Neutering is the process of removing the testicles (in males) or the ovaries (in females) in order to remove the hormones that these organs produce and prevent the animal from reproducing. However, it also has other important health benefits. Whilst it is always a decision that needs to be made in the best interests of each individual animal, there are lots of things to consider when deciding whether (and when) to neuter your pet, so we thought we’d give you a quick run-through.
There are lots of terms used to describe neutering, and they can often be used interchangeably, which can lead to some confusion. Neutering and de-sexing are the same things, although de-sexing is more commonly used in America. Castration refers only to males and involves the removal of the testicles. Vasectomy is also a male procedure – it is rarely done in dogs or cats as it involves leaving the testicles and all of the associated hormones intact, which massively reduces the benefits. The female equivalent is the spay or ovariohysterectomy. Most vets remove the ovaries and the uterus during a spay procedure, but vets abroad and those doing laparoscopic surgery may only remove the ovaries – this is still called a spay.
Neutering all cats not intended for breeding is highly recommended. Male cats that are not neutered are much more likely to roam out of their territory to find females. This results in a higher chance of accidents as well as increased fighting, which can be painful and spreads diseases. Neutered cats have been found to be more likely to be friendly to people and other animals in the house. Males can undergo the neutering procedure from four months of age, and we recommend doing them as early as possible if they share the house with unneutered females.
Female cats should be neutered from four months of age if not being used for breeding. Again, they will try to escape and roam when they come into season, which puts them in danger. Seasons can be loud – they ‘call’ for a mate with a loud yowling that sounds as though they are in pain – and they can become ill with it if they refuse to eat properly and get no rest. Pregnancy puts the cat and her kittens at risk, especially in young, inexperienced mothers. There is a social responsibility to consider too – cats are prolific breeders and one female can have 40,000 descendants in 5 years. If we don’t want a world overrun with cats, getting them neutered is essential.
Dogs are a little more complex. Although it is still generally advisable to get both male and female dogs neutered, the ‘when’ is a little more difficult to decide.
For male dogs, the proven benefits to neutering are multiple. Without testicles, the chance of testicular cancer is nil; the chance of prostate issues is reduced; and lumps around the rectum and certain types of hernia are fewer in dogs that have been neutered too. Most of these problems occur in old age though, and there doesn’t seem to be any benefit to neutering before a certain age. It’s better to get it done, but it doesn’t have to be when they are very young. In fact, some studies in Labradors suggest not neutering until they are fully grown at 18 months or so, and for other large breed dogs this may be sensible.
There are also concerns about castrating in order to control a behavioural problem. Unfortunately, in some cases, it can make it worse, so if this is your motivation for castration we recommend booking an appointment with one of our vets for an examination and discussion – we may suggest referral to a behaviourist, or a temporary medical castration in order to assess their response. From a population control point of view, dogs are less of a concern as they’re usually under some control, but if you have a dog that is prone to roaming, or an unsecured garden, it makes sense to get them castrated before they impregnate next door’s young female!
Which brings us to the ladies – we advise neutering all females for their own health. Like female cats, when it comes to pregnancy and puppies, the ladies carry all the weight and risk – and it can be a big one. Accidental litters of mismatched breeds are the second most common reason a caesarean is needed, so if you don’t want the responsibility and cost of pregnancy it’s best to get her done… accidents happen!
There are also the health benefits, of course. Bitches neutered before their first or second season are much less likely to get mammary tumours – and they’re much less likely to be nasty ones, too. Unneutered bitches are also extremely prone to a uterine infection called a pyometra, which can be fatal, and the risk of this rises with every season they have.
Again, the timing of neutering is a bit more confusing in dogs – there’s some evidence in larger breeds that allowing them to have at least one season is sensible, although in smaller breeds that mature more quickly this probably isn’t so important.
So should I neuter?
Yes – it’s definitely better to neuter. But every pet is an individual, every family situation is different, and sometimes the why and when can be a little more complicated than at first glance. If you want your dog or cat neutered, please call reception to book in.
However, if you’d rather have a consultation with one of our vets so that we can discuss the pros and cons for your specific situation, then we’d be more than happy to advise – just call reception and book in.