lead to changes in a dog’s metabolic rate. Spaying and neutering cause a reduction in the resting metabolic rate of animals. This means that they require fewer calories to maintain their weight, and if their diet is not adjusted accordingly, they can quickly gain weight.

Both these factors contribute to a higher risk of obesity. However, some other changes need to be taken into consideration. 

Altered activity levels

Another factor contributing to weight gain in spayed dogs is a change in activity levels. Some dogs may become less active or have reduced energy levels following spaying, which leads to a decline in calorie expenditure. 

However, many dogs experience a decline in their activity level after their growth phase, so it may have nothing to do with your pup being spayed. It’s just a new phase in her life you need to take into consideration. It’s like with us humans – most of us are less active in our late 20ties than we were as teenagers.

Breed and genetics

Breed and genetics also play a role in obesity in dogs, although it doesn’t have to be directly correlated with spaying or neutering. For example, Labrador Retrievers are known for their love of food and may be more likely to gain weight after being spayed. But they are also more likely to gain weight even when they are sexually intact 🤷‍♀️

Individual variations

It’s important to note that not all spayed dogs will experience weight gain, and the extent to which spaying affects an individual dog’s weight can vary significantly. 

Some dogs may maintain a healthy weight with no issues, while others may require careful monitoring and management. 

While we can never be certain if a dog will or will not gain weight after the procedure, it’s good to keep in mind that the risk is there and incorporate a few preventive measures to keep her healthy ☺️

Why do dogs gain weight after being spayed - infographics

How to prevent weight gain after spaying

While there are many factors influencing your dog’s weight, it’s ultimately up to you to keep her in a healthy shape. This might mean making a few changes to your routine after your dog is spayed. 

But to be honest, you would have to make these changes as she grows and goes through different life stages anyway, regardless if she’s spayed or not.

Choose the right dog food: 

Opt for high-quality dog food that is specifically designed for weight management or spayed/neutered dogs. These diets have fewer calories and can help control weight gain.

Be careful with table scraps – a study has found that dogs that receive table scraps have a higher risk of being overweight. On top of that, there are many humans foods that can harm your dog if you are not careful. 

Control your dog’s portions: 

Pay careful attention to portion sizes, and follow the feeding guidelines on the dog food packaging. To avoid overfeeding, you also need to count on all her treats and table scraps! It doesn’t matter that you feed your pup the correct portion sizes, if she wolfs down a pack of treats every day, she’ll gain weight sooner or later 😊

Limit the number of treats you give your dog and choose low-calorie, healthy options for rewards during training or as occasional snacks (for example cucumbers, carrots, apples…).

Maintain an active lifestyle:

Maintaining an active lifestyle is essential. Engage your dog in regular exercise through daily walks, playtime, and other physical activities. 

It’s also a good idea to consult your veterinarian to determine an appropriate exercise routine based on your dog’s age, breed, and health condition.

Monitor your dog’s weight and BCS:

Keep track of your dog’s weight regularly, and use dog body condition score (BCS) charts to see if your pup is maintaining a healthy weight. 

If you notice any gradual weight gain, it’s best to consult your vet for advice and adjustments to the feeding or exercise plan.

Listen to your veterinarian:

Let’s be honest, we veterinarians know what your dog’s ideal weight should be. We also know all the risks associated with obesity and the impact of obesity on your pet’s life.

You picked your vet for a reason, so trust him/her! When your veterinarian tells you something is not right, she/he is doing it for your pet’s benefit. Not to shame you, not to imply you are not a good pet owner, but to help your dog ❤️

How to prevent a dog from gaining weight after being spayed or neutered - Infographic

Spaying your dog can have several health benefits, but dogs can gain weight after being spayed. While many other factors can contribute to weight gain in dogs, spaying can affect your dog’s metabolism, appetite, and activity levels. Lower metabolic rate and increased appetite may lead to weight gain if not managed properly.

To help prevent weight gain after spaying, it is important to feed your dog a nutritious and balanced diet with the right portion sizes. It is also crucial to provide your dog with regular exercise, such as daily walks or playtime, to help her maintain a healthy weight.

So while dogs may be at risk of gaining weight after being spayed, it is not inevitable. 

And to be perfectly honest, it’s only up to you if your dog gets overweight or not. So if you ask if dogs gain weight after spaying, my answer stays: It depends. It depends on you ☺️

PS: If you are as crazy about animals as I am and want to get more pet health tips, subscribe to my newsletter! Today you will get a free pet planner as a bonus 🤗

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