If you’re the proud owner of a little male puppy or kitten, you will have probably heard the word ‘castration’ mentioned at the vets. Many of you will have already had your dog or cat castrated, in which case, you are one step ahead of us! If you haven’t, you might be wanting to know more. Well, this article is for you; today, we are going to explain the reasons why castration is a procedure you really should be considering for your male dogs and cats.
A Lesson in Castration
Castration describes the removal of the male testicles – pretty simple! You may have heard it called a number of other terms, however; the most common is ‘neutering’, which actually refers to the removal of both male and female reproductive organs (neutering is a gender neutral term, whereas castration only refers to males). Castration is a surgery performed under general anaesthetic by a vet. It is a very safe and routine surgery, with very few complications, and we perform hundreds of castrations every year. The age of castration varies, but generally, it is performed under a year old (though it can be done at any age after this).
Biology of the Boys
Testicles are part of the male reproductive system, held within the scrotum at the back end of your pet, just under their tail. Testicles in dogs and cats perform similar functions to those in humans and other mammals. Their main role is the production and storage of sperm cells, for reproduction. These cells, mixed with fluid from glands such as the prostate, combine to form semen, which is deposited in the female during mating. The sperm will swim towards the female’s ovaries to fertilise an egg, making her pregnant and creating a litter of cute new puppies or kittens!
The testicles also have secondary roles, the most important of which is producing hormones (chemical messengers that travel in blood, and direct the body to start or stop certain tasks). The main male hormone produced in the testicles is testosterone. Testosterone is crucial for developing puppies and kittens inside the womb – testosterone tells the developing foetus to ‘become male’, allowing male characteristics and organs to develop. Without testosterone, a puppy or kitten will be born female. Although the testosterone levels of newborn puppies are very low, when they enter puberty a young male will produce and maintain high testosterone in their blood, which allows further development of male characteristics, behaviours, and sexual maturity. Throughout adult life, testosterone also tells the testicles to produce sperm, ready for reproduction.
So, now you’re all clued up on what the testicles are for in male dogs and cats, you might already have an idea of what castration will do to your pet, and why we advise it taking place…
Bye Bye Babies
The most significant change in a castrated dog is the inability to reproduce. A male without testicles does not produce sperm, so cannot get a female pregnant. Castration is thus highly advised for owners of multiple dogs that do not wish for more! We would particularly advise castration of animals living with their female siblings, to prevent inbreeding. Sadly, neither dogs nor cats have a problem with mating a sibling.
Both dogs and cats will still be able to functionally mate after castration (though you may find that they have less or no desire to do so) but there will be no risk of pregnancy. In outdoor cats, preventing randy toms and queens meeting can be difficult, so castration is all the more important. An attentive uncastrated dog owner can prevent accidental matings, but we still advise castration just in case.
As well as making life easier for you, preventing unwanted pregnancies in dogs and cats is also good for canine and feline populations as a whole. The UK has relatively few stray cats and dogs compared to other countries, but we are always trying to reduce this number. Having pets castrated will help prevent more stray kittens and puppies being born, should yours have an encounter with a lady stray!
Of course, if you wish to breed from your pet, castration would not be recommended. However, remember that castration can be performed at any age after puberty, so it is possible to castrate a male that is already a dad, should you wish.
No More Naughty Boys
The next reason to castrate your pet is to improve behavioural issues. These issues include mounting other dogs, people or furniture, spraying urine, and being aggressive. Uncastrated male cats will also tend to roam farther, and fight other males, which can lead to injury and disease. All of these issues are associated with a male’s desire to attract a mate, defend her and reproduce with her. In the wild, these behaviours are important, but for pet owners (and their carpets!), they are quite damaging.
Most of these behaviours are driven by testosterone, thus removal of the source of testosterone via castration will generally reduce the frequency of these behaviours. It is important to remember that castration will not turn a naughty dog or cat nice. Proper upbringing and training are far more important in having a well behaved pet, and castration is not a fix for a lack of these. However, castration should definitely be a consideration if you are dealing with any of the problems listed above.
The final reason you should be castrating your pet is to improve their health; uncastrated pets are at greater risk of a number of diseases and conditions which are entirely preventable with castration.
In dogs particularly, there are two cancers which uncastrated males commonly get. These are testicular and perianal cancer. Both types of cancer become more common the older an animal gets, so even if you wish to breed from your pet, castration is strongly recommended after breeding, to reduce the risk of these dangerous and potentially fatal cancers. These cancers are much more uncommon in cats, but do occur. Removal of the testicles prevents testicular cancer (!) while the drop in testosterone levels helps to stop perianal tumours from developing.
Dogs also commonly get a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), where the prostate gland enlarges and presses on nearby structures. This can result in incontinence, excessive straining and anal hernias. Castration almost eliminates the risk of BPH, and thus the associated conditions, as without testosterone the prostate gland shuts down and shrinks away to almost nothing.
As mentioned above, male uncastrated cats are also more likely to fight each other. This can lead to stress, pain, injuries, and the spread of diseases like Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), both of which can be fatal. While castrating your cat will not guarantee they won’t still be a little scrapper, it can help reduce their desire to fight.
Finally, castration is always advised if your pet has retained testicles – this is where one or both of the testicles do not descend into the scrotum as a young animal, but remain inside the abdominal cavity, near the kidneys. Retained testicles are at a much higher risk of cancer than normal testicles, so should be removed as soon as possible. If your puppy or kitten does not appear to have two testicles in their scrotum by a few months old, it is worth us checking that they do not have retained testicles.
Final Thoughts Hopefully now you will have a better understanding of what castration is, why it is important, and why we recommend it in almost all pets. In general, if you have a healthy puppy or kitten that you do not wish to breed from, we would advise you to castrate in most cases – there are relatively few reasons not to in most animals, and the benefits of doing so are very important. If you have any further questions, or wish to book a castration, please do not hesitate to pop in and have a chat with us.