Topper is doing absolutely great, and thank you for everyone who sent good wishes. The surgery was uneventful, as they say. If you are in the D/FW area, I can't recommend Drs Patty and Gregg Weber of All Care Veterinary Hospital enough. They have cared for my pets for almost 25 years now, and they are the best!!
But at 4 years old, Topper definitely had a more difficult time post-surgery than a younger dog would have. We are fortunate nowadays that we have a lot of excellent medications available to control pain in our animals, and between the Metacam and the Tramadol I don't think my girl was too uncomfortable those first few days.
But it did make me think...
In the past, I often got my female dogs spayed quite young - usually around 6 months of age. This is still a commonly recommended age for a spay and one of the reasons for that must be that pups DO heal a lot faster. A "spay" (i.e. ovariohysterectomy) is a major surgery after all. A 6 or 7 month old bitch often acts nearly normal the day after her spay. Whereas with Topper and her mother Kinsey (who was also 4 when she was spayed) it took a lot longer. They weren't incapacitated - they were able to walk within a few hours after the surgery, and were drinking water that night and eating by the next morning. But it was about 3 -4 days before they showed any real interest in playing or engaging in "normal" activity. Such as, in Topper's case, barking at the neighbors. *Sigh*
Obviously, if a bitch has the potential to be good enough to breed and her owner is willing to go through all the expense and hard work of raising a litter of puppies then there is no doubt that spaying her must be delayed - if it is done at all.
But for the bitch who won't or shouldn't be bred - should she be spayed at a young age? Some research indicates that spaying before she reaches maturity may not be the healthiest option and may even shorten her life. Here is the original article. This of course, is in contrast to evidence that spaying at an earlier age is best because it prevents certain cancers.
This position statement from the Society for Theriogenology (vets who are reproductive specialists) lays out both the pros and cons pretty well.
In my experience, there hasn't been a lot of difference. The two oldest Danes I've had to date (both died during their 11th year) were both spayed females. One was spayed at about 6 or 7 months, but I think she may have had a heat cycle - she was my first Dane and that was in 1976 so I don't remember the details. The other was spayed when she was about 18 months old.
Of course, there are some situations where I believe early spaying is always definitely indicated - such as when the puppy belongs to an owner who is unwilling or unable to responsibly care for an intact bitch. I believe that ALL female dogs adopted out of shelters or rescues should be spayed before going to their new homes - assuming they are healthy enough. If they aren't healthy enough and spaying must be delayed, those new homes should be screened extra carefully. Keeping an intact bitch from becoming accidentally impregnated isn't really that difficult, but it DOES require more knowledge than many pet owners possess.
But for knowledgeable pet owners there is no clear answer. Research into long-term negative effects of surgical sterilization is a relatively new field in veterinary medicine and it is possible that we are on the cusp of an upheaval no less dramatic than the uproar over vaccination protocols a few years ago. But there is also no doubt that there are negative aspects to delaying a major surgical procedure at least as regards recovery time and patient comfort.
If I had a puppy girl that I knew I wasn't ever going to be breeding, I'm not sure what I would do. One possible solution that I think is pretty exciting is having an ovariectomy done instead - this doesn't solve the problem of the removal of the hormones if they are needed for normal growth & development, but it is a less risky and possibly a less painful surgery. It might be a great choice for an older bitch - but I elected not to have this done with Topper because of her inherited risk of pyometra.
Ultimately, I hope that more responsible pet owners just do a little thinking, a little research before getting their pets spayed and neutered and make the most educated decision they can as to when to get these procedures done.