Ask A Vet: Getting Your Puppy Fixed & Learning Dog Body Language


Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on They've enlisted their Co-President, Dr. Jennifer Scarlett, to answer your questions every week. Got a question for Dr. Scarlett? Ask away in the comments!

Q: What is the right age to have my puppy fixed?

A: Right now! The SF SPCA is offering free spays and neuters for the month of February. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having your pet spayed or neutered. Each year, over 4 million animals are euthanized due to overpopulation, that’s one every 8 seconds. The San Francisco SPCA is a no-kill shelter, which means that we never euthanize for space. But to make San Francisco a no-kill city, we need to reduce the overpopulation through spaying and neutering. In general, healthy puppies and kittens can be sterilized as early as 2 months of age but, for pets with guardians, I recommend that you finish your vaccination series. In other words, you can wait until your puppy is about 4 months.  

Q: Hello Dr. Scarlett! I adore dogs but also know to ask their humans' permission & watch their doggy body language before reaching out to say hello. But I'm mortified when, occasionally a dog will be wagging his or her tail, their human companion has said it's ok to greet them, & they will still growl or bare teeth! What does this mean? Are they playing or confused? PS: I am teaching my kid to approach dogs with the right balance of friendliness & caution.

A: First thing’s first. There are two simple words I listen for that tell me a dog may not be up to meeting me or my dog. When you hear a dog guardian say to their dog, “Be nice!” that’s your cue to bail on the greeting.  Responsible dog guardians should know their dog well enough to know whether their dog will react amicably and safely around you and your kiddo. It sounds like you are very cautious…that’s good. Dogs are amazing at reading body language and if someone is stiff and nervous they pick up on that, so a dog might be sensing your hesitancy. Dogs, unlike us, don’t hide their feelings.  Here’s what I suggest: come volunteer with us and learn from our staff and dog volunteers. You’ll learn all kinds of amazing behavioral cues and also gain more confidence around new dogs. Consider our Humane Education camp for your kid. There are sessions throughout the summer, during school breaks and after school programs too. These camp sessions provide a safe place for kids and animals to interact and instills compassion, respect and responsibility for animals through hands-on activities and exciting, inquiry-based classes, lessons that kids take with them through their whole lives. Click here to find open sessions.

While we can’t answer all of the questions here, please feel free to ask us during our Friday Twitter Ask the Vet Chat.  If your animal’s problem is of an immediate nature, please call your vet or you can reach the SF SPCA at 415-554-3030 to make an appointment.

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