When Should You Spay Your Female Golden Retriever?

If you have a pet Golden Retriever and you’re not intending to breed from her, should you have her spayed? If yes, when is the best age to do this? In this post, I look at the pros and cons of spaying your bitch and cover when the right time is.

There doesn’t seem to be a set-in-stone answer for this. Different vets and breeders will have different opinions on this, and some directly contradict each other. The biggest question is usually should it be before or after her first heat? 

The only thing everyone agrees on it should be definitely within the first few years of her life – once she gets older, any surgery comes with increased risk.

Read on to find out the theories behind all of your potential options and a breakdown of all the key terms you need to know to do with spaying.

Key Terms in Spaying

Before we dive into everything you need to know about spaying, I’ll explain two terms that you might not have come across before:

What Does ‘Spaying’ Mean? 

Spaying is the term used to describe when you have your female dog’s reproductive organs removed – her ovaries and uterus. Some people refer to this process as getting them ‘fixed’, ‘sterilized’, or ‘neutered’ although neutering usually refers to the male version of this op. 

The medical name for the procedure is ‘Ovariohysterectomy’ and this is the removal of both ovaries and the uterus so that your female dog is unable to conceive and carry puppies.

What Are Heat Cycles?

Heat cycles or ‘seasons’ are essentially a female dog’s version of a menstrual cycle. Unlike humans, large dogs like Golden Retrievers only come into heat roughly once (maybe twice) a year. Our Goldie was every 9 months like clockwork. Each heat usually lasts around 2-4 weeks.

You can learn more about heat cycles here.

Names for Golden Retrievers

When you’re researching, you might come across various terms for Golden Retrievers. These are especially common when referring to breeding.

  • Bitch – the female dog who is going to breed.
  • Stud – the male dog who is going to breed.
  • Sire – the father of the puppies.
  • Dam – the mother of the puppies.
  • Intact – hasn’t been spayed.

When is the Best Time to Get your Golden Retriever Spayed?

There seems to be more than one “right” answer to when it’s best to spay your Golden girl, or maybe I should say there is no wrong answer. If you ask a selection of breeders and vets, you may find that you end up more confused than when you started as they all recommend different things.

One-half of the crowd seems to think before their first heat cycle is best. The other half thinks you should let them cycle at least one time, sometimes more before you spay. While some people won’t get their Golden spayed at all. 

Read on for a deeper look into each option

Spaying Early

There have been some studies done regarding early spaying (before their first heat) and it was claimed that spaying too young means that the sex hormones involved with your dog’s development will be essentially taken away before they’ve had the chance to do their job. 

An increased risk of orthopedic injury and obesity was noted in bitches that were spayed before they were one year old. Lymphosarcoma, a form of cancer, was more prevalent in bitches that were spayed early as well as urinary incontinence. 

Spaying early means that your Goldie won’t have her first heat cycle – which some people prefer so they don’t have to deal with the blood and planning that comes with it.

Spaying Later

Waiting to spay until after their first few cycles has shown to increase the risk of certain other cancers such as hemangiosarcoma and mast cell tumours but dramatically reduces the risk of developing a cranial cruciate ligament injury. 

Some vets and breeders think it’s best to allow the pup’s sex hormones to work their magic and finish their jobs helping your pup’s bones, growth plates, and joints develop before spaying them. 

A common time frame here is to wait until they’re 18 months old and have had a couple of heat cycles. They should be fully grown by this stage so it’s thought to be a safe time to get spayed.

Choosing Not to Spay

The third choice here is to not get your girl spayed at all. This is okay – just make sure you know the risks either way. You’ll need to be prepared to minimise the risk of avoiding unwanted pregnancies and know how to stay on the ball to protect your dog from illnesses such as pyometra and mammary tumours.

Some studies even suggest that there are so many negative effects that come with spaying your Golden Retriever that you should think hard about if you want to go through with the spaying. There are arguments both for and against spaying, so do your research before you decide.

In Summary

The takeaway from this is that there is no right or wrong answer for this. It’s all going to be down to you, as their owner, to make the call based on your own research. 

Feel free to seek advice from your breeder and your vet to help make your decision. Whatever happens, don’t feel bullied into one way or another with this. Some people will have very strong opinions on all three options presented here but you should feel happy with your choice for your dog.

What Are the Pros of Spaying?

These are the positive reasons for getting your Golden Retriever spayed:

  • Lowers the risk for cancers relating to the reproductive organs: Without the uterus and ovaries, your dog cannot develop these types of cancer.
  • No unwanted puppies: Finding your dog unexpectedly pregnant can be stressful and costly when you have to buy equipment. Some bitches may suffer from complications or even death during pregnancy and birth.
  • No more heat cycles: If you spay your dog you will no longer have to consider the logistics of their cycles. For example, when to keep them away from intact males and when to try to avoid carpets and fabrics in your home to avoid bloodstains.
  • No risk for pyometra: This is an infection that can occur within the dog’s uterus. If left untreated this can be fatal. If caught early you might be able to treat it with antibiotics but sometimes an emergency hysterectomy will be the only way to resolve the issue.

What Are the Cons of Spaying?

As with anything, there are also drawbacks to getting your Golden Retriever spayed:

  • Some owners report a side effect of spaying their bitch is urinary incontinence (potentially up to 20% of dogs). Some studies suggest this is only an issue if they are spayed too young or before any heat cycles as the lack of hormones can cause weak muscle tone around the bladder. However, anecdotally, our Goldie was spayed at 2 years 9 months of age (after 3 heat cycles) and she developed mild urinary incontinence afterward.
  • According to this study, the occurrence of Cranial Cruciate Ligament Tears (CCL) was significantly more prominent in bitches that had been spayed before age one. In fact, the study suggests that almost 8% of the bitches studied that had been spayed before age one had an incidence of this painful injury, whereas no intact bitches had incidents reported. The study did also consider bitches spayed after age one and they found they also had no incidence of this injury.
  • Increased incidence of Hypothyroidism or obesity. Spayed Goldens have a higher incidence of becoming overweight due to a change in hormones/metabolism.
  • Increased risks for certain common cancers. For Goldens, this includes Hemangiosarcoma, Mast Cell Tumours, Osteosarcoma, and Lymphosarcoma.

Lifestyle Considerations When Spaying

As well as the health aspects that directly relate to whether your Golden Retriever is spayed or not, there are a couple of other reasons why it might be useful to get your Golden spayed.

You might need your Golden girl spayed if:

  • She goes to doggy daycare or kennels: A lot of daycares and kennels won’t accept intact dogs that are over six months old. This is because they’ll be mixing with a bunch of dogs, and anything could happen.
  • You travel: Consider if you’ll be able to travel if your Goldie is in heat. Not only is it messy, but you’ll have to take extra supplies and keep her away from any males for the entire time.
  • You go to dog sports and shows: If you compete in shows, it’s often advised that waiting until she’s older before spaying can help prevent orthopedic injury. 
  • She’s active: Golden Retrievers need at least one to two hours of exercise daily. If she hasn’t been spayed and she’s in heat, you’ll be limited where you can take her. A brief encounter with an intact male can lead to a bunch of puppies. 

What If I Want to Breed My Golden Retriever?

If you intend to breed your Golden Retriever, then you should hold off getting her spayed. Once she’s had the operation, she won’t be able to carry and birth puppies. 

There is plenty that you need to do in this case though – including getting her tested, finding a stud, and getting registered. Make sure that you research this before you decide if you want to do it. 

For more information on breeding, check out the Kennel Club website.

Are There Any Other Options That Aren’t Spaying?

If you’re hesitant to go ahead with an Ovariohysterectomy, there are a few of other options that might be better suited for you and your Golden Retriever.

Ovary Sparing Spay

This surgery removes the uterus and cervix but leaves one or both ovaries intact. Keeping the ovaries means that your Golden still has sex hormones that are important for growth and development.

They’ll still go into heat but they can’t get pregnant. Though this does increase the risk of Mammary Tumours and Stump Pyometra which can happen if not all of the uterus is removed. It’s a rarer surgery, so you’ll have to find a vet that offers this surgery, and it’ll have a longer surgery and recovery time because the incision is longer.


This is when only the ovaries are removed, it’s also referred to as a ‘laparoscopic spay’.

It’s a less invasive surgery with only a small incision so the surgery time and recovery time are shorter. Not every dog will be eligible for this type of spay, and some vets might not be able to perform it as it requires specialised training and equipment.

It’ll sterilize your Golden Retriever so she can’t get pregnant but should only be done to younger, healthier Goldies. 

Male Vasectomy

If you have a male Golden Retriever as well as your girl, you could get him neutered. 

A vasectomy lets him keep his reproductive organs and sex hormones as his testicles aren’t removed. It just means that he can’t father any pups.

Male Castration

This is when the male dog has both of his testicles removed.

The removal of his testicles will guarantee that he can’t breed and make puppies, and also reduces his hormones which can lead to less aggression and a calmer temperament. 

If you have both male and female Golden Retrievers then this is an option to prevent surprise and unwanted pregnancies. 

Related Questions

When Will My Golden Retriever Have Her First Heat Cycle/Season?

It’ll vary between individual dogs, but you can expect your Golden Retriever’s heat cycle to start somewhere between when she’s 9 and 14 months old. It’s worth noting that it could be before or after this – it’s a rough guideline.

At the end of the day, you’ll have to weigh up all the information and decide what’s best for your Golden Retriever. There isn’t a right or wrong time. If you’re still unsure, take the time to do some research and speak to your vet.

Is Spaying My Golden Retriever Dangerous?

Though spaying dogs is a common procedure, it also involved anaesthetic which means that there is always a risk of complications. You can take precautions to decrease the risk though – getting blood tests done prior and only going ahead with the spaying if your Golden Retriever is in good health.

The best thing to do to put your mind at ease here would be to speak to your vet, who should be able to answer any questions that you have and explain everything to you. 

What Will My Golden Retriever Be Like After Spaying?

Your Golden Retriever will be the same dog after she’s been spayed – she just won’t be able to have pups! She’ll likely be tired and sore after the surgery, so you’ll be instructed by the vet on how to manage her pain, keep the wound clean, and to let her rest for up to a week after while she heals.

How Do I Look After My Golden Retriever After She’s Been Spayed?

Your Golden Retriever will need time to rest and heal after her spay. As her owner, there are a few things you should be doing to help her:

1) Don’t let her jump: This covers jumping on and off furniture and jumping over things. This could re-open her wounds and prolong her healing. Try to restrict jumping for at least two weeks.
2) Regularly check her wound: Watch out especially for redness, if it’s warm to touch, emitting a foul smell, or swollen which could indicate infection. You’ll need to clean and re-dress it over this time too.
3) Use a cone: The dreaded cone of shame is a huge asset here. It’ll prevent her from licking and irritating her wound. 

Your vet will be able to provide full instructions on what to do for your Golden Retriever after surgery, but skipping bath time, administering pain relief, and attending follow-up appointments are just a few more examples of what you’ll need to do.

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