Written by Rachael Gillis
Last summer, my boyfriend and I adopted a beautiful little rescue dog from Tennessee and named her Callie. She was 10 months old, had the most beautiful brindle coat, and was fully vaccinated and spayed, on paper. She was everything we were looking for and we were relieved that she was fully vetted and would be skipping all the medical expenses that younger puppies come with. And then our spayed female dog went into heat.
The first red flag
Looking back on it, the first red flag was when my boyfriend and I noticed that Callie had no noticeable incision scar, mark, or shaved stomach when we first brought her home. Her records indicated she had been spayed just ten days prior, and we blindly trusted the fact that if it was written in an official veterinary record from an animal hospital in Tennessee, then it must be true (in most cases it is). There’s no way they could have messed that up, right?
The second red flag (literally, red)
Five months later, with Callie settled into our home and everything going well, my boyfriend called me one afternoon from home. He had come home to numerous blood spots all over her bed, across the floor, and in her crate, seemingly coming from her vulva. “Well, there we have it!” We both agreed, knowing all too well that our suspicions were right. At last Callie was going into heat, and the problem we had brushed off a few months ago was now staring us right in the face.
Medicine is not black and white
In medicine, everything must be diagnosed before it can be treated. And unfortunately, medicine is not black and white. For this reason it can be quite frustrating for both pet owners and medical professionals to not get clear results or diagnoses even when things seem obvious. And that was the very essence of Callie’s case!
Callie saw Dr. Sheila Bennett, her normal vet at Bulger, for an exam a day after she started bleeding. Just like us, she suspected that something fishy went on with her spay procedure down south but obviously we couldn’t just do the surgery without first proving it. Our options were:
- Perform a full ultrasound under sedation. Note: there was a possibility that Callie had a condition called Ovarian Remnant Syndrome where ovarian tissue remains inside the body after a female dog is spayed causing symptoms of heat, or a “fake heat”. If this was the case, and ultrasound would not be able to detect such a faint amount of tissue, it could be a waste of time and money.
- Test her progesterone (hormone) levels through bloodwork. A dog in heat will have a progesterone level between 2-50+ ng/mL, while a normal level stays below 1.0. This still wouldn’t differentiate between heat vs. fake heat, but it would be less invasive, quicker, and cheaper.
So we went with option #2. Her first progesterone level results came back far too low (<1.0) to confirm she was in heat. So just to be safe, we tested a urine sample to make sure it wasn’t something urinary related. The urine results were also borderline/unclear. We tried her on an antibiotic trial while we waited for more time to pass between her next progesterone test, but she did not respond.
Callie’s next progesterone test was somewhat higher, though still under 1.0. Ugh.
Finally, after a third progesterone test (mind you, Callie has been in doggy diapers and a cone for about 4 weeks now), her levels finally soared (>30) and her mammary glands and vulva were noticeably larger and swollen. Confirmed at last, thanks to the patience and determination of Dr. Bennett, we finally had a diagnosis!
I booked my spayed dog’s spay procedure a month out to allow her time to finish her heat cycle. A couple more weeks of diapers later, her bleeding stopped and we just had to wait for the big day!
The ovariohysterectomy of my spayed dog
“I had to do a double take at her record because it says she’s a spayed female, but she’s here for a spay!” Callie’s surgery technician remarked.
I dropped Callie off at Bulger early on a Friday morning for her ovariohysterectomy, for real this time. I kissed her goodbye as she disappeared out back, sad that she had to go through this (for the second time) but knowing she was in the best hands possible.
Later that afternoon, Dr. Bennett let me know that her spay went great and she was recovering in her kennel, almost fully awake now. As we suspected, she was fully unspayed and her reproductive organs had not been touched. She stayed overnight at Bulger for monitoring and we picked up our excited, newly spayed dog the next morning. Her discharge instructions were clear and concise, a small meal when we get home, pain medications twice a day, and short leash walks only for a while.
Callie was a bit confused and dazed at first but by the end of the weekend, she was back to her silly old self! Her stitches dissolved, her incision site healed, and after three months of diapers, cones, medications, and frequent visits to Bulger, we finally had our spayed rescue dog!
So how did this happen?
We still don’t know. We reached out to Callie’s rescue organization and they were just as baffled as we were. When they tried to reach out to the veterinary hospital in Tennessee who had “spayed” Callie, they callously stood by their records and refused to admit their mistake, providing no reimbursement (or apology for their error). Luckily, Callie’s adoption coordinator and the director of the rescue were more empathetic and reimbursed me for the procedure out of their own money and kindness, along with providing support and apologies for all the confusion.
How a dog can go into a hospital for a spay and walk out unspayed (but spayed on paper) will remain an unsolved mystery. I’m just glad it’s all over, my Callie girl is happy and healthy, and it didn’t end with a litter of puppies!
My advice to anyone rescuing or adopting a dog: not everything is as simple as black and white, and be as thorough and cautious as possible. Rescue dogs are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get!