Louisa the Vet on … Neutering your pet

Written by Dr Louisa Lane
29th Mar 2022
5 min read
Summary
Neutering is a low-risk surgery and can help reduce the risk of certain diseases and illnesses, however it is rarely a quick fix for behavioural issues. There is also no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to deciding the right time to neuter. You should always discuss the surgery first with a vet to make the right decision for you and your pet.

Q: So, what is neutering, exactly? 

A: Neutering is the term used when we remove the reproductive organs of an animal. We tend to refer to this as ‘castration’ for a male and ‘spaying’ for a female. The procedure is mainly done surgically by a vet, but in some cases – for male dogs, for example – we can also castrate them using medications. Medical castration is a temporary option and always needs to be discussed with your vet.

Q: Why do so many pet owners choose to neuter their pet?

An owner’s decision to neuter a pet usually includes several factors, but some reasons include preventing unwanted litters, preventing illness or disease (for example mammary cancer or womb infections in female dogs), removing certain behaviours that can be driven by reproductive hormones (such as roaming, or scent marking), and to treat certain conditions (testicular tumours, ovarian tumours, womb infections, perianal hernias etc).

Q: That’s a lot of reasons! One thing I’m unsure of is when exactly to neuter my dog. What’s the best age?

There is not one set age or one rule that fits all when it comes to advising on neutering your dog, as every dog is different. As a general rule, I like dogs to be skeletally mature before they are neutered, which means I would like them to be fully grown. This means that the ‘ideal age’ for neutering depends on the breed; a giant breed dog may not be fully grown until they are over 2, for example. I still prefer female dogs to have had at least one season if possible.
It’s important to note that while evidence and advice always changes, we cannot blanket-recommend an age for dogs to be neutered. It is always important to discuss things fully with your vet.

Q: Are there any potential complications from neutering?

Generally speaking, the risks are very low, and the benefits currently outweigh any perceived risk. This does not mean that the procedures, whilst very commonly performed, are without risk entirely, especially when talking about a full ovariohysterectomy (where we remove a female dog's ovaries and womb), for example. We will always try and mitigate any anaesthetic or surgical risks with thorough surgical planning and care throughout the procedure, which is why complications are very rare!
As for other effects, some owners report changes in their pets’ coat, weight gain and behavioural changes following neutering. Coat changes are cosmetic and weight gain can easily be prevented with a proper controlled diet. The decision to neuter (or not) is based on risk vs benefit, and should always follow a thorough conversation between pet owner and vet or veterinary nurse.

Q: Does neutering my pet help prevent future medical issues?

Neutering can prevent, reduce the risk of, or even help treat certain conditions. For example, neutering female dogs before a certain age reduces their chance of developing mammary cancer. Neutering female dogs also prevents them developing a potentially life-threatening condition of their womb called a
pyometra
. We do see testicular cancer in unneutered dogs, so neutering will naturally prevent this, as well as help treat and prevent other conditions of the prostate.

Q: My dog's just been neutered. What special care do I need to give him now?

Your vet or nurse should go through some home care following their surgery, including what pain relief to administer and when. It’s better to keep them somewhere safe, clean, and quiet, with comfortable bedding. Prevent them jumping, climbing, and licking their surgical wound. They may be feeling a little groggy, too, so giving them space to recover quietly in your company is all they will need.

Q: My dog's just been neutered and seems to be in pain. What should I do?

Each dog is different in how they feel and respond to pain, and whilst the veterinary team will have done whatever they can to help your dog feel as comfortable as possible, it’s not unusual for them to have mild discomfort. Keep them calm and quiet, and re-speak to your vet and see if there is anything else they can offer to help them feel more comfortable.

Q: Will neutering my dog stop his aggression to other people or other dogs?

In short, it’s unlikely. It is really important to understand that neutering is not a quick fix for unwanted behavioural issues at home, and neutering
can
potentially make some unwanted behaviour - such as fear aggression - worse. Neutering is therefore not suitable for all dogs, and there will be times that we, as vets and nurses, may advise against neutering!
If a particular behaviour is hormonally driven then, yes, potentially neutering may help. However, these are situations where you could consider a temporary and reversible castration option to see what would happen if your pet was neutered. 
Most behavioural issues need addressing as soon as possible by a recognised and qualified behaviourist. 

Q: That makes sense! Some people are against dog neutering. Why?

Understandably, there may be the fear of a pet going under anaesthetic or a concern about the surgery itself. There may be worries that the procedure may change their pet’s coat, behaviour, or character. These are sensible things to discuss with a vet or nurse, who can hopefully offer lots of reassurance. We are all entitled to our opinions, but as long as we have access to all the correct information possible to make our own, informed decisions, then that is fine as far as I’m concerned. It’s important, though, to try and avoid the misinformation circling around!

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