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Many pet owners bring their animals to the vet for operations to neuter the pet. For female pets, this is called spaying, and involves the removal of the uterus and the ovaries. An incision through the abdomen is necessary for the vet to remove these organs, which typically requires shaving of the area to remove fur. A spay incision requires special care until it heals, so the pet typically is restricted from too much movement and from licking the area.
A female dog or cat has its reproductive organs inside the abdominal area. To get at them, the vet needs to cut through three layers of tissue. The outer layer is the skin, which covers another layer called the subcutaneous tissue, which in turn covers the muscles of the abdomen. Underneath all of these lie the uterus and the ovaries, which are attached to the uterus. A vet cuts off these organs from the cervix, which is connected to the vagina.
After the ovaries and uterus are removed, the vet then closes up the spay incision. As three different layers of tissue have been cut, each needs to be sewn up separately. Commonly, the two interior layers receive stitching with dissolvable stitches, but the outer skin layer may be closed up with material that needs to removed when the skin is healing. This is because the strength of the non-degradable stitches may be stronger.
When an owner brings the animal home after the operation, the pet needs special treatment until it recovers completely from the operation. Each spay incision carries a risk of infection, but owners can reduce the risk by keeping the incision dry and clean. Signs of infection include swelling, redness and pus, and vet attention is generally required if this occurs.
If the animal moves around too much, it can accidentally break open the stitches, preventing the spay incision from healing up properly. An owner should therefore keep the animal calm and restrict its exercise until the stitches come out. Baths and other exposure to water like swimming is also generally not recommended until the incision is healed.
Animals like dogs or cats like to lick themselves to keep their bodies clean, but after a spaying, the animal may break open the stitches doing this. It can also slow down healing if the wound is not kept dry. A special collar to block the animal from licking is one option if the licking is interfering with the healing process.