Another Avenue

posted December 28th, 2014 by
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Another Avenue

Another Avenue

Ovary-sparing spay provides alternative to traditional spay surgery


By Bria Bolton Moore


Purchase vs. rescue. Purina vs. Science Diet. Tennis ball vs. Kong. This vet vs. that one. Boarding vs. dog sitter. When it comes to their canine companions, owners are used to choices.

However, until recently, there wasn’t an option when it came to spaying female dogs. Dr. Brad Roach, DVM and owner of Best Friends Animal Clinic in Oklahoma City and Shawnee, Okla., is one of about 20 veterinarians in the nation performing the ovary-sparing spay. During a traditional spay procedure, known as an ovariohysterectomy, a dog’s ovaries and uterus are removed.

However, in an ovary-sparing spay, sometimes called a hysterectomy or partial spay, the ovaries are left while the entire uterus is removed. In essence, this alternative spay is a way to curb population concerns while guarding the dog from the negative effects of hormone loss.

“We’re trying to redefine what a spay is and what a spay should be,” Dr. Roach said. “We’re trying to render them unable to reproduce without having the problems and infections of a uterus, so this procedure allows us to do that. We are trying to be responsible with reproduction, and yet spare them the potential negative effects of hormone loss.”

In recent years, experts have taken a second look at the common spay surgery. In 2007, Veterinarian Margaret Root Kustritz published a review of the pros and cons of spaying and neutering of different breeds at different ages. The report indicated that the traditional spay procedure has many benefits, including a decrease in mammary and ovarian tumors as well as infection of the uterus.

However, there are a number of disadvantages including aggression, obesity, urinary incontinence (lack of bladder control), urinary tract tumors, diabetes, and more. The study spurred more research and conversation. Additional breed-specific research indicates that especially for large-breed dogs, like Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers and Huskies, the benefits of keeping the ovaries, and therefore hormones (lower incidence of joint disorders and cancers) outweigh the risks (infection of the uterus and mammary tumors).

A 2013 study of Golden Retrievers by researchers at the University of California, Davis indicated that disease rates for two joint disorders and three cancers were significantly higher for male and female dogs that had been sterilized than those that had not been spayed or neutered. The study also linked early sterilization with an increase in cranial cruciate ligament tear (a joint disorder) for both male and female Golden Retrievers.

“I see these animals after being in   practice 24 years coming in overweight, looking terrible, broken down in the hips, incontinent and just thinking, ‘There’s got to be a better way,’” Dr. Roach said. “Surely those hormones are there for a reason; God put them there for a reason.”

Dr. Kutzler, DVM, PhD, DACT and associate professor at Oregon State University, has been performing the ovary-sparing spay since 2008 and is a leading proponent of the surgery. While the first known reference of the partial spay dates back to a 1972 article by Dr. Wendell O. Belfield (DVM), Dr. Kutzler was one of the first in the U.S. to openly talk about and advocate for the procedure.

In fact, the Parsemus Foundation, an organization that “works to advance innovative and neglected medical research,” funded a video demonstration of Dr. Kutzler performing the ovary-sparing spay. While the video’s original intent was to educate veterinarians, the video is available to anyone at

Dr. Kutzler is passionate about spreading awareness of the procedure because as female dogs lose their ovaries, their hormones are negatively affected.

Most people only think of the ovaries and the testes as gammy-producing organs—  egg-producing organs or sperm-producing organs, and that’s it, she said. What they don’t understand or haven’t really thought about is the importance they serve as endocrine organs or, plainly stated, hormone-producing organs.

“So, other endocrine organs in the body are the thyroid glands, parathyroid glands, and the pancreas. We would never talk about removing the endocrine glands from a dog unless there was something wrong with them,” she said.

Dr. Kutzler said the result of this interruption of the hormone production can include urinary incontinence, obesity and other health problems.

Ovary-sparing spay in Oklahoma

Dr. Roach is the only vet in Oklahoma offering the partial spay, according to the Parsemus Foundation, which works to keep an updated list of veterinarians who perform the procedure. He has been providing the ovary-sparing spay for about six months and has performed dozens of these surgeries. Clients have trekked to his clinics from Dallas, Wichita and across Oklahoma for   the procedure.

Dr. Roach said the operation is more complicated than a traditional spay because the incision is longer than a traditional spay incision to allow for the surgeon to remove the entire uterus down to the level of the cervix. This meticulousness is necessary to avoid a condition known as stump pyometra, an infection that can develop in the remaining uterine tissue when estrogen is present.

“It does take longer,” Dr. Roach said. “It’s a little more difficult surgery, so the price is higher. I bet if the price of it were the same, there would be very few people who would choose the other way.”

The ovary-sparing spay costs Dr. Roach’s clients about $100 more than the traditional surgery. The cost of this procedure is usually about 30 percent higher than a traditional spay.

“As surgeons find out the benefits and get exposed to this kind of surgery, they’re going to be more comfortable with the surgery, and the cost may reduce as vets gets faster at it,” he said.

Kama’s story

Bernadette Bowker of Edmond, Okla., has been entrusting her pets’ health to Dr. Roach for about two years. Her Husky Kamala, commonly called “Kama,” had the ovary-sparing spay surgery. Bowker learned about this type of procedure from Dr. Roach who encouraged her to do a bit of research and consider the ovary-sparing spay over the traditional spay.

“I thought it was a really interesting option to have so that she has a better chance of good health later on in her years.”

Bowker had another Husky, Gabby, before Kama. Gabby unfortunately developed arthritis and hip problems later in life and also struggled with disorientation. So, Bowker was interested in options that would lead to Kama’s quintessential health, and hopefully, help avoid some of the challenges Gabby faced.

Kama’s surgery went smoothly, and she bounced back quickly.

“She’s a very active dog, so it didn’t keep her down for very long at all,” Bowker said. “She seemed to be comfortable and happy and then back to full throttle.”

Kama’s now about 15 months old, and Bowker encourages other dog owners to talk to their vets and research the ovary-sparing option when preparing to have their pets spayed.

There’s no arguing the benefits of sterilizing pets. According to a 2003 study by Elizabeth A. Clancy and Andrew N. Rowan (Companion Animal Demographics in the United States: A Historical Perspective), the number of unclaimed dogs and cats killed at animal shelters has decreased from about 23.4 million in 1970 to about 4.5 million in 2000.

While many supporters of the ovary-sparing spay believe the traditional procedure has its rightful place in veterinary medicine, Dr. Roach, Dr. Kutzler and Bernadette Bowker, along with many others, want dog owners to know: you have a choice.

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